Carleton University has launched a new award in honour of a prominent Palestinian-American journalist shot and killed while reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the West Bank in May, 2022.
The Shireen Abu Akleh Emerging Reporter Award in Social Justice Journalism was unveiled during a ceremony at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre in downtown Ottawa Sept. 22.
The award will offer a minimum of $5,000 annually to a successful applicant from the school’s senior undergraduate or graduate programs. Recipients can use the money to help support an original piece of journalism focusing on some aspect of social justice.
Allan Thompson, director of Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication and the journalism program head, told Capital Current, “I’m trying to move to a type of award that creates journalism that gives promising students the resources to get out there and to fulfill their journalistic dreams and do some of their best work.
“This scholarship, in particular will foster social justice journalism, and it’s not a prize.”
The Palestinian-American journalist was killed on May 11, 2022 while reporting from Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. She was 51. The widely condemned killing was the subject of multiple media investigations, including by Bellingcat, the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera. These outlets all concluded Abu Akleh had been fatally shot by an Israeli solider. The allegations were initally denied, but the Israeli Defence Forces eventually acknowledged its responsibility.
“The facts of her death are now well established,” said Thompson.
The Carleton award was noted in the House of Commons on Sept. 21, by Liberal MP for Mississauga-Erin Mills Iqra Khalid.
“Shireen was a trailblazer among one of the first female journalists in the Arab world to be seen on TV as a war correspondent complete with flak jacket and helmet,” said Khalid during her statement in the Commons. “We pay tribute to the remarkable legacy of Shireen Abu Akleh, a role model for generations.”
Thompson said that Abu Akleh gave voice to a people, a generation of young Arab youth who in particular looked up to her as the first Arab woman journalist they had seen covering the war with voice and humility.
“Often journalists are targeted and we should be remembering them and their work,” he said.
Tony Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, said he was gratified that the award will help remind people of the important work done by his sister.
“I think this is very important, especially from a university like Carleton here in Ottawa,” he told Capital Current following the event.
“It shows international solidarity and the rejection of these killings in Palestine, [while], unfortunately, the Israelis are enjoying this impunity and the international community have been silent for a long time.”
“But when a distinguished university like Carleton introduces this esteemed award, it will bring more light on the importance of achieving justice for such killings.”
Thompson said there may be young women journalists who didn’t know Abu Akleh’s name before she was killed, and that people have learned about her because of her passing and the circumstances and the “ongoing unresolved controversy around her death.”
“It’s time we start finding ways to hold up role models to remind some young journalists at the back of a classroom, that this is somebody I can aspire to emulate, and I think it’s really important to have those role models,” said Thompson.
One of the significart element’s in Shireen’s case, Thompson said, is “challenging this old fashioned notion of objectivity that you can’t do journalism about your own society, your own culture, the things that you’re connected to.”
“In her case, she proved you can do that work, you can do it professionally,” he said.
Sadly, Abu Akleh’s death was not the only one in a bloody year. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “2022 marked the most conflict-related deaths for both Israelis and Palestinians since 2015.”