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Raymond Louw Awarded the Inaugural PEN SA Freedom of Expression Champion Award

PEN South Africa is delighted to announce that the inaugural PEN South Africa Freedom of Expression Champion Award will be awarded to Raymond Louw.

The annual PEN South Africa Freedom of Expression Champion Award has been established to recognise the people and organisations in South Africa who help to ensure freedom of expression in the country. The Award will celebrate people and organisations that are working to protect the value of freedom of expression that PEN is committed to.

The announcement of this award coincides with an important day in PEN’s calendar – the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. On 15 November each year PEN highlights cases of imprisoned writers from across the world and campaigns to get them released. PEN South Africa will be drawing attention to these cases, along with the other PEN Centres from across the world, as well as celebrating the work being done in South Africa to protect freedom of expression with this award.

The cases that are being highlighted by PEN this year are novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji (Egypt), novelist Aslı Erdoğan (Turkey), student leader Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa (Honduras), poet Dareen Tatour (Israel) and publisher Gui Minhai (China).

PEN South Africa member Zapiro, a talented political cartoonist who is no stranger to issues of press freedom himself, very kindly drew an incredible portrait of Louw to commemorate the award.

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PEN South Africa President Margie Orford had the following to say about PEN South Africa’s decision to give the inaugural award to Louw: “Raymond Louw has championed the cause of free speech throughout his illustrious career. His wisdom, experience and integrity make him the most deserving candidate of PEN’s inaugural Freedom of Expression Champion Award. We celebrate this career and his ninetieth birthday on this, The Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Raymond has worked tirelessly – and he continues to do so – to ensure that each and every writer and journalist can express their views without fear or favour.”

Louw, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year on 13 October, is a veteran South African journalist and media freedom activist.

Louw started his career in journalism in 1944, which notably included being the Editor of the Rand Daily Mail from 1966 to 1977, as well as the paper’s News Editor from 1960 – 1965. He was also the founder, editor and publisher of the Southern Africa Report from 1983-2011 and worked on a number of other newspapers throughout the years, including the Sunday Times and the UK’s North Western Evening Mail and Worthing Herald.

In 2010, he was named a World Press Freedom Hero by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) for his “commitment to press freedom and his outspoken defence of journalists’ rights”. Louw also twice received the Pringle Medal for services to journalism from the SA Society of Journalists as well as the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Media Freedom Award; the South African National Editors’ Forum’s Wrottesley Award; the Mondi-Shanduka Newspaper Lifetime Achiever Award and a Lifetime Achiever Award in the Vodacom journalist of the year awards.

During his 72 year career Louw has been at the forefront of the fight for press freedom in South Africa. During apartheid he headed the Media Defense Trust which was set up to defend journalists, publications, film and video producers, broadcasters and authors against court actions or other censorship actions. He was then part of the Independent Media Commission to ensure state broadcasting and state-financed publications were impartial in their coverage of South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 and was later part of a special Task Group on Government Communications to restructure the apartheid government’s propagandist division.

In the early 1990s Louw co-chaired the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting, which called for the establishment of an independent SABC, an open process for selecting SABC board members, and an independent broadcasting regulator, which later became the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

Louw’s work in establishing and protecting press freedom continued after apartheid with his involvement in a number of press and freedom of expression-related organisations. As well as being the Vice-President of PEN South Africa, Louw is a former Chairperson of the Media Freedom Committee of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), a former member of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute, former Chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute, Executive Committee member of the Freedom of Expression Institute, a Fellow of the International Press Institute and a member of the New Era Schools Trust.

Criminal defamation in Africa has been a particular issue that Louw has focused on in recent years. In 2007 he drafted the Declaration of Table Mountain, which called for the elimination of “insult” and criminal defamation laws in Africa and for a review and subsequent repeal of other laws restricting the media. Louw persuaded the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) to adopt this Declaration as well as getting it passed as a resolution by PEN International at the organisation’s Congress in Dakar in 2009. He is currently working on a PEN International UNDEF project focused on criminal defamation on the African continent.

Louw was informed yesterday that he would be receiving the Award: “I am overwhelmed. You have chosen to pay me the honour of being the first recipient of this prestigious award from a great institution for trying to do what all writers do constantly and for which many undergo brutal treatment and often imprisonment. You have chosen to announce this on the Day of the Imprisoned Writer and I am deeply conscious of the many writers, editors and journalists who have in the last few days and over the last several months been summarily imprisoned in Turkey and their newspapers closed. The right to know and to read and hear what others say and think is an essential element of life and I am pleased I discovered that truth. I am deeply appreciative of the award and will treasure it.”