Special prize for IJ4EU investigative reporters from Bulgaria and Romania

By Jane Whyatt

The bravery of a cross-border team of investigative reporters supported by the IJ4EU grant has been rewarded with a special prize at the 2019 Axel Springer Academy Awards.

Attila Biro and Dimitar Stoyanov receive the George Weidenfeld Prize for Courage in Research. Photo: ECPMF

Bulgarian Dimitar Stoyanov, a former Journalist in Residence at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and Attila Biro of RISE Romania, a data research project, received the honour after being arrested and detained in Bulgaria when they found a pile of incriminating documents being burned in a field. 

Nine months after that frightening experience, they were honoured at a ceremony in Berlin with the Special Prize for Courage in Research, awarded in memory of Lord George Weidenfeld. Making the presentation  in front of 200 VIPs, guests and prizewinners, Mathias Döpfner the Chair of the Axel Springer Prize Committee said:

Press freedom is under pressure across the world. More and more journalists have to fight to bring truth to light under difficult conditions. In memory of George Weidenfeld, the tireless defender of critical journalism, we would like to make their commitment to freedom more visible.” 

Döpfner spoke of his admiration and friendship for Lord George Weidenfeld who as an Austrian Jew had fled the Nazis and worked for the BBC in London before becoming a leading publisher and columnist in the German-speaking press after the war, as well as a Life Peer in the British House of Lords.

'We are not afraid'

Accepting the award, Dimitar Stoyanov was filled with emotion and thanked the bodies that had created and funded the cross-border IJ4EU projects - as well as his wife Svetka, who accompanied him. The IJ4EU project is funded by the EU Commission and administerred by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the International Press Institute to promote cross-border investigative research to expose corruption involving EU funds.

Stoyanov had a defiant message for those who continue to threaten him and his colleague Attila Biro: “We are not afraid. We shall continue our work as investigative reporters”.

He continues to face threats. When he tried to interview a Bulgarian oligarch at a trade fair in Hannover in April 2019, the oligarch’s bodyguard intervened and tried to stop him. Earlier, working in Bulgaria, he had been beaten up and received warnings that put him under huge pressure. That was when he became an ECPMF Journalist in Residence. He was able to escape for a while and continue his research, revealing his findings to an international audience at an Expert Panel in Brussels as Bulgaria took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. 

'Defending European values'

At the 2019 Axel Springer Academy Awards, Stoyanov and Biro also received congratulations from the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Sebastian Wood. In a video message, Sir Sebastian spoke of the great respect of the British people for Lord George Weidenfeld’s contribution to press freedom, reconciliation and European values. He noted that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lord Weidenfeld brought a team of young people from East and West Germany to Oxford so that they could explore their political differences and work on joint projects. 

In Berlin on 2. May 2019 Lord Weidenfeld's grandson was at the ceremony to personally honour Attila Biro and Dimitar Stoyanov as the first living recipients of the award that is made annually in his name. In 2018 it was given posthumously to the murdered Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak

Today’s young German journalists were rewarded for their courage, talent and innovation in the Axel Springer Academy Awards, including Die News WG and making a documentary, Menschenschmuggler, with Syrian and Libyan journalists to reveal the activities and motivations of people-smugglers.

The European Centre for press and Media Freedom offers shelter, stipends, accommodation in a safe house, counselling, training and health insurance through its Journalists in Residence programme to media workers under extreme threat in Europe. It aims to offer respite and achance for them to continue their research uncensored for up to six months. More details here