NN’s Mae Azango Wins Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award

CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee and NN fellow Mae Azango

New Narratives is delighted one of our senior fellows Mae Azango has been chosen as one of four international journalists to receive the 2012 Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. The award recognizes Mae’s courage in reporting earlier this year on the health risks of female genital cutting in traditional societies in her home country, Liberia. Mae, her editor and publisher at FrontPage Africa newspaper were subjected to repeated death threats from members of the traditional societies that practice FGC. Mae was forced into hiding along with her 9-year-old daughter who was also the subject of threats. Amazingly, Mae continued to report on the subject while in hiding. 

NN’s Country Director Joanna Devane worked with Mae to produce the stories and played a crucial role in persuading government ministers to come out in defense of Mae’s actions as a journalist. The ministers also spoke in opposition to FGC for the first time in Liberia. So entrenched are Liberia’s traditional societies that opposing female genital cutting can be electoral suicide for politicians. The ministers’ courage persuaded other Liberian leaders to also voice their opposition to the practice. Sadly, all those who opposed the practice also became the target of death threats, but a sense of “safety in numbers” gave Mae the confidence to emerge from hiding.

CPJ played a crucial role in galvanizing an international campaign calling the Liberian government to ensure Mae’s safety. Others in the campaign included The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Amnesty International and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Dean Nicholas Leman and the student body. Most of the New Narratives team are graduates of the Columbia J’School.

Mae will receive the award at a ceremony attended by leading journalists and press freedom activists in New York City in November.

NN is concerned that the threats against Mae and FrontPage Africa have continued. Most recently editor and NN reporter, Wade Williams received a death threat via email simply for reporting UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s criticism of the Liberian government’s slow actions on eradicating FGC.