Speech of Martha Ramos, World Editors Forum President, on the occasion of the award of the 2024 WAN-IFRA Golden Pen of Freedom Carlos Chamorro.

Copenhagen, Denmark, 27th May 2024


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends.

A very good afternoon.

We gather once again to celebrate outstanding achievement, an unwavering commitment to journalism: to award the Golden Pen – a symbol of struggle and the necessary courage to fight on in the name of press freedom.

Our laureate this year personifies the values of this prestigious award in a way that is both humbling and inspiring to us all.

But it would be remiss not to first acknowledge this desperate year, these fatal months, for our profession globally.

Brave colleagues holding the line in Ukraine as war rages on into a third year.

A near total news blackout from Sudan, an under-reported tragedy that is undoing years of progress for independent media there.

And the tragedy facing our sisters and brothers in Gaza, where over 100 journalists have been killed in Israel’s war with Hamas.

Where I come from, we are no stranger to journalist killings: Mexico has been considered the deadliest country to be a journalist for decades. I know the cost of this tragedy, how it wrenches at our souls, and how it withers an entire society. The flame of truth grows dimmer with each passing, until there is no one left to tell our stories.

We stand with Gazan journalists in their moment of grief. We call for safety and protection for our colleagues, and we demand justice for all those killed.

This year is also a seminal year for democratic elections – billions of people will cast their votes in the largest exercise of democracy the world has ever seen.

At home, we vote this week for literally thousands of candidates. It is a historic moment too – for the first time a woman will lead Mexico as president. Yet it is a hollow victory in many respects, certainly for the press – a choice between opposite extremes, neither of which are allies of media freedom.

This dynamic is being played out in contests large and small around the world; all with very real consequences for local communities, and some with clear global implications. Regardless of whether there is a shift in power, in polarised times, between political extremes, the victim has always been – and will remain – the press.

Our laureate knows this all too well. His journey from politics to the top of the media has come full circle and is a deeply personal one, mirroring the highs and lows of the continent he calls home.

Born into a family in which journalism ran in the blood – a family also deeply politically engaged – our laureate was forged in a previous time of stark global polarisation. Living and working through the consequences of Cold War-era dictatorship and the ensuing struggle for freedom, flourishing under a period of prosperity and great optimism, he now finds himself confronted by familiar foes, fighting a battle long-thought won.

A family, a career, a journalist steeped in the fight for freedom, beset by tragedy, and who mirrors the rise and fall of the nation he has served for decades. One whose ongoing struggle and sacrifice reflects the hopes and ideals of millions for a better future…

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2024 Golden Pen of Freedom is awarded to Carlos Chamorro of Nicaragua.

The road from political idealist to one of Latin America’s most respected journalists has been a fascinating one, and Carlos is the first to recognise that, despite the ‘family business’, he did not immediately see journalism as the way to achieve change.

Initially part of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and its struggle to oust dictator Anastasio Somoza, the 1978 murder of his father, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal (the publisher and editor of La Prensa – the only independent title during the years of dictatorship), changed the course of his life.

In 1979, Carlos took over FSLN newspaper, Barricada, which became the voice of the Sandinistas during the ensuing civil war. By 1990 peace and democratic elections had arrived, the result of which saw Carlos’s mother, Violeta Barrios, defeat incumbent, Daniel Ortega, to become president of Nicaragua.

Speaking at a dinner with a group of women journalists in the early nineties, President Barrios signalled to us how important the media was in guaranteeing the success of Nicaragua’s fledgling democracy. She explained how essential it was to build bridges towards a national dialogue that her premiership would come to symbolise.

She said that when citizens could no longer trust in their institutions – government, Church, the courts, the military – they could always rely on the media. But if they could no longer do that, the country would again be at risk of civil war.

Well, mothers certainly do know best!

Removing polarisation and promoting better journalism was key, and Carlos – perhaps inspired by his mother’s vision – attempted to bring Barricada into the world of professional journalism. This meant holding his paymasters to account.

Unsurprisingly, the Sandinista leadership, still headed by Daniel Ortega, did not like the new critical approach and promptly fired him in 1994.

The Party’s loss was Nicaragua – and Latin America’s – gain. Carlos went on to launch some of the most successful news outlets in Nicaragua: the TV magazine Esta Semana in 1995, the investigative publication Confidencial a year later, and the daily TV news show Esta Noche in 2005.

Everything began to change, however, when Daniel Ortega returned as president in 2007. He quickly began dismantling the checks and balances that had been placed on government power since the nineties. Despite at first a more subtle form of harassment and threat, by 2018, things had deteriorated severely for the independent press. Carlos was stripped of his TV channels, and Confidencial became the main target after revealing government corruption and abuse of power. Police raided the newsroom and seized assets; Carlos briefly fled the country.

In the same period, his brother, Pedro Joaquín – the 1982 Golden Pen laureate, awarded for his stewardship of La Prensa following the assassination of their father – was a leader in the opposition, while his sister, Cristiana, was running as a presidential candidate in the November 2021 elections. In June of that year, both were arrested.

This prompted Carlos to leave Nicaragua for good, just as he was being accused of money laundering, and as Ortega’s regime was preparing to throw him in jail. He settled in Costa Rica, from where he still runs Confidencial today, working with a staff that is also exiled across several countries.

Hundreds of journalists and opposition figures have, likewise, been arrested or forced into exile in Daniel Ortega’s totalitarian Nicaraguan state. The freedom fighter has eased into the role of dictator like so many before him; as a result, the people of Nicaragua live under threat of violence and arbitrary arrest for all expressions of dissent. Civil society has been eviscerated, even the Catholic Church has not been spared. Ortega’s actions model the slide seen across the region, a general regression to a politics of division, polarisation, and exploitation – albeit with his own particular brand of narcissism and personal score-settling.

Surviving exile, living under such intense pressure, yet working still to such high standards is truly astonishing. How, we ask? I leave you with the words of our laureate in reply:

“Only the quality of our journalism can defend us. Our credibility is all.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome Carlos Chamorro on stage to accept the 2024 Golden Pen of Freedom.

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