NAPLES, ITALY- It started as a prize to recognize law enforcement officers and journalists with the courage to call out the mafia in Italy and expose their abuses, but it has become something much more far-reaching. Now the annual event is about honoring freedom of the press and the heroism of those who dare to cover the atrocities of war from the front lines as well.
This year the European Award for Investigative and Judicial Journalism recognized our Fox News colleagues injured and killed in Ukraine. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was gravely wounded back in March while covering the advance of the Russian army towards the capital Kyiv. His cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and local fixer Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova were killed when they all came under intense attack.
Pierre’s wife, Michelle Ross-Stanton, was at the imposing Castle called Maschio Angioino in the center of Naples to collect his award. In remarks that brought tears to some in the audience, "Mich," as Pierre and friends always called her, spoke of her husband’s passionate dedication to his work. Though the sorrow of her loss is always there, reliving it before a crowd was very hard, she said. But she explained why she needed to be there.
"I knew how important it was," Michelle said after the award ceremony, "because it is about journalism. It’s about injustice in the world. It’s about human rights. And I think that’s so important that we have to keep it going. I know Pierre died doing what he loved, and he lived the way he died." With courage and grace, that is. Pierre’s death forever leaves a gaping hole, a void in the hearts of the many in the international press community who knew him, not to mention family and friends.
Benjamin Hall's courage was also honored in Naples. He plans to continue the fight to shine a light where there is darkness and not only that. In remarks I prepared before collecting Ben’s award on his behalf, as I am just up the long boot of Italy in the city of Milan, I noted that he is an amazing communicator and raconteur on so many subjects — not just conflict. He has the ability to make you laugh at some of the absurdities in life with his clever turns of phrase as much as he can capture the essence of horror and injustice.
"I want to start off first by paying tribute to Pierre, to Sasha and to all of the journalists who have lost their lives covering war," Benjamin said in a video message to the organizers of the event which also celebrated Italian war correspondents and military police who exposed a mafia operation. "But I do believe it is essential that we keep on doing this job, that is so important for telling the truth. I think that without journalists on the ground, you wouldn’t know the horrors, the murders, the atrocities taking place. Nor would you know about the strength, the courage, the resilience of all those people who are fighting for good."
The award was founded by a man named Massimo Scuderi who began his career in his native Sicily as part of the "Guardia di Finanza" or financial police, those who track anything from tax evasion to international trafficking. He has been honored for his own courageous work by the Italian government and has seen much in his life. But the story of Pierre, Sasha and Benjamin hit him hard.
"I read so much about it. I even saw the videos on your channel. It touched me, because I imagine three friends, in a car, talking and then in an instant, they never speak again."
Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova memory was also honored time and again throughout the evening. She had worked as a local "fixer" or a competent pair of hands on the ground for the Fox Ukraine team. An aspiring young journalist, and someone who according to a Fox colleague, "lit up every room she entered" with her energy and positivity, she was much adored by everyone who worked with her. Michelle says she will dedicate her life to keeping Pierre’s and Sasha’s legacy alive. And Massimo Scuderi says he will do his utmost to locate Sasha’s family in Ukraine and eventually bring them to Italy to commemorate her in their presence.
And Michelle meanwhile shared a Zakrzewski family mantra that is helping to get everyone through their nightmare. It is a hashtag. #BemorelikePierre. And it’s simple, she said:
Love your family.
Love your friends.
Do what you love.
Be the best you can be.
Because he was the best.