FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2009
Laila Mehdi Hilfinger
Family of Pioneer Journalist Dr. M.T. Mehdi announces
2009 Courage in Journalism Award recipient
(Seattle) – The family of the late Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, a pioneer in American Arab journalism, announced this week that the 2009 Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award has been awarded to Palestinian American journalist and radio talk show host Ray Hanania.
For more than 30 years Ray Hanania has written and reported on the story of Palestine and on the lives of Arab Americans. “I am deeply honored to receive this award,” said Hanania when he got the call from Beverlee Mehdi Bolton, chair of the award committee. “Being an Arab journalist in America has always been a tough career choice. Dr. Mehdi was my hero and always cheered me on.”
Hanania is a three-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalism Lisagor Award for Column writing and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist in America by the New America Media. He hosts the daily “Mornings with Ray Hanania” on Radio Chicago and WJJG 1530 AM, and a weekly cable television program on Comcast that reaches 145 suburban communities around Chicago. Hanania is senior columnist for the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper, writes for the HuffingttonPost.com, Arab News in Saudi Arabia, and is Managing Editor of Arabisto.com.
“My mother wanted me to be a doctor like many of my cousins and relatives, but as a young person I saw immediately how unfair Arabs and Muslims were mistreated by the mainstream media,” Hanania said.
The Mehdi Family established the Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award in 1999 to recognize journalists who dedicated themselves to challenging injustice in society and reflecting the principles of fairness, truthfulness and courage displayed by Dr. Mehdi, whose publication “Action Newspaper” was one of the first English and Arabic publications in the United States to speak to mainstream and American Arab issues here and abroad.
The award committee comprised of Anisa Mehdi, Janan Mehdi Chandler, Laila Mehdi Hilfinger and their mother, Beverlee Mehdi Bolton, said that Ray Hanania showed stalwart courage in a career that has spanned more than three decades, dating back to his own first contacts with Dr. Mehdi in the 1970s.
“The Mehdi family is very pleased to give this year’s award to Ray Hanania. Many in the American Arab community and in mainstream journalism know Hanania’s work well. He does not shy away from controversy, nor does he hesitate in proudly declaring his Arab heritage in his writings and in his many media enterprises,” said family spokesperson Laila Mehdi Hilfinger, a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
“My father believed that journalism was an important profession for American Arabs and Muslims. He demonstrated that media could be a means of achieving justice, educating the uninformed, and bringing about fairness and peace,” said Anisa Mehdi, an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist. “He saw media as opportunity, not enemy.”
Hanania entered journalism in 1976, publishing an American Arab newspaper called The Middle Eastern Voice in Arabic and English. His mentor was Dr. M.T. Mehdi who encouraged him to pursue journalism not as a hobby but as a career. In 1977, Hanania joined the Daily Southtown community newspaper in Chicago and quickly became its star columnist. In 1985, he was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. Hanania covered Chicago City Hall for both newspapers from 1977 until 1991. While at City Hall, Hanania hosted a weekend live radio talk show on WLS Radio. In 1993, he launched The Villager Newspapers, 12 community papers that were later purchased by Liberty Media. Later he launched The Arab American Voice, a newspaper to record the achievements and events of the American Arab community.
“There was one light where I could find the truth and fairness and that was in the pages of Action Newspaper which was published by Mohammad Mehdi,” said Hanania, when he got the news that he was this year’s winner. “Dr. Mehdi often called to support me in staying the course. Being an Arab journalist in America has always been a tough career choice, with all the hurdles we face in light of the conflict in the Middle East. And it remains critical now. But being an Arab journalist in America in the 1970s was an even greater challenge that exacted a high price, like threats, arson, and arrest. But Dr. Mehdi stayed the course and he was a great role model for everyone who pursued journalism and who believed that a true journalist applied principle, not prejudice to issues in our society and world. I am very humbled and proud to receive this award.”
Prior awardees include former Chicago Tribune columnist Salim Muwakkil, former Chicago news anchor Mike Mansour, the staff of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East correspondent Stephen Franklin, syndicated columnist Charley Reese, the Beirut Times Newspaper, RAWI Arab Writers association, writer Joseph Zogby, syndicated columnist John Sugg, and al-Jazeera Television.
The Mehdi Courage in Journalism award comes with an $800 prize. This year’s award is co-sponsored by the Mehdi Family, the National Arab American Journalists Association (NAAJA), and by Arabisto.com, one of the largest American Arab journalism sites on the Internet.
“I feel my father’s work is being continued through Ray Hanania. Ray has shown the same dedication, commitment and bravery as my father. It is an honor to present this award to such a treasured and worthy journalist,” said Janan Mehdi Chandler, a Toronto school teacher.