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VOA Recognizes Three Journalists with Burke Award

Anne Look, Bagassi Koura, and Idriss Fall
Anne Look, Bagassi Koura, and Idriss Fall

Three Voice of America journalists who reported from the frontlines of some of Africa’s most volatile regions are among the recipients of the 2014 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award, announced April 11 in Washington.

Named after David Burke, former chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the awards are given annually by the Board to journalists of the U.S. government’s international media for their integrity, bravery and originality in reporting.

The three VOA winners honored this year are Anne Look of Central News, and Idriss Fall and Bagassi Koura, both of the French-to-Africa Service.

Anne Look, Dakar bureau chief, VOA Central News

Anne Look saw a lot of war zones in 2013. She traveled to Mali five times and covered the country’s pivotal elections in July, which had been delayed for over a year following the March 2012 military coup. In December, she and VOA reporter Heather Murdock were on assignment in the city of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, to report on life there after months of attacks by Boko Haram militants. The two were at the air base in the city, waiting to board a flight out, when it came under fire from Boko Haram. The government quickly imposed a curfew, stranding the two journalists at the air base. In spite of the risk of exposing their presence to Boko Haram, Anne filed a radio report on the situation at the air base, which would be the only on-the-scene reporting of the attack by a Western news organization.

Unable to get a flight out, the two reporters engaged a driver they trusted to navigate the 525 miles from Maiduguri to the VOA bureau in Abuja. Anne’s courage and innate understanding of the story and surroundings demonstrates the best traits of a VOA correspondent.

Idriss Fall, VOA French-to-Africa Service

Idriss Fall is no stranger to high-risk situations. His bravery and exceptional reporting earned him a share of last year’s Burke Award for his coverage of the brutal fighting in Gao in northeastern Mali.

This year’s award is for reporting he did from the Central African Republic’s capital city of Bangui, which thousands of residents were fleeing to avoid fighting between Muslim and Christian factions. He experienced Bangui’s violence firsthand in December, when a car he was in was attacked by vigilantes armed with machetes. They smashed the windows of the car and attempted to pull him out, along with his driver and fixer. Idriss believes it was only the arrival of French soldiers that saved him and his team from harm. The veteran VOA journalist put this incident behind him and carried on, providing daily debriefs in French and English, sending video, dozens of photos and interviewing political and religious leaders and humanitarian workers.

“Working in CAR is very, very difficult and unpredictable. There exists this invisible line that, if crossed, puts you in severe danger,” Idriss says. “The neighborhood where I was attacked was fine just the day before when I was there. You don’t know when or where violence will break out, when a grenade will be thrown. But this is our job.”

Bagassi Koura, VOA French-to-Africa Service

Bagassi Koura, also of VOA’s French-to-Africa service, provided exceptional coverage of the July 2013 elections in Mali. In the face of considerable danger, Bagassi was prolific and comprehensive in his reporting, providing daily radio and video pieces. Bagassi also kept a detailed multimedia blog with video, photos, audio and text recounting details from polling stations. His reporting from Mali last year also included the peace treaty between Tuaregs and the Malian government.

Bagassi is traveling and wasn’t able to be contacted about the award, but Anne Look had this to say about what it is like to work with him and Idriss: “West Africa has faced and is facing unprecedented challenges. There is no how-to manual on how to cover this. I feel so fortunate to be able to collaborate with colleagues like Idriss and Bagassi, who really want to get out in the trenches and listen to people.”

VOA Director David Ensor said of the three: “The winners of this year’s Burke Award represent the very best of VOA journalism, and have contributed immeasurably to VOA’s coverage of violent extremism and insurgencies in Africa.”