The violent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, shocked the world and sent a terrifying message to other journalists, scores of whom were killed around the world in 2018 alone. “Even for me, I couldn’t believe [Khashoggi’s murder] happened,” said Hala Al-Dosari, a Saudi Arabian human rights activist and a panelist at the 67th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award at Colby Oct. 4.
The annual award is given by the College in memory of Lovejoy, an 1826 graduate of Colby who was killed in Alton, Ill., defending his printing press from a mob bent on stopping him from printing anti-slavery editorials.
This year the Lovejoy Award was given posthumously to the 66 journalists and media workers, including Khashoggi, who lost their lives in 2018. Speaking before a packed audience in Lorimer Chapel, Al-Dosari was joined by PBS FRONTLINE filmmaker and journalist Martin Smith, whose recently released documentary The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia explores the events that surrounded Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 2, 2018. The panel was moderated by Quil Lawrence, veterans correspondent for NPR News and former NPR bureau chief in Baghdad and Kabul.
Smith’s film examines the situation in Saudi Arabia under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been hailed as a proponent of reforms that will diversify the kingdom’s economy and add women to the workforce.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion about the so-called reformer that he has been perceived to be,” Smith said. “He knows that it’s a failing proposition to keep going forward as they are dependent on oil.” Like China’s leaders, Smith said, MbS, as he is known, has chosen “to keep a firm grip on free speech and any kinds of aspirations that people have to determine what kind of country they’re going to live. He’s going to control it.”
Al-Dosari, the inaugural Jamal Khashoggi Fellow at the Washington Post, said the death of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi ruler, was a turning point for activists who had until that point hoped that the political conditions in the country would get better. The brutal murder and the widespread global coverage that surrounded it also became an opportunity for activists to be heard, she said.
“We felt like we had to speak out,” Al-Dosari said. “We had to form associations or basically engage with other civil societies around the globe in order to bring those issues into attention.”
In response to a question from the audience, Lawrence said the harsh rhetoric that’s been directed at the media from the White House has ramifications here and abroad. “Especially for those who work in extraordinarily repressive states overseas, from the Philippines to Russia to Venezuela to Saudi Arabia, those are where the threats are greatest. But it’s harmful here as well. Now we’ve got half of the population not believing anything we write or broadcast is true, which erodes trust throughout our society.”
Al-Dosari said the rise of hate speech and hostility toward the media in this country also gives impunity to foreign leaders, who are traditionally allies of the U.S., to do the same.
Smith also warned that the rule of law only exists when it’s upheld, and journalists who work in conflict zones know that it can break down with little warning.
In his opening remarks, President David A. Greene noted that this year’s Lovejoy Award is different than those given in the 67 years the honor has been bestowed. “As they considered nominees, the Lovejoy selection committee, which is a group of truly distinguished journalists from around the country, were struck by the unprecedented number of reporters and photojournalists who were killed in 2018,” he said. Fifty-five journalists and 11 media workers died, from the United States to Afghanistan.
To bring continuous attention to the wave of deaths, Colby held a series of events leading up to the award ceremony. A screening of The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia took place at Railroad Square Cinema. A lecture by Professor of History Paul Josephson titled “Putin, Russia, and the Media: Journalism in Contemporary Russia” presented the current state of media in Russia.
On the day of the award ceremony, a panel discussion, “The Toll of Tragedy: Newsrooms Under Stress, Communities Under Attack,” brought together Rick Hutzell, the editor of Capital Gazette, Annapolis, Md., and David Shribman, former vice president and executive editor of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the chair of Lovejoy Selection Committee. Hutzell’s newsroom was attacked in June of last year by a gunman who killed five Capital Gazette staffers. Eleven people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue, near Shribman’s home. Their conversation was moderated by Martin Kaiser, who was an editor and senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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