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Wounded Lebanese broadcaster wins UN press award

By Staff
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COLOMBO, May 3 (Reuters) A Lebanese broadcaster who lost a hand and a leg in an attempt on her life received an annual press freedom award from the United Nations today, with the organisation warning journalists were increasingly at risk.

Television presenter May Chidiac was proposed for the annual Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by the Lebanese government.

UNESCO, the United Nations cultural body, said she owed her popularity to her professionalism and direct approach in a country at war.

The attack on her in September 2005 closely resembled others that had killed other journalists in Lebanon, UNESCO said, with her survival seen as a symbol of freedom of expression.

She received the award, named after a Colombian journalist assassinated in 1987 after denouncing drug barons, at UNESCO's annual World Press Freedom event held in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura said that 2005 had been a bad year for violence against the media. The International Federation of Journalists says 150 media professionals died in the line of duty and 500 were detained or arrested.

''This data shows what we all know: being a journalist is in many places a dangerous occupation, and it is getting more dangerous,'' he said in a statement. ''These individuals deserve our respect and gratitude; they deserve our commitment and protection.'' The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has identified 12 journalists already killed in 2006 in China, India, Iraq, Venezuela and Sri Lanka, with more cases under investigation. Eight of the 12 died in Iraq.

But media freedom organisations say governments must do more to protect journalists, and UNESCO said states must commit to ending the ''culture of impunity'' regarding attacks against journalists.

''We call on leaders throughout the world ... to take the necessary precautions that make it possible for journalists to continue to provide us with the essential knowledge and information that flow from a free and independent press,'' Matsuura said.

But even as UNESCO held its meeting in the capital, gunmen raided an ethnic Tamil language newspaper in Sri Lanka's north, hunting for a prominent local journalist and killing two staff.

It followed the killing of a Tamil journalist in January and another a year ago.

''The government hasn't done anything to stop attacks and killings of journalists in the last 20 years,'' said Sunanda Deshapriya, head of advocacy for the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

Sri Lanka's military denied any involvement in yesterday's attack on the paper, which had close contacts with Tamil Tiger rebels. Police later said they had arrested six young men on suspicion of the killings.

REUTERS SI PC2117

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