As a TV host in Lebanon, May Chidiac speaks out forcefully against Syria's interference in her country, past and present. For that, she became a target, losing her hand, leg, and nearly her life to a car bomb last year. But she's back on air, outfitted with a manicured prosthesis – and lots of determination.
This week, Ms. Chidiac was honored for her courage by the International Women's Media Foundation – as were Gao Yu, a freelance newswoman in China who's been twice jailed for her reporting, and this newspaper's Jill Carroll, who was held hostage in Iraq for 82 days early this year.
While America celebrates its Pulitzer Prize winners for journalistic excellence each spring, this is the time of year when several media-related organizations recognize the journalistic moxie of individuals standing up for press freedom around the world. The awards give the recipients needed moral, institutional, and financial support, and according to some award winners, can help protect them by increasing their stature outside their countries.
It's remarkable how little press freedom there actually is in the world. Journalists in China, Russia, much of the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, and parts of Latin America work under restrictions – some severe – or threats. Think how these places would benefit if the media were allowed to fulfill their role as independent checkers on government, as watchdogs on political suppression, or as probers of poverty-perpetuating corruption and market-suppressing organized crime.
Trying to fulfill this role is often dangerous. In the past 15 years, at least 580 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In its annual census last year, the committee tallied 125 editors, writers, and photojournalists in jail. War zones such as Iraq increase such fatalities, but not necessarily due to crossfire. The majority of the deaths there (85 since the 2003 invasion) have been targeted killings.
Media intimidation can have its intended effect. In Colombia, where about 30 journalists have been killed in the past decade, the deaths have decreased but only because of self-censorship by terrified journalists. Under threat, reporters switch to safer subjects or change careers. Sometimes they're forced to flee.
All this makes a story such as Chidiac's all the more remarkable. After nine months in hospitals, and with her would-be killers still at large, this flamboyant – and simply buoyant – woman is hosting a new show, appropriately named "With Audacity." She's still speaking out against Syrian meddling, but now criticizes Hizbullah's militias, which she sees as the cause of Israel's invasion in July (which she also condemns).
Chidiac describes the courage to go on as something "you feel deep inside, that you dare to do without giving consideration to all the threats of the red lines somebody has drawn for you." It also comes from a conviction that what needs to be done is more important than the risks of doing it: "You have to do what you're convinced [of], and if you don't act this way, you have to change your job."
Lebanon is better off with Chidiac still on the set – an inspiration to threatened journalists everywhere.