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By CAROLYN WHETZEL
President of the Jury of the Calouste Gulbenkian International Prize, Jorge Sampaio (left), and President of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Emilio Rui Vilar (middle), present SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke with the prize trophy which depicts the foundation headquarters in Lisbon. © Photo courtesy Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
The Society of Environmental Journalists has won international recognition as it was honored in July as co-winner of the esteemed Gulbenkian Prize.
Awarded by the Gulbenkian International Peace Prize Society in Lisbon, Portugal, the prize distinguishes an individual or institution "whose thoughts or actions make a decisive contribution to and have significant impact on understanding, defending or fostering the universal values of the human condition."
SEJ shared the prize with the Institute for Alpine Environment, a scientific research center of the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano.
SEJ's recognition was awarded with reference to the category of "humanity's relationship with nature and respect for biodiversity."
Winners were honored at a ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal on July 20, 2010 where the prize of €100,000 was shared equally by the two winners.
SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke traveled to Lisbon to accept the prize.
"I accept this most prestigious award on behalf of thousands of dedicated journalists who work every day to investigate, explain and report on environmental issues, in all of their complexity and importance," she said.
"Environmental journalists share with environmental scientists this concern and quest for the truth about life and living systems on this planet, and humanity's place in it," Parke continued.
Parke noted the many people who deserve credit in SEJ's success, including Programs Director Chris Rigel, other staff, current and past board members and the institutions, scientists and educators who have supported the group's efforts.
Parke later acknowledged longtime staffer Jay Letto, SEJ's conference director, as deserving of special accolades.
Letto has devoted his career to bringing scientists and journalists together, Parke said.
"He's helped SEJers to explore and understand ecosystems and endangered habitat, put a spotlight on people like E.O. Wilson and Aldo Leopold, even made it possible for SEJ to visit Leopold's legendary "Shack," and the storage room in St. Louis where they keep the botanical samples gathered by Charles Darwin," Parke said. "This prize has Letto fingerprints all over it."
Christy George, SEJ's president, said, "It's an extraordinary honor for SEJ's work in educating and supporting environmental journalism to be recognized internationally, especially at this time of crisis for both journalism and the environment."
Jurors for this year's Gulbenkian International Prize were Jorge Sampaio, Lord Robert May, Jacqueline McGlade, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Viriato Soromenho-Marques.
A Gulbenkian Prize spokesperson said jurors decided to recognize both organizations "to highlight the importance of applied research to environmental and biodiversity protection," as well as the work of environmental journalism "and its contribution to creating an informed and enlightened public opinion."
The Foundation praised SEJ for giving journalists of varied backgrounds and experience "a high degree of understanding of multifaceted environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and increasing pressure on essential water resources." SEJ was also recognized for its awareness and fulfillment of the journalistic responsibility to produce "diverse, independent and accurate narratives, in areas characterized by conflicting interests as well as technical and scientific complexity."
* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Fall 2010 issue.