Human Rights Award 2008
Zhanna Litvina, Belarusian
Every person has not only the right of freedom of speech and opinion, but also unrestricted access to free and widely diversified sources of information (Article 19 of the UNO Charter of Human Rights). To this end, the media serve as an important, intermediary function. They are indispensable for the independent reporting of national and international events. If, however, a country’s government suppresses the exercise of free journalism with the goal of preventing social injustices to become public, questionable situations are bound to arise.
According to the authoritarian government of Belarus, the media must inure to the benefit of government itself, with any criticism of its actions deemed illegal. For these special reasons, journalists, eager to stay true to their ideals of independent reporting in the face of artificial obstacles, find themselves confronted with many challenges.
Within the framework of its promotion of democracy, the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation supports the media in Belarus to become an open platform for the free expression of diverging opinions with respect to government actions, politics, and society at large, together with the development of a democratic forum for public opinion, ultimately leading to control of political and economic power.
By awarding this year’s Human Rights Award to Zhanna Litvina, the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation honours a journalist who distinguished herself by pursuing a courageous and enduring struggle for media freedom and a commitment to the free exercise of pluralistic opinions in Belarus. In spite of all intimidation campaigns and threats waged against her, Zhanna Litvina and her Association of Journalists are courageously fighting her government’s control of the mass media. Zhanna Litvina is a valuable conduit to the Western world as it concerns the relaying of information on the state of media freedom in Belarus.
Zhanna Litvina, born on August 30th, 1954 in Minsk, is chairwoman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists since 1995. After studying Journalism at the Belarusian State University, Zhanna Litvina was employed for nearly twenty years at the state television and radio station. She was head of the main editorial office for broadcasts directed at a younger audience.
1995, following her dismissal from the state radio station, Zhanna Litvina founded, together with some colleagues, the independent city radio station for music and information, “Radio 101.2”. Due to its young and professional hosts, its critical reporting and program content derived from the BBC and DW, the radio station became one of the most successful and popular FM outlets in Belarus. In 1996, the Belarusian authorities shut down the station.
In addition, she had been editor-in-chief of the radio station “Belorusskaja Molodjeschnaja”, which was equally shut down for political reasons.
From 1994 until 1999, Zhanna Litvina was director of the radio station “Liberty” (“Radio Swoboda”) in Minsk.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Founded in 1995 by a group of journalists, the association’s mission is to fight the arbitrary dismissal of journalists. Zhanna Litvina was unanimously elected chairwoman.
The association’s chief focus is on the protection of journalists’ rights. It organizes conferences and offers workshops as well as training programs.
Zhanna Litvina with her colleagues from the Association of Journalists
During its first years of existence, the association has established contacts with several international organizations, such as the “International Federation of Journalists” (IFJ), “Article 19”, “Reporters Without Borders”, “Committee for the Protection of Journalists” (CPJ), “World Association of Newspapers” (WAN), or “European Federation of Journalists” (EFJ).
The organization was honoured with several international awards. In 2003, it received the “Golden Pen of Freedom”. Additionally, the European Parliament awarded the association its “Sacharow Prize” in 2004.
Currently, the association has 1,200 members, including employees of governmental and non-governmental mass media.
Publications Resolution of the European Parliament on the Freedom of the Press in Belarus Brussels, 2002 Freedom of the Press Rankings 2008 Reporters Without Borders Reporters Without Borders—Annual Report 2008 Links Website FES, Department Central and Eastern Europe Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, Regional Office Ukraine and Belarus