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Woodruff backs role of women journalists

Cause Celeb talks with television news anchor and journalist Judy Woodruff about her work with a foundation dedicated to strengthening the role of women in the news media
Meet The Press
Judy Woodruff founded the International Women's Media Foundation in 1990.Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Judy Woodruff, news anchor, journalist and founding co-chair of the , a global network dedicated to strengthening the role of women in the news media. The IWMF is a major global advocate of free press and especially of the role of women journalists in expanding press rights in developing countries. Woodruff founded the organization in 1990. We also speak with Amira Hass, one of this year's recipients of the IWMF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Q: Tell me about the work of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Woodruff: We, as an organization, promote opportunity in any way we can for women journalists around the globe. Women in the United States, who are part of the news media, have so much more, in the way of freedom, than women in so many other parts of the world.

What we try to do is highlight the work that women are doing in other countries, especially in those countries where there’s not a free press, and where they are dealing with an oppressive government, or oppressive financial interests who don’t want the story told. We feel that women need this extra lift and that’s what we’re all about.

Q: What is your role at the organization?

Woodruff: I’m a founding co-chair of the International Women’s Media Foundation. We’re coming up on our 20th birthday this year.

Q: Why did you decide that an organization like this was necessary?

Woodruff: Twenty years ago, it’s hard to remember this, but democracy was breaking out in different parts of the world. In the Philippines, in South Africa, in parts of Eastern Europe, in a most pronounced way. We felt that as we watched these countries turn to democracy, and we knew they would be trying to create a press for the first time, having nothing like that before, that it was important, not only to support the free press, but in particular let the women in these countries know, in the media, that we were behind them, because women have a harder time. Whether it’s a job opportunity, being recognized in society. So, we wanted to send a signal, that we were there to back them.

Q: If you could pick out one moment where there was a moving experience working with this organization, what would that be?

Woodruff: It’s impossible to answer, because every year, we bring these women journalists of courage to New York and Los Angeles and Washington to honor them and their stories are the kind that would stop everyone dead in their tracks.

These are women who have put themselves on the line. They’ve risked life and limb; they put their families at risk. They’ve been beaten, they’ve been jailed, they’ve been murdered like Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow two years ago. They have given everything to tell the story, and so the very least that we can do here is to honor them, and to show them how much we respect what they do and how much they inspire us.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add in closing?

Woodruff: Just that, as we think about the problems we have in this country today, and they’re very real. With the economy and jobs and worrying about health care, and energy and global warming, that it’s so important for us as Americans, as citizens of the United States, to remember that we’re also citizens of the world.

And to always keep our eyes lifted to what’s going on in these other countries, and what these other populations and people are dealing with, because we have it so much better than they do. I think it’s so important for us to keep that perspective.

Amira Hass is one of this year’s recipients of the IWMF Lifetime Achievement Award for her work reporting Israeli-Palestinian affairs on the West Bank. She has been a full-time writer for the Ha’aretz Daily for 16 years, focusing on Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.

Q: What does it feel to be receiving this award today?

Hass: A bit strange, because it’s talking about a lifetime. But, as you know, I’ve done only… a third of my lifetime is dedicated to journalism, and my lifetime has not ended yet. My working lifetime has not ended. So it’s a bit weird. But there is something of course, pleasant about your work being acknowledged, even though I know that it’s, maybe for, quite a big thing here in the States and in New York, it’s difficult to stomach my work, so I appreciate the courage of IWMF for having chosen me for this award.

Q: Why do you choose the profession that you’ve chosen?

Hass: The truth? By default (laughs). Because I wish I were talented for math or for music. Since I was not, then the only thing left for me is words, and I chose this.

Q: Have you ever been afraid to do your job?

Hass: Personally, you know there are some frightening moments, like when Israeli planes bombard the area where I am in. Or there is shooting, a lot of shooting, around. Or when settlers attacked me several times. Not as Amira, not personally, I was not a personal target. But still, it was frightening, but then you build some mechanism of shielding yourself or being very efficient in your act in order to escape. So I don’t feel that I have, I mean I’ve been traumatized by fear. And I live it. I live the fear.

Q: What do you think is the most important story you’ve covered so far in your life?

Hass: So far I think that what I’ve been doing for the past six months, and this is to keep publishing the testimonies and my research, and my investigation on the Israeli winter onslaught, on Gaza. I feel that now it has a special force about it. Because it is connected to what I’ve been doing for the past fifteen or sixteen years, but also because it, came to a level that I did not expect before. Levels of, I would even say cruelty that I did not expect before, and levels of denial, on the part of the Israeli public, that I did not expect before.