2005 Speaker Abbot Award

To my old stomping ground, the House of Commons, courtesy of an invitation from the Speaker and the Parliamentary Press Gallery: many thanks to Rob Gibson and Gallery News for including me on this special event. The occasion was a reception to mark the presentation of the 2005 Speaker Abbot Award:

The Speaker Abbot Award was launched to mark the 200th anniversary of the Press being allowed into the back row of the public gallery as a right. William Pitt the Younger’s announcement to Parliament in 1803 that Britain was to resume the war against France went unreported because MPs’ cronies had paid for seats for the momentous occasion and the Press failed to gain admittance. Pitt was apoplectic and Speaker Abbot designated the back row of the public gallery for the sole use of the press.

The Speaker Abbot award goes to a journalist considered to have made the greatest contribution internationally to the protection and promotion of parliamentary democracy. This year’s award went to Alfred Taban, who filed the reports for the BBC World Service that exposed the scale of the killing in the Darfur region of Sudan:

“Despite the arrests and the many closures of my newspaper, I have refused to be intimidated and I am still continuing to fight for media freedom and democracy, without which I do not believe we will have a stable Sudan.”

Alfred’s newspaper has been shut down more time than he cares to remember. He’s not even sure when he returns to Sudan whether he will have a paper to write for. The Speaker and Alfred made poignant speeches that made even the assembled world-weary Fleet Streeters appreciate the very different circumstances under which journalists like Alfred operate. I found it a little hard to reconcile in my mind the ostentation of the Speaker’s apartment with the very different world that Alfred inhabits in the Sudan. If anything, it made his message carry more impact – as an authoritative voice speaking of his first hand experiences of a very different political culture.

Talking with Alfred and his relatives, we discussed how the media, IT and the Internet, and community radio could all help contribute to the growth of a democratic ecosystem. The free flow of factual information and open debate between our media and our politicians is something we take for granted in the UK. Helping build the information infrastructure in countries like the Sudan is not only an effective way of helping ensure the better flow of information, but also to establish skills and a local ecosystem that will help with sustained economic regeneration. I will follow Alfred’s – and the Sudan’s – future development with great interest.

This blog post originally appeared when I hosted NTOUK on SimpleBlog. It’s one of several I’m retrieving and posting here to bring together my posts in one place. The content and date shown for this post replicates the original. Many links are, inevitably, broken: where I can, I’ll substitute ones that work, particularly where the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has captured the content originally linked to.

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