HONG KONG: Private owned Afghan news station Tolo has picked up the 2016 Agence France-Presse Kate Webb prize Thursday for its fearless reporting in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
The prize, named after a crusading AFP reporter who died in 2007, was given to the privately-run station, which saw seven of its employees killed in a Taliban attack in January 2016.
It honours journalists working in difficult conditions in Asia and is named after Webb, who died at the age of 64 following a career covering wars and other hotspots — including Afghanistan.
The television station’s director Lotfullah Najafizada, 29, said 2016 was a difficult year, but felt honoured to receive the prize, which was given out at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
“The award for TOLO news where journalists are working hard day in and out for press freedom in a hard environment is recognition at an international level that journalism in Afghanistan matters,” Najafizada told AFP.
“I’m very proud of my colleagues who are committed and who are very dedicated and have given their lives to this. They have chosen to stay and report for the Afghan people,” Najafizada said.
“Afghans cannot live in a society where voices are silenced.”
TOLO is often critical of insurgent groups that wreak havoc across Afghanistan and its journalists are among a small band of media workers who put their lives on the line to report events in their war-torn country.
The targeted Taliban suicide bombing for what the militant group said was revenge for “spreading propaganda” against them, which killed seven TOLO reporters, has been denounced by rights groups as a “war crime”.
– ‘Extraordinary work’ –
“We are recognising TOLO News for its courageous work telling the stories of the people of Afghanistan, a place that is becoming ever more hostile for the media,” AFP regional director for the Asia-Pacific region and the prize’s jury chairman Philippe Massonnet said. “By awarding the prize to TOLO as an organisation, we are also recognising the extraordinary work carried out by all Afghan journalists in ever-deteriorating conditions,” Massonnet added.
Saad Mohseni, chairman and CEO of MOBY Group, which owns TOLO, said he was proud of Najafizada and the team. “Their dedication to free and independent reporting has contributed to building a freer, more tolerant and democratic Afghanistan,” he said.
The International Federation of Journalists called 2016 a “deadly year in Afghanistan”, after a senior journalist became the 13th reporter killed in the country in mid-December. Earlier this week, 57 people were killed in a string of bombings across Afghan cities, as Taliban militants stepped up a deadly winter campaign of violence.
Kate Webb was one of AFP’s finest correspondents. She earned a reputation as a fearless reporter but was equally known for her kindness and compassion and became a mentor to young Asian journalists. Her sister, Rachel Miller, is also a member of the jury and said the family was delighted by the award of the prize to TOLO. “Afghanistan held a very special place in Kate’s heart,” Miller said. “Kate was always awed at the incredible work of Afghan journalists in unimaginably difficult circumstances. I know she would have been very proud of TOLO’s extraordinary courage and contribution to Afghan journalism.”