From sword-wielding gangs in Sri Lanka inspired by the movies and the residents of Assam declared stateless in India, to the mysterious death of a Kashmiri in custody, the Tramadol abuse crisis sweeping across Ghana and the parenting rights of the disabled in Armenia.
These are among the stories that have made the shortlist for the 2019 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, run in collaboration with the UK Foreign Press Association (FPA).
The shortlist, hailing from Armenia, Ghana, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka won over judges at the foundation with their stories about putting all people first.
Using the example of Fatima Begum, a Bengali Muslim woman left off Assam's citizens’ list and facing statelessness and detention, Sarita Santoshini warns that the Indian state is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis in one of her three submissions for the award. From Armenia, Kushane Chobanyan writes about a determined young teacher with Down syndrome who is revolutionising his community’s education system.
For the last seven years, Thomson Foundation has given opportunities to journalists aged 30 and under from countries with a Gross National Income per capita of less than $20,000.
This year, almost 200 entries poured in from 55 countries, including Kenya and Kyrgyzstan and from Nepal and Nicaragua to Moldova and Mexico.
As a special tribute to the awards this year, previous winners were invited back to talk about the life-changing impact the prize had on their careers – an apt way of celebrating them and the award’s rise internationally. For the former winners, the accolade meant a level of support that most aspiring journalists only dream of and all were compelled to offer advice to journalists applying for this year’s award.
“Rewrite the narrative and influence change,” was the bold statement from Judy Kosgei, the first winner of the annual prize in 2013. “No media platform is too small to stir change, no voice too low, no picture too hazy and no ink too faint. There is no greater opportunity than this.”
It’s a thought that sums up the essence of the Young Journalist Award, which encourages journalists to mainstream marginalised voices and share difficult truths.
"No media platform is too small to stir change, no voice too low, no picture too hazy, no ink too faint"
Aamir Ali, India
In one of his three stories, Aamir visits the family of Rizwan Asad Pandit, a 29-year-old teacher who was detained over a security investigation in Indian-administered Kashmir and died in police custody. Pandit's family condemned his death as a “cold-blooded murder” and the incident prompted widespread rioting and anger. Aamir later investigates a range of abuses in detention facilities run by the Indian army, local police and paramilitaries since India announced its decision to withdraw the region’s autonomy. In a related story, Aamir looks at the traumatic emotional impact on young Kashmiris of pellet shotguns fired by security forces and how the region is in the grip of a mental health crisis.
Kushane Chobanyan, Armenia
People with disabilities can parent, is the message in one of Kushane’s submissions for the Young Journalist Award. Filmed in different parts of Armenia, Kushane explores whether people with disabilities face significant barriers to becoming adoptive parents. In another story, Kushane focuses her attention on Tigran Gevorgyan, a determined young man with Down syndrome who has been overcoming prejudice surrounding his condition by taking charge of early-learning classes at an educational centre in Armenia. A genetic condition, Down syndrome typically affects a person's physical and intellectual growth. In Tigran's case, and as Kushane writes, it has done nothing to diminish his optimism and self-belief.
Meiryum Ali, Pakistan
Meiryum’s explainer video of the complex data connecting former Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari with a high-profile money-laundering case in which millions were allegedly siphoned out of the country, went viral shortly after its release. As discontent simmers in Pakistan following repeated devaluations of the rupee and soaring inflation, Meiryum vowed to make sense of a 128-page JIT (Joint Investigation Team) report to help shape public discourse around the former president’s trial. Her video was picked up by a major news channel and even shared on Twitter by the country’s current ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Another of Meiryum’s stories focuses on the collection of bribery, not rent, from shopkeepers in Empress Market in the Pakistani city of Karachi.
Amos Abba, Nigeria
The idea that one can eradicate cancer through something as simple as taking a herbal supplement is an alluring one. Amos goes undercover in one of his reports to meet three herbal doctors in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, who all falsely claim to have a cure for cancer. Faced with the prospect of chemotherapy, many patients visit these doctors in the hope that a more “natural” option might spare them the potentially unpleasant treatment effects of chemo and radiotherapy. However, as Amos warns, these costly herbal treatment programmes neither change their prognosis, but in some cases, actually lead to further health complications.
Sarita Santoshini, India
The latest list of citizens in Assam state in north-eastern India effectively strips nearly two million people of citizenship, writes Sarita in her report. To be recognised as an Indian citizen here, an individual must prove their links to the region dating back half a century and those left off the list face being branded illegal immigrants and sent to detention camps. Muslims, women and the poorest communities could be the worst affected. Sarita explores the problem through the story of a Bengali Muslim woman called Fatima Begum who local authorities suspect of being a “Doubtful” or “D” voter, despite her having only lived in India.
Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman, Ghana
The Tramadol abuse crisis spreading across Ghana is the focus of one of Ridwan’s video reports, as he takes the viewer on a journey to Old Fadama, Ghana’s largest slum and the capital city of the Ashanti Region, Kumasi, where the synthetic opioid drug is regularly abused and destroying young lives. Used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, Tramadol has had alarming take-up across Africa for its anti-fatigue effects, as well as its ability to improve sexual stamina and ease the pain of hunger. Ridwan’s report was followed by a nationwide campaign demanding action on smuggling and the sale of opioids.
Rubatheesan Sandranathan, Sri Lanka
Does exposure to violent films lead to more aggressive behaviour? In one of his three stories, Rubatheesan investigates the growing number of sword-wielding youth emulating the violent scenes in South Indian films. In one week alone, more than five incidents of sword attacks by gangs were reported in towns in the northern Jaffna district of Sri Lanka, bringing terror to locals and causing damage to houses and vehicles. Soon after his investigation, Sri Lankan authorities increased the number of police officers to begin a crackdown on gang crimes. In another story, Rubatheesan explores the marginalisation of Sri Lanka’s tea plantation workers.
Bukeka Silekwa, South Africa
In one of her stories, Bukeka visits Umlazi’s notorious Glebelands Hostel, which has a murder rate four times South Africa’s national average, to speak to the residents about the culture of extreme violence that surrounds them daily. In another story, in an attempt to help get a grip on the chaos, Bukeka investigates whether the culture of reckless driving in South Africa is spawned right from the driving test, which she says exists mostly as a formality and is easily smoothed with bribes. After her investigation, extra measures were put in place to reduce widespread bribery of driving licences in the country to ensure lives weren’t being lost on the roads.
Oladeinde Olawoyin, Nigeria
The first place to fight corruption is at the airports, says Oladeinde, in his three-part undercover investigation exposing the corrupt practices of customs and immigration officers, and other workers, in Nigeria's airports. His report is inspired by a decades-long culture of corruption and demands for bribes from passengers at the main gateways to the country. A disciplinary blitz followed his report which revealed that airport cleaners were issuing vaccination cards to travellers and custom officers were being paid a flat fee to avoid searches. Airport authorities stepped up security at toilets and fixed a number of facilities, including poor audio systems, following the investigation.
Saurabh Sharma, India
Saurabh reports from Nat Purwa, a small village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh that suffers from abject poverty and where prostitution has been a tainted tradition for over 400 years. Women pass on the trade to their children and the men are also involved, making sex work an important aspect of the family economy. However, according to Saurabh’s report, the people of Nat, who have led a marginalised existence and suffered intolerable abuse for decades, are now resisting. With the help of NGO initiatives and the setting up of a skills development centre, they are looking for alternative ways to earn their livelihood.
Damilola Banjo, Nigeria
Widespread cheating in exams is the focus of one of Damilola’s submissions. The cheating scandal applies to children as young as nine, who Damilola says are “introduced early and unabashedly to examination malpractice.” The six-month long investigation reveals the crisis of cheating in schools, with school heads, teachers and parents all complicit in helping students to cheat. Elsewhere, in a four-part, in-depth feature, Damilola investigates the growing concern in northern Nigeria over the level of banditry and kidnapping in the state of Zamfara. Following the report, spirited protesters ramped up pressure on the government to provide adequate security for residents and wash out the bandits.
Julius Luwemba, Uganda
In one story, Julius visits the Batwa Pygmies, a displaced ethnic group excluded from Ugandan society. Evicted from their homes when the forest was gazetted as a national park in 1991, they are now taking control, and a direct stake in the tourism they’re told to engage in, bringing income directly to their communities. In another of his submissions, Julius highlights the lack of support and funding offered to struggling mothers of children with disabilities, such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Many, if not most, of these children are excluded from school and little government help is offered to their primary carers who often struggle to cope. Since the story, donations of time, money and land have poured in to help the struggling mothers.
Each of this year's 12 shortlisted entrants will receive a certificate commending them on the high standard of their work, and will have the opportunity to participate in the Thomson Foundation e-learning platform, Journalism Now.
The final selection will be left to independent judges chosen by the FPA and will be revealed in October. The three most promising finalists will be flown to London and the winner will be announced during a gala awards ceremony at the end of November.
The award will conclude by looking forward, to the bright futures of its finalists and its winner.
For more information on how the Young Journalist Award works, please see our competitions section. The competition will reopen in July 2020.
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