Fatima Tlisova, a Pulitzer Center grantee and one of the inspirations for our Persephone Miel Fellowship, was among three journalists who met with President Barack Obama on Friday (5/1/15) to mark "Free the Press," an ongoing campaign by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on behalf of journalists who report in countries where press freedom is restricted.
"Sunday is World Press Freedom Day, a day in which we reaffirm the vital role that a free press plays in democracy and shining a light on the many challenges, cruelties and also hopeful stories that exist in countries all around the world," Obama said, in remarks at the White House. He was joined by Tlisova, from Russia; Dieu Cay, from Vietnam; and Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia.
Fatima Tlisova reported for the Pulitzer Center on journalist murders and censorship in the Caucasus, for Nieman Reports and other outlets. She was a close friend and colleague of Persephone Miel, an Internews journalist who died in 2010 and in whose name the Pulitzer Center and Internews established Persephone Miel Fellowship Fund.
Before she died, Persephone said she wanted to be remembered by a fellowship that would help media professionals outside the United States report on their home countries and bring their work to a broader international audience. Persephone "had a very clear vision of what she wanted," Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer said at the time. "She's trying to make an opportunity for voices to be heard beyond a region, beyond a country in a larger world, and give us the opportunity to bring those voices to the widest possible audience."
Over the past five years Miel fellows have reported from India, Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines. Tlisova's work with the Pulitzer Center predated establishment of the fellowship but she was its inspiration—a journalist working in difficult conditions who had been introduced to the Center by Persephone Miel. She now works at Voice of America.
At the White House on Friday Obama paid tribute to the work of journalists in dangerous places:
"Journalists give all of us, as citizens, the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves, our governments," he said. "That makes us better. It makes us stronger. It gives voice to the voiceless, exposes injustice, and holds leaders like me accountable. Unfortunately, in too many places around the world, a free press is under attack by governments that want to avoid the truth or mistrust the ability of citizens to make their own decisions. Journalists are harassed, sometimes even killed. Independent outlets are shut down. Dissent is silenced. And freedom of expression is stifled.
"And that’s why I really appreciated and valued the opportunity to hear from three journalists who have been incredibly courageous under some very, very difficult circumstances. All three are from countries that severely restrict the freedom of the press. All three have been detained or harassed in the past. All three have sought refuge here in the United States. And we welcome them so that they can continue their important work.
Obama noted that Tlisova, in her reporting from Russia, had been "attacked, kidnapped, tortured herself. Today, she reports for the Voice of America, and most recently has spent time reporting on the Boston trials related to the Boston bombing. So we very much appreciate Fatima being here."