by Aimee Rinehart
The OPC honored the best in international reporting from 2011 on April 25. Guests gathered at the pre-party sponsored by Lenovo on the 35th floor at the Mandarin Oriental in New York and circulated among the two bars along the panoramic window that overlooks Central Park. The second bar was new this year and tripled the ordering areas for a crowd that bore witness in the past year to the Arab Spring, a trio of disasters in Japan and far too many deaths among its ranks.
Bells soon rang to usher guests into the ballroom where OPC President David A. Andelmen welcomed everyone and introduced this year’s dinner co-chair Sir Harold Evans. Evans spoke about the ever-urgent need for vigilence in journalism against a backdrop of incredible events throughout the world and a difficult economic time.
As desert was being served, awards chairman and OPC Second Vice President Michael Serrill said that the 88 judges who selected winners had a daunting task as there was a near record of 520 entries He then introduced this year’s award recipients saying that a plurality of this year’s entries featured words and images from the uprisings in Arab Spring and Japan. This year the judges made an exception to its usual rule of awarding work one award only and gave The Edward R. Murrow Award and The Robert Spiers Benjamin Award to Thirteen/WNET and Fork Films for its series “War, Women and Peace,” which looked at the role of women in six conflicts around the globe. Also unusual was a photographer winning two awards and one citation for different works: Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder took home The Olivier Rebbot Award for photos taken in Japan in its closed-off nuclear exclusion zone, The Feature Photography Award for photographs of daily life in North Korea, and a John Faber Award citation for Japan earthquake and tsunami aftermath photos.
C.J. Chivers accepted The Hal Boyle Award for war reporting from Libya and Afghanistan for The New York Times. He relayed a story when he and photographer Tyler Hicks were leaving Afghanistan and were trading off coverage with Joao Silva. They had said their goodbyes and he headed home for a brief visit with his wife and five children. He was driving bewteen sports events with his four-year-old son and received news that Silva stepped on a landmine and lost both legs. He pulled the car over and exhaled, his son had only heard half of the phone coversations and asked, “how is Joao? What can we do? What did your friend step on?” As if what Silva had stepped on were something as ordinary as a “bottle cap.” His son came to understand the very real dangers associated with what Chivers does for a living and on a subsequent visit home asked, “how come you don’t get hurt?” Chivers said, “It’s an acute embarrassment to win an award with just your name on it. We don’t do any of this alone. Every step I make is made in consultation with photographers, editors. This award is a reflection of something much larger than me.”
Seconding the dangers of being a journalist was The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award winner André Liohn for photos from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata. He said that one year ago, said he was in Misrata with Marie Colvin and they had shared a near-death experience. “I’m lucky,” she said and quickly changed the subject with “Let’s do pasta!” She later asked him how old he was, and he said, 35, almost 40, which drew laughter from the crowd. “There is no other way for people like us,” she said.
Christiane Amanpour and her ABC News team won The David Kaplan Award for spot news reporting for Arab Spring, which was the first OPC Award for veteran journalist Amanpour. She relayed a story about how she and Marie Colvin were the last journalists to interview Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. “It’s not often that people get interveiews together and agree to share and we did it and we sat together and we were very happy to do it,” she said. “We were two jorunalists getting a great scoop and not being jealous or possessive about it.” She said the cash prize for the award will be donated to The Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at Stonybrook.
Ted Turner was this year’s OPC President’s Award recipient. He delivered a speech that was unscripted and incredibly funny, telling two stories about his time at CNN and delivering a playful jab to Rupert Murdoch. When the governement was deciding which network would have access to cover the war, it chose CNN. “We didn’t do anything to compromise our principles to do it,” he said. “Unlike Murdoch, I’m not being indicted for anything. I never have been, and never will… . Anyway… .”
Turner ended his speech with a rallying cry of support to guests. “Of all the things I’ve done in my life — I’ve won the world series, won America’s Cup and been sportsman and yachts and philanthropist of the year — the thing I love the most and still love most is journalism. In my heart, I’m with you. God bless you all.”