“I’m planning on specializing in investigative journalism”: Carole Kerbage, winner of the Samir Kassir Award 2009, knows very well which professional path to take. This obvious choice imposed itself after her article (in Nahar-al-Chabab) “Lebanese and Foreign Women Lease Their Bodies... to Entertain Men” has been given special award by an international jury and Lebanese fellow journalists.
While waiting to finish her Master of Political Sciences from Saint-Joseph University, Carole Kerbage works as a freelance journalist who writes articles for Arab newspapers. But the 23-year-old freelance journalist is seriously planning to find a job of permanent journalist. “Freelancing is not a well-paid job. Not to mention frequent unpaid missions”, says Carole. But in this area of precarious employment, Carole remains optimistic. She sees the award as a step to strengthen her career path and not a culmination of success. Carole points out challenges she has faced while writing her article: “Shedding light on taboo subject and gaining access to information, while Lebanese authorities keep affirming that prostitution does exist in Lebanon.”
Only a few weeks after the assassination of Samir Kassir on June 2, 2005, “the then Head of the EU Delegation in Lebanon Patrick Renauld suggests creating the Samir Kassir Award for freedom of the press, to pay homage to the much appreciated journalist”, explains Sebastien Brabant, the Communication Officer at the Delegation of the EU in Lebanon. The prize honors two journalists, one for an opinion article, and another for an investigative report related to the rule of law or human rights. “Providing objective information and shedding light on society’s stakes are the two main areas of work in journalism”, says Brabant.
Among the Samir Kassir Award winners, Moroccan journalist Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, rewarded in 2007 for his article “Le culte de la personnalité royale” (The Royal Personality Worship), published in the Moroccan weekly magazine TelQuel. “It was the first time we decide to go so far and deal with such a sensitive issue, which anyway imposes itself in Morocco”, says Ahmed Reda Benchemsi. Even though the Samir Kassir Award did not bring radical change in the professional life of Benchemsi, it helped him fortify his legitimacy at an international level, which, says Ahmed, “has undoubtedly helped me on my numerous, alas, confrontations with Moroccan authorities.”
Indeed, Ahmed and other members of TelQuel team were given repeatedly suspended prison sentences and “over dimensioned” fines. This winner of the Lorenzo Natali Prize 2004 for the Arabic world and of the Moroccan Press in 1997 was also accused of “breach of due respect to the king”. The trial, which has nothing to do with the article on the Royal Personality Worship, is currently postponed, “but can be reactivated at anytime”.
Since the establishment of the Samir Kassir Prize Award in 2006, the number of candidates is constantly increasing. “In 2009, 154 journalists from 16 countries have submitted high quality articles and reports, and I can tell that it wasn’t easy to decide between them”, says Sebastian Brabant. On June 2, 2010, the fifth edition of the Samir Kassir Award will be giving its prize: a contest that is expected to attract more candidates this year and to honor two journalists for their courage, objectivity and professionalism.
(article published on Eurojar)