Golden Victoria Awards highlight struggle for press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was awarded the prestigious Golden Victoria award for press freedom by the Association of German Magazine Publishers, which also gave The Shift an honorary mention during the ceremony.

“When freedom of the press falls, then so do all other freedoms,” RSF Germany Director Christian Mihr said in a post on Facebook while thanking the association for the award.

The awards were presented during the annual Publishers’ Night, organised by the Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ), an event that VDZ president Rudolf Thiemann said “set a signal for freedom in Germany, Europe and the world”.

The Shift founder Caroline Muscat also received an honorary mention from VDZ when the Golden Victoria award was presented. “In Malta, Daphne’s colleague and this year’s winner of the Press Freedom Award for Independence from Reporters Without Borders, Caroline Muscat, continued campaigning for press freedom. Shortly after Daphne’s assassination, Caroline continued Daphne’s work with her information platform The Shift”.

The ceremony is held on 4 November to commemorate the largest demonstration in the former East Germany (GDR), which took place 30 years ago on Alexanderplatz. The Berlin Wall fell just five days later.

“That’s what our winners stood for, and that’s what the VDZ stands for,” Thiemann said. “The Golden Victoria is given to people who stand up for what they believe in in a consistent and courageous way, who are not deterred on their way, despite hostilities or threat.”

RSF has been committed to freedom of information and the press since its founding in 1985. In presenting this award to the organisation, VDZ recognised “the exemplary worldwide commitment of the entire international organization for independent, free journalism and freedom of information”.

Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary general, and Katja Gloger, spokeswoman for the German section, accepted the award.

Deloire emphasised that the internet was no longer seen as a gateway to freedom but as a threat, because algorithms were not subject to basic democratic laws. That’s why RSF was partnering with other organisations to develop a standard for algorithms.  “A free press was not free from mistakes,” Deloire said, “but it was an adhesive for peaceful cohesion and fuel for change”.

The award was presented by Jan Josef Liefer, an artist and speaker at the protest which took place on November 4, 1989, just a few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany In 2011 for his social commitment.

Liefers described the ceremony as an emotional moment. “To be here today and to honour an international institution that stands up for its great commitment to one of the most important fundamental rights of humanity is a special honour to me,” he said. “For if the freedom of the press falls, all other freedoms are also falling. Then will be the time for art, music, theatre, literature, science and human rights.”

Since 2015, the Golden Victoria has been awarded to personalities noted for their outstanding courage and commitment to freedom of the press. Last year, murdered journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak were honoured posthumously with the 2018 Golden Victoria.

An honorary award was also given to the President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble for his strong commitment to a united, democratic Europe and his work towards a stable democracy in Germany.

ECB President Christine Lagarde and President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble. Photo, VDZ.

In his acceptance speech, Schäuble said that it was easy to stand up for freedom if one had always grown up with it. The greatest danger is that “we take democracy and freedom for granted,” he said. “That’s why I’m so proud to be honored with Reporters Without Borders. We should do everything we can not to lose freedom and democracy again”.

VDZ’s commitment to the defence of freedom of the press and freedom of speech goes beyond the annual Golden Victoria award and extends to a year-round press freedom campaign, fighting for the rights of publishers and journalists. Publishers’ Night is one of the most important media events in Berlin.


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