“I am not a humble man by nature,” so began Henry Bonsu, co-founding presenter of Colourful Radio and an Amnesty Media Awards judge. It seemed somewhat out of keeping with last night’s ceremony, but he went on, “every year when I come here it makes me think, what am I doing with my life?” 

 “I feel I am not worthy to judge these people” he concluded.

 This sentiment became something of a theme, the humility and deference from one journalist to another, with the Today Programme’s Justin Webb, echoing Bonsu, before conceding that “it was tough on the Obama campaign trial, we occasionally went without a snack for half an hour”.

 Even the winners declined to take the glory, many of them dedicating their awards to their fixers, or the subjects of their work. Many paying homage to independent media workers in Burma, the collective recipients of the evening’s Special Award for Journalism Under Threat. Who in their turn paid homage to the “real risk takers, in front of the camera”.

 Anthony Butts who won the award for International Television and Radio, with a piece entitled “People and Power: Ingushetia- a second Cechnya” on Al Jazeera, said, “we basically just turned up and filmed”, a comment which was barely audible over the heckling refutation of “No- more than that, more than that” from Bonsu, behind him. 

But if there were light hearted moments, and there was certainly all the glamour and big names associated with awards ceremonies attended by the crème of the UK media world, there was a sombre mood in the theatre when extracts of the shortlisted works were screened. The breadth and variety of human rights issues covered was immense and harrowing and although interspersed with a little humour, this was a night that the audience took very seriously. On collecting the first of his two consecutive awards, photographer Robin Hammond, said “I call myself a human rights photographer, it is how I define myself”.  

Jamal Osman, was the recipient of the Gaby Rado award, made to a journalist who has worked on human rights issues for fewer than five years. He is the Somali journalist, who works for Channel Four and who only last week secured a very high-profile exclusive interview with the British couple held hostage by Somali pirates. His impressive portfolio included work on an investigation into aid stolen from Somali refugees; a piece entitled; “Somalia, the 'new Pakistan'?” and an exploration of the untold suffering of Kenya's children. 

“Even before I started doing this, Gaby Rado was someone who I always admired,” he opened, and then in the night’s signature pay-it-forward style, he paid homage to his commissioning editor, for “turning all these stories I dream of, into real things” 

He finished his acceptance speech with an anecdote about sitting in a café in Somalia, which made the eyes of the Channel4 PR sitting next to me, light up: “Corrupt officials, they get sick whenever they hear the number 4. So when I order coffees, for 4 of us, I say 12 divided by 3. Some journalists don’t realise the power they have.”  

Hopefully last night illustrated that potential and encouraged one of the most powerful rooms in the UK to flex its muscles for the coming year.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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