Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani, Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network, on Saturday accepted the Roosevelt Foundation’s Freedom of Speech and Expression Award at a ceremony in the Dutch town of Middelburg in the presence of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Below is the text of his acceptance speech.
Your Majesty, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is with immense pride and sincere humility that I stand before you today to accept the Freedom of Speech and Expression Award on behalf of Al Jazeera Media Network.
Everyone at Al Jazeera is honoured to be recognised for defending the values of free speech – and for providing the world with fearless, independent, and impartial reporting. Free speech and free thought are necessary for any kind of human or social development.
It is important to note, however, that our groundbreaking achievements have come at a substantial and sometimes painful cost.
Over the last 15 years, our bureaus have been bombed, and our people have undergone severe hardships, been jailed, tortured or killed while pursuing the freedom of speech and the rights of people everywhere to be heard.
Al Jazeera’s Sami Al Hajj was the only journalist to have been detained in Guantanamo Bay. He spent over six-and-a-half years there before eventually being released without charge in May 2008. He is now the head of our Public Liberties and Human Rights desk.
Tayseer Allouni, a Syrian Al Jazeera journalist, was jailed in 2005 in Spain. After fighting for over six years to prove his innocence, Tayseer was released only a few months ago following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
We are delighted that both Sami and Tayseer are back with us after their difficult experiences. But, unfortunately, not all of our colleagues are with us to witness this important day.
I would, therefore, like to take a moment to honour three Al Jazeera heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Tareq Ayoub, a 35-year-old Jordanian, had been working for Al Jazeera for three years. He was a talented journalist, a loving husband and proud father to a beautiful baby daughter.
On April 8, 2003, after only three days reporting from Iraq, Tareq was killed when a US airstrike bombed a hotel he was reporting from. He had given a courageous live report from the frontlines moments before he died.
Rashid Hamid Wali joined Al Jazeera in March 2003 and was soon recognised as one of the most brave members of our field team.
In May 2004, Rashid was part of Al Jazeera’s team in Iraq when he was shot and killed as he attempted to capture images of the fierce fighting on the ground.
Ali Hassan Al-Jaber, a Qatari national, was widely loved as a dedicated and gifted cameraman who embodied the spirit of Al Jazeera.
In March 2011, Ali was returning to Benghazi after filing a report from a nearby town, when unknown fighters opened fire on the car he was travelling in. Ali was immediately rushed to hospital, but did not survive.
It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Tareq, Sami, Tayseer, Rashid and Ali are Al Jazeera’s giants, who will forever remain in our hearts.
It is because of their sacrifices that Al Jazeera has grown from strength to strength since our launch in 1996.
We started out as the first independent Arabic news channel in the world, with a vision to provide unbiased news coverage in a region where independent and balanced reporting did not exist.
From the beginning, Al Jazeera led the way in putting the human being at the heart of its news agenda – with the opinion and the other opinion as the foundation of our journalistic values. We have protected these values through our commitment to our Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct that runs through everything we do.
In a world where the truth and human rights are always under attack, Al Jazeera has – at times at great cost and under extreme pressure – continued to give a voice to the voiceless.
We filmed live inside hospitals and homes during the Iraq conflict – and stayed live with images that stunned the world.
In the 2008-2009 War on Gaza we were the only international news network reporting from inside Gaza. The painful and heart-breaking images of destruction and dying children revealed the human cost of this war to our audiences across the world.
In Haiti we continued covering the earthquake long after other news networks had left – reinforcing our commitment to the people at the heart of the story.
We followed the uprisings in the Arab world with unparalleled coverage – and showed the world the power of the collective human spirit as it struggled for freedom and dignity.
Now, with the largest network of bureaus across the globe, we stand tall as an international media network – with journalists, channels, and initiatives that go beyond boundaries and challenge conventional wisdom. With over 25 channels covering news in different languages, documentary, and sports, we continue to expand our reach across the world. Recently we’ve launched several new channels including Al Jazeera Balkans, Al Jazeera Sport News with more to come.
At the heart of our strength is Al Jazeera’s employees. They are our biggest asset. The courage of our people who risk their lives on a daily basis serves as an example of true heroism and courage.
And, the legacy of Sami, Tayseer, Tariq, Rashid and Ali lives on as we dedicate this award to them – as well as to all of the journalists across the world who have suffered or died protecting the freedom of speech.