AP reporters win Polk award for seafood slavery probe

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Four journalists from The Associated Press are among the winners of the 67th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism for a series of articles documenting the use of slave labour in the commercial seafood industry in Indonesia and Thailand.

The AP reporters, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan, will share the award for foreign reporting with Ian Urbina of The New York Times, for a separate series portraying widespread lawlessness at sea.

The awards were announced Sunday by Long Island University.

Journalists who wrote about segregated schools, killings by police officers and Bill Cosby’s accusers were also honoured for their work in 2015.

The AP journalists documented how men from Myanmar and other countries were being imprisoned, sometimes in cages, in an island village in Indonesia and forced to work on vessels that sent seafood to Thailand. The project involved interviewing captives and tracking slave-caught seafood to processing plants that supply supermarkets, restaurants and pet stores in the U.S.

After some trawlers fled the island following publication of the initial investigation, the AP tracked the vessels using satellite technology to a strait in Papua New Guinea. Subsequent AP reports detailed the use of slave labour in processing shrimp.

More than 2,000 enslaved fishermen were freed after officials took action as a result of the AP’s reporting.

The Polk Awards were created in 1949 in honour of CBS reporter George W. Polk, who was killed while covering the Greek civil war. This year’s awards will be given out April 18. Charlayne Hunter-Gault will read the citations at the ceremony.

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, called the four AP journalists “incredibly brave and tenacious.”

“Their painstaking work directly linked the horror of slavery to America’s grocery shelves and has led to real and substantial change,” Carroll said. “Most important, more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen have been freed specifically because of what these journalists exposed.”

Simeon Booker, a black journalist who covered the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, then spent decades covering the civil rights movement and the segregated South for Jet magazine, will be named the 34th recipient of the George Polk Career Award.

Journalists from the Washington Post, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, the Tampa Bay Times, The Marshall Project, ProPublica, The New York Times, the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Foreign Policy Magazine, CBS News, the radio program “This American Life,” and the documentary film “Cartel Land” will also be honoured with awards in 14 other categories.

John Darnton, curator of the awards, said many of the 580 nominated works in the contest dealt with police killings and misconduct.

The award for National Reporting will go to The Washington Post for a review that concluded that 990 people were shot and killed by on-duty police officers last year — far more than the number included in official FBI statistics.

Jamie Kalven, of the Invisible Institute, will receive an award for local reporting for an article published in Slate that challenged official accounts of the 2014 police shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald.

An award for justice reporting will go to Ken Armstrong, of The Marshall Project, and T. Christian Miller, of ProPublica, for an article exploring how a serial rapist eluded police investigators, including some who accused one 18-year-old victim of fabricating her story, until a group of detectives cracked the case.