Kurdish fixer wins Kurt Schork Memorial Award in journalism

The judges for the prize applauded the young Kurd for his courage and dedication in the field.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Kurdish journalist and graduate from the University of Kurdistan-Hewler has won the News Fixer award as part of the Kurt Schork Memorial Awards.

Sanger Khaleel, 30, will be one of three winners who will receive USD 5,000 at the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Canary Wharf in London on Oct. 30.

Khaleel told Kurdistan 24 he feels “super happy and proud.”

“After I was close to death [through my journalism] so many times, I think I deserve it,” he added.

Now in their 18th year, the Kurt Schork Memorial Awards are named in honor of American freelance journalist Kurt Schork who was killed in Sierra Leone while on assignment for Reuters in 2000.

The News Fixer prize was inspired by the freelance journalist, author, and friend of Kurt Schork, Anna Husarska, and “pays tribute to the vital role that these unsung heroes play in coverage from difficult, dangerous, and hostile locations,” the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund said in a statement.

Khaleel has worked with journalists from major news outlets covering the rise and fall of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. The judges for the prize applauded Khaleel’s courage and dedication in the field.

Yet, what stood out to them was his “empathy and genuine care for those he meets and a strong sense of purpose in giving a voice to the victims of war,” combined with his unrelenting “dedication to follow up on people and places when most media have moved on.”

The News Fixer Award aims to recognize the rarely credited yet often at-risk individuals who typically act as the correspondent’s eyes and ears on the ground.

According to the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund, it is the fixers’ local knowledge, as well as their network of official – and unofficial – contacts that help journalists secure critical interviews and access important areas for the out-of-town correspondents.

After the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014 and tried to advance toward the Kurdistan Region in August 2014, there was a lack of fixers and translators for foreign journalists that traveled from all over the world to Erbil to cover the war against the terror group.

As a result, many English-speaking college graduates and students started to work as fixers to help foreign journalists. Especially during the operation in Mosul, many journalists were working from Erbil to cover the battle.

Khaleel told Kurdistan 24 he never imagined he would be a fixer. “I didn’t even know this job existed,” he said.

He watched video reports from journalists all over the world, but he never considered the work of fixers who were helping these foreign journalists behind the scenes.

“But in 2014, after ISIS took some parts of Iraq, I got a phone call from my friend and was told to take journalists around. At that moment, I knew what this job is.”

At that time, Khaleel was still working in the oil field. “But after four days of working as a fixer, I earned as much as my regular salary, and I decided to do this job,” he said.

“My friends used to give me their records to translate and sometimes take me with them to the field. After this, I did research and worked for radio, newspapers, TV-stations, authors, and NGOs. I improved myself, and here I am.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany