Free Media Awards 2020 honour courageous journalists in Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine

Together with the Norwegian Stiftelsen Fritt Ord, the ZEIT-StiftungEbelin and Gerd Bucerius is this year honouring three Eastern European media entities, a photo journalist, and a print journalist with the “Free Media Awards - Supporting Independent Journalism in Eastern Europe”. In order to publicize and combat the threat to media freedom and the growing repression of Eastern European journalists, the two foundations give out up to five awards annually.

The Free Media Awards 2020 are being conferred on the following individuals and entities: the Russian media platform Mediazona Russia for its educational reporting and its efforts in support of independent journalism; the editorial department of the Russian Projekt.Media for its investigative research on corruption and abuse of power; the Azerbaijani photojournalist Aziz Karimov for his eye-opening photo essays on the situation in the rural regions of Azerbaijan; the Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev for his reports on the situation of prisoners and life in the war zone; and the editorial department of the Ukrainian television programme Schemes for its investigative journalism.

“This year’s “Free Media Awards” are being bestowed on brave journalists and editorial departments which fearlessly uncover corruption and the abuse of power, who expose human rights violations, and who are not intimidated by their governments. In doing so they defend the freedom of the press that is vital for a functioning civil society. Supporting their efforts is a mission of great importance for the Zeit Foundation”, explains Prof. Dr. Michael Göring, CEO of the ZEIT-Stiftung.

“It takes a lot of courage and huge amounts of endurance to do investigative journalism and reporting on controversial issues in authoritarian countries. The information which the award winners manage to publish, as a result of their tough achievements in hostile environments, is vitally important and crucial for the democratic movements in Eastern Europe” says Dr. Knut Olav Åmås, executive director at the Fritt Ord Foundation.

Award Winner Azerbaijan
Aziz Karimov works as a documentary photographer. His works have been widely published, including by the Associated Press, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times. Aziz Karimov has been photographing and documenting political protests in Azerbaijan since 2013. In his photo studies he also looks at social problems in Azerbaijani regions. The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly attempted to restrict his work and keep him away from local and international events. Despite the strict control of the media and individual threats, Aziz Karimov continues to document volatile political and social issues. 

Award Winners Russia
Mediazona was founded by two Pussy Riot members to address the lack of independent media coverage in Russia. Since that time, the alternative media company headed by Sergey Smirnov has reported on court proceedings, the abuse of power, prison conditions and assaults on independent journalism. Mediazona aims to counterbalance the state media and Kremlin-friendly coverage and thus to ensure greater transparency and independent reporting. 

Projekt.Media is an online portal dedicated to investigative journalism. Under the direction of editor-in-chief Roman Badanin, the media platform researches and reports on corruption and other critical issues. The project went online in July 2018 and aspires to uncover hidden stories and injustices and to address complex crucial issues.

Award Winner Ukraine
Stanislav Aseyev is a well-known journalist and writer from Donetsk in Ukraine. In 2017 he was detained by separatist forces and tortured in captivity. Until then, his reports – written under a false name – were an important source of information about life behind the front in eastern Ukraine. In a series titled “Letter from Donbass”, Radio Free Europe published roughly 50 reports from the occupied Donetsk as written by Stanislav Aseyev under the pseudonym of Jerry Toms. In December 2019, Stanislav Aseyev was released during a large-scale prisoner exchange. 

The television programme Schemes is a mainstay of investigative journalism. The programme is a joint project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the public television station UA: First. With its investigative efforts, the editors of the weekly programme cast light on political corruption and political linkages. The journalists and the team have on multiple occasions been attacked for their work. 

The award winners were nominated by international institutions and organizations that are active in or on behalf of Eastern Europe as well as by Eastern Europe experts. The winners were selected by a six-member jury. Its members were: Ane Tusvik Bonde from the “Human Rights House Foundation” in Oslo; Alice Bota, Moscow correspondent for DIE ZEIT; the Ukrainian journalist and translator Yuri Durkot; Guri Norstrøm, Eastern European expert from Norwegian television; and the Eastern European experts Martin Paulsen from the University of Bergen and Silvia Stöber, freelance journalist reporting on the southern Caucasus and southeast Asia. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Free Media Award ceremony will be postponed until 2021. 

Photos of the prize winners can be found here