Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for those opening comments. I would like to now give some thanks of my own.
I have a few comments to make on why we are supporting Smitha Rajan through the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Fellowship Alfred Friendly Press Partners Fellow. Before, I do so, however, I would like to give some thanks.
First, my sincere thanks to Susan and Alberto for having us here in their spectacular home for this special dinner. As someone who hosts many dinners with my wife Debbie at our home, we know what work and preparation go into holding events such as this. Therefore, we are truly grateful for your hospitality.
It is my understanding that the two of you have been supporters of the Alfred Friendly Press Partners. It is an honor for my wife Debbie and me to join you as part of the Friendly family.
On that note, let me thank Jonathan Friendly for your stage-setting remarks. They reinforce the tremendous significance of the work of the Alfred Friendly Press Partners – especially in these trying times – and make me feel even better about our partnering with your organization on this fellowship.
I want to thank Randy Smith President of Alfred Friendly Press Partners for making the establishment of the fellowship a painless process and for ensuring we got excellent candidates from which to select.
I want to thank each of you for being here especially so many of you Journalists here this evening
That brings me to the last person I want to thank. She is Smitha Rajan, the first recipient of the Frank Islam and Debbie Dreisman Fellowship. Because of who she is, she made her selection easy.
Let me tell you a little bit about her beginning with the headline. That headline is: Smitha Rajan is a fearless fighter, a foe of the power structure and a friend to the disadvantaged.
Here’s Smitha’s story. She is an assistant editor with DNA Divya Bhaskar in Gujarat, India. In her current position, she leads a team of 10 journalists.
Her area of concentration has been as an environmental journalist. She has covered stories not normally covered by the mainstream media including air pollution, swine flu outbreak, poaching, lion translocation, and the plight of the Dalits, the lowest in the Hindu caste system.
Smitha won a fellowship for investigative journalism given by the Dutch government; was selected for the MS program of the Columbia journalism; and recently was one of the semi-finalists from around the globe for the Knight Science Journalism fellowship.
She supports scholarships for the education of poor students “preferably girls.” Some day she would like to start her own venture focused on environmental issues and concerns.
When we reviewed her application, we concluded that Smitha had strong leadership qualities and the capability to be a journalistic change agent. That is why we are so proud to have her as the recipient of the first Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Fellowship.
I say hats off and hands together for Smitha.
In closing, let me tell you why we decided to join Alfred Friendly Press Partners in supporting this fellowship. Simply stated: in a free society, the free press matters. It really matters.
In early January, I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post titled, “In Praise of the Free Press.”
Near the end of that blog, I included the following statement etched in the entry to the Newseum, “The Free Press is a cornerstone of Democracy. People have the need to know. Journalists have the right to tell. Finding the facts can be difficult. Reporting the story can be dangerous. Freedom includes the right to be outrageous. Responsibility includes the right to be fair. News is history in the making. Journalists provide the first draft of history. A Free Press, at its very best, reveals the Truth.
I concluded the blog by stating, “We have come to praise the free press, not to bury it. There are others who want to do the opposite.
Time will tell how this story will end. Our American democracy hinges in the balance.
Indeed it does. As do other democracies around the world.
And that is why Debbie and I are so pleased to be here this evening with Susan, Alberto, Jonathan, Randy, Lisa, Smitha and all of you kindred spirits to celebrate and defend the free press and journalists so that they can keep speaking truth to power.
Let me conclude my Remarks by quoting Thomas Jefferson who in 1787 wrote “The basis of our Government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should say I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. “
Thank you so much for joining us on this special occasion.