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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Widow of assassinated Sri Lankan editor expected

Bob WebbAlex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard and author of the acclaimed new book, Losing the News, has returned to the ICF’s US chapter Advisory Board. 

If you've not read his book, which Kathleen Parker promoted heavily in her Washington Post column recently, I urge you to do so. It will give you new hope that as a nation we can and must save newspapers for the fundamental role they play in our democracy.  

More good news: assuming our board approves, ICF-America will partner with the National Press Club's International Correspondents and Freedom of the Press committees to bring to Washington Nieman Fellow Sonali Samarasinghe, widow of Lasantha Wickrematunge. He was the heroic Sri Lankan editor murdered last January 8 as he predicted in a now-famous editorial he wrote in advance to run—as it did—in the Sunday Leader just after his death.  

Even more good news is that Gil Klein, former NPC President who for many years was Media General's national correspondent, is helping us with this event. As President, he initiated the now-famous "Kalb Reports" sponsored by the NPC, George Washington University and the Shorenstein Center. He also wrote the club's official history, released last year in its Centennial year. As well, he took the NPC's Centennial DVD to 30 states and Ottawa with panels of leading journalists in each on the future of journalism. Other states got the DVD. 

Still more good news: Sonali will receive on her husband's behalf, November 17 at Harvard, the coveted Louis M. Lyons Award which "honors displays of conscience and integrity by individuals, groups or institutions in communications." This will be at least the fourth major award he has received for setting an example of journalistic courage for journalists today and generations to come. The others were from UNESCO and the National Press Club. Lasantha also received a major award on his behalf from the US National Endowment for Democracy.

Given the agony she has been through (including fear for her own life), Sonali has asked that we postpone our event until February, March or April to give her more time to recover and adjust. Whenever we get her, it will be a major event. For ICF-America, it will be our long awaited official launch though we've done much in the way of promoting the ICF's premier mission statement, the Sarajevo Commitment, with SPJ, other media organizations and individual journalists person-to-person.

Bob Webb