CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 2004) — Zhanna Litvina, a pioneering radio journalist in Belarus, has been selected by the sitting class of Nieman Fellows to receive the 2004 Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
By 1997, Radio 101.2, of which Litvina was editor in chief, was the last remaining independent radio outlet in Belarus. When then-president Alexander Lukashenko shut the station down, Litvina came up with the solution to recreate the radio station and transmit from Poland. Litvina spent the following four to five years commuting between Belarus and Poland, maintaining operations in both countries.
In addition to this solution, Litvina founded the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), which is the “single most important organization for keeping the world informed about what goes on in Europe’s last remaining dictatorship and for keeping Belarus’s besieged journalists a bit more sane and safe than they would otherwise be,” according to Masha Gessen, the 2004 Nieman Fellow who nominated Litvina for the award. BAJ also publishes a magazine on the Belarusian media and provides legal aid to journalists and publishers, who face an unremitting chain of searches, arrests and threats.
Litvina “plays mother to the Belarusian journalists in every way,” Gessen adds. “I once traveled with a delegation of independent journalists from Minsk. Not only was Litvina the one who organized the trip, got the funding, drafted the participants and straightened out visa arrangements, she was also the one who boarded the train with a bag of food from her own garden. For me, she has been an invaluable help in understanding both her country and my own: The woman’s analysis is unfailingly brilliant.”
The Lyons Award is named in honor of Louis M. Lyons, known for his journalistic integrity, who was in the first class of Nieman Fellows in 1939 and who served as curator of the Nieman Foundation for 25 years. The award carries a $1,000 honorarium. Twenty-four individuals, groups and organizations have received the Lyons Award since it was established by the 1964 class of Nieman Fellows.