Nominees for free-speech award announced

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Correction: The original story said Roxana Saberi was arrested in April 2009; she was arrested in January 2009. The First Amendment Center Online regrets the error.

Ten individuals who have faced threats, jail time or other sanctions in the
pursuit of free speech have been nominated for the 2010 Tully Free Speech Award
from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

An Oct. 5 news release said a committee of Syracuse University students and
faculty will choose the winner later this fall. The nominees are:

  • Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter. Ashenfelter refused to
    disclose his government sources for a 2004 article revealing that a federal
    prosecutor was under investigation for suspected misconduct, citing his Fifth
    Amendment right against self-incrimination and First Amendment right to protect
    his sources. He may face jail time.

  • Suzanne Breen, Northern Ireland editor of Dublin’s Sunday Tribune.
    Breen resisted a court order this year to surrender her reporting materials on a
    March story concerning a Real Irish Republican Army member’s confession of
    murder of two Northern Ireland soldiers. Breen faced five years of prison under
    the Terrorism Act of 2000 and death threats from the Real IRA if she cooperated
    with authorities. A court eventually upheld Breen’s right to withhold her

  • Journalist, author, and human-rights activist Lydia Cacho. Cacho faced
    detention, harassment and torture after exposing a Mexican child-pornography
    ring operating with protection from the government and politicians in her 2005
    book, The Demons of Eden. Cacho continues to write about sexual
    exploitation, violence and corruption despite harassment from unknown officials
    and death threats sent to her blog.

  • Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Lee and Ling were seized,
    put on trial, and sentenced to 12 months of hard labor on charges of spying. The
    two were arrested while on the North Korea-China border while reporting on the
    human trafficking between the two countries. After nearly five months of
    imprisonment, Lee and Ling were freed when former President Bill Clinton visited
    North Korea to secure their release.

  • Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy. Locy was held in contempt of
    court for refusing to name her sources for an article on an investigation into
    Army scientist Stephen Hatfill’s possible link to the 2001 anthrax attacks.
    Though a federal appeals court dismissed the contempt order and fines and
    Hatfill eventually settled, Hatfill has threatened to sue Locy for his legal

  • North Dakota English teacher Jeremy Murphy. Murphy lost his position as
    faculty adviser to the West Fargo High School’s student newspaper when he
    refused the administration’s demands to censor the paper’s negative coverage of
    teacher morale and a scheduling policy.

  • Journalist, author, and economist He Qinglian. Qinglian was forced to flee
    China in 2001 because of government harassment after she identified problems
    with the country’s government structure and called for political reform in her
    articles and books. Her books include The Pitfalls of Modernization and
    Media Control in China.

  • NPR and BBC reporter Roxana Saberi. Saberi was arrested by the Iranian government in January 2009 and sentenced to an eight-year prison term for espionage. An appeals court reduced the charge to possessing classified information, which Saberi denied, and her term to a two-year suspended sentence. She was released in May.

  • Editor and investigative reporter Jorge Luis Sierra. Sierra has received
    threats for reporting on conflict-related topics such as counterinsurgency, drug
    trafficking, organized crime, gangs and immigration from the U.S.-Mexico border
    at McAllen, Texas.

  • Author and videographer Robert Stevens. Stevens was charged with violating
    interstate commerce laws by selling video depictions of animal cruelty and was
    sentenced to 37 months in prison. Citing his First Amendment right to free
    speech, Stevens appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. A decision in United
    States v. Stevens
    is expected this spring.

    Joan Tully, the benefactor of the Tully
    Center for Free Speech,
    created the annual award to honor journalists who
    faced danger to report an important story, according to Tully Center Director
    Barbara Fought.

    As an associate professor at Syracuse University, Fought also noted the
    impact of the award on her students: “When we bring the winner to campus, both
    students and the general public hear his or her story and see a role model of
    someone who embodies these important values of free speech and a free press.”

    Asked about the significance of the Tully Free Speech Award, Paul McMasters,
    retired First Amendment ombudsman for the Freedom Forum, said: “It is
    particularly fitting that the Tully Center chooses to recognize those involved
    in journalism to demonstrate to the public the value of free speech to

    “As the back story on each of these nominees vividly illustrates, free speech
    often comes at a high price: risks to jobs and reputation, legal problems,
    government threats, even prison. These annual awards remind us that the freedom
    of speech so many of us take for granted will not endure unless there are
    courageous individuals willing to pay that price.”

    The 2010 Tully Free Speech Award nominees were chosen by a panel of
    professionals, including David Horowitz, executive director of Media Coalition;
    Tala Dowlatshahi, senior adviser and spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders;
    Charles N. Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information
    Coalition and associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism; and Jane
    Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota School
    of Journalism and Mass Communication.

  • Allie Diffendal is a senior majoring in political science and American studies at Vanderbilt University.

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