Deutsche Welle Director General, Peter Limbourg, on Monday presented this year’s Freedom of Speech Award to Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany.
In his acceptance speech, Jeff Mason said he and his colleagues would “never have sought or expected” the award.
Gregor Mayntz, president of the Federal Press Conference, Germany, held the laudatio. Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, also gave a speech.
“We see this award as recognizing free press worldwide and in the U.S. – and as a sign of solidarity and encouragement for those colleagues who have the exciting task of reporting about the U.S. President and his policies,” said Mr. Limbourg.
He emphasized that “we do not see ourselves as being above others. I very much hope that Donald Trump does not serve to stir up anti-Americanism.”
Mr. Limbourg continued: “The United States is a great nation with marvelous people, with inspiring artists, scientists and journalists. That’s what today’s event is about.”
Jeff Mason: “Challenges increased dramatically”
Mr. Mason, who became president of the WHCA in July 2016, said that since Donald Trump’s election, the WHCA’s “challenges increased dramatically.”
He said he had tried to build “a constructive relationship” with then President-elect Trump’s new press team and managed to arrange a meeting. However, since the beginning of 2017, “there have been highs and lows” in the relationship.
“Access for journalists, meanwhile, has actually been quite good,” Mr. Mason said, adding that was “a fact that is sometimes overlooked because of the heated relationship between the press and the President.”
Quoting the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Mason said “if there is anything I have learned in the last eleven months of leading the correspondents’ association, it is that we cannot take those rights or the law that guarantees them for granted. We must remain vigilant against any attempt to curtail the freedom of the press and any attempt to undermine the important work journalists do. We must also correct mistakes when we make them and report truthfully to guard against actual made-up or fake news, which does indeed exist and is dangerous to a functioning democracy.”
Mr. Mason said it was “humbling for the WHCA to be in the company of the previous winners of the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award,” Raif Badawi and Sedat Ergin. He said that if “Deutsche Welle’s choice highlights the fact that even in strong, established democracies, reporters’ rights must be fought for, then it is in that spirit that I accept this award today.”
Gregor Mayntz: “Make freedom of the press great again”
In his speech, Mr. Mayntz laid out a ten-point plan to protect press freedom from the new danger it faces. “You have met the challenges of all ten points, for which you have earned the right to the Freedom of Speech Award 2017.”
Mr. Mayntz called for journalists worldwide to remain true to their journalistic principles, including fact-checking what the publish as well as admitting mistakes.
“Stand together, never give up, as the challenges to democracy and freedom of speech are not limited to one country.”
Monika Grütters: “Journalistic diversity is stronger than simple-minded populism”
Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, drew a comparison between politics and theatre: “Unusual performances, bizarre scenes and remarkable staging” are no longer the hallmark of the stage but have rather become a presence “in the offices of old, honourable, dignified democracies.”
Actors would have been given a run for their money “when it comes to presentation and to ‘alternative facts’ – and journalists, insulted as ‘enemies of the people,’ feel themselves confronted with a war cry,” Ms Grütters said.
“We cannot sit quietly and watch as close partners both inside and outside of the European Union are arresting journalists, artists and members of the opposition. In limiting the freedom of the press, they are sounding the death knell for democracy.”
She said the Global Media Forum provided the impulse for the close examination of the future of journalism and the freedom of expression in the digital age.
“Only diversity of opinion and perspective helps to legitimize the truth,” Ms Grütters added.