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Al Jazeera Digital wins One World Media Award

AJLabs, Al Jazeera Digital’s interactive unit, won top prize in the Digital Media category at the One World Media Awards gala in London on Monday night.

The winning entry - Lost Childhoods: How Nigeria’s Fear of Child ‘Witchcraft’ Ruins Young Lives – won for its interactive investigation into the practice of branding children and young adolescents as ‘witches’. Blamed for family illness, sudden financial loss or other misfortunes, the children are often beaten, locked into cages, branded with hot knives or made to undergo costly ‘exorcisms’ performed by so-called prophets in local churches.

With little choice but to flee, many children end up drug addicted and living in garbage dumps or on the streets.

AJLabs teamed with journalist-photographer Marc Ellison and Nigerian illustrator Samuel Iwunze to unearth the facts of this underreported story. Working meticulously with local fixers, NGO’s and child psychologists, Ellison was able to expose the practice that has taken hold in parts of the Niger Delta and that has partially been fueled by myths propagated by the Nigerian film industry.

Lost Childhoods employs a mix of visual and textual formats, including comic/graphic novel illustrations to preserve anonymity and portray past events.  Tweeting live from the awards gala at London’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) One World Media organisers commended Lost Childhoods: “Combining graphic novel imagery with film, this highly accessible piece effectively covers a major human rights issue.”

Carlos van Meek, Al Jazeera’s Director of Digital Innovation and Programming, said “we’re very proud of AJLabs  - led by Mohammed El-Haddad – which continues to produce thoughtful and award winning interactive, data-driven content. This story in particular is a skillful weave of investigations, videos, photos and illustrations that brings to light disturbing physical, emotional and religious abuse against children. Our goal is – and always will be - to make an impact that leads to positive change at the local and international level.”

As further testament to the production, AJLabs worked with NGO’s to translate the graphic novel into local languages for distribution within communities, schools and churches in Nigeria, in an attempt to educate people and end the practice of scapegoating innocent children and branding them as witches.

Lost Childhoods won against fellow shortlist nominees PBS Frontline and the BBC’s Africa Eye. It was the second win for the interactive which also won top prize in the innovation category at the Amnesty Media Awards ceremony, also held at BAFTA on April 3rd.

Established in 1988, the One World Media Awards highlight the vital role journalists play in reporting on the developing world and in “shining a light on stories that are underreported, that break down prejudice and connect cultures.”