In recognition of his work during Argentina’s last military regime, former Buenos Aires Herald editor and current columnist Robert Cox has been awarded the Grand Prize for Press Freedom by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).
Honouring his distinguished career as a journalist and his courage in the defence of freedom of the press, Gonzalo Marroquín, IAPA president, said: “This year we have awarded the IAPA Grand Prize to Robert Cox, a veteran and admired journalist, in recognition of his long professional career and his exemplary life.”
“His biography (Dirty Secrets, Dirty War) illustrates like no other the importance of the press in defence of freedom in the face of dictatorships of any stripe.”
Talking about the latest accolade which follows on from 2010’s “Illustrious Citizen of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires” from the City Legislature and the Commemorative Medal of the Bicentenary of the May Revolution 1810-2010 from the Senate, Cox, who is in Buenos Aires until November, said: “This has come out of the blue and I don’t really approve of awards, actually. My first Herald editor, Norman Ingrey, said that journalists should not accept them. Under the Menem administration I was given a similar prize but as journalists were being beaten up here at the time, I didn’t accept it as that was one of the worst times for my fellow-journalists — they were literally under the gun.
“But the good thing is that I can use this prize to simply insist on the importance of freedom of expression. It’s very clear that in countries where journalists are under threat and where newspapers are in danger of being closed down, you can be certain that democracy is threatened too.”
Such accolades can also be life-saving, the British journalist said, who was forced into exile in 1979 following his unlawful arrest. As editor, Cox ensured the Herald was the first news media outlet to report that Argentina’s military government was kidnapping people and making them disappear.
“I received the OBE at a time when it helped to save my life. The military was convinced I was a Communist and a subversive, and they would have rather done something else with me.”
Cox, who led missions to different regimes where the press is under threat such as Venezuela during his time as IAPA president between 2001 and 2002, recalled a trip to neighbouring Chile while Augusto Pinochet was in power.
“My wife and I had a long debate about whether we should go there or not, as journalists were in prison at that time although newspapers kept coming out. We agreed to go but as only I could go in, I would listen to Pinochet’s speech until it crossed the line.
“I’m enormously proud as my wife waited outside for me and I actually did leave early. At the end, when Pinochet came out, she went up to him and said “usted es un asesino” (you are a murderer) and he was so startled, he didn’t know what to say. She was quite a heroine for doing that and is still remembered as ‘the woman who stood up to Pinochet’.”
Although Cox won’t be raising a glass to toast the Grand Prize for Press Freedom, he does recognize what the award means in the long term.
“This is an honour and an acknowledgement of what the Herald has done, which just happens to have my name on it. There won’t be any personal celebration, however, until it gets better everywhere in Latin America. A recent IAPA report showed that 2011 has been one of the most tragic years (in terms of the number of journalists killed) because of what is happening in Mexico. Fortunately, we don’t have those levels of violence in Argentina.
“I am enormously proud of the the Herald’s past, present and future and this recognition is wonderful. It should be looked upon as our prize.”
IAPA will present this year’s 11 press awards, which includes two for Argentine journalists and media, at a ceremony in Lima in October.
First pulbished in the Buenos Aires Herald on August 4, 2011.