Ronald Koven, a distinguished journalist who became a defender of a free press around the world, died on Friday, Oct. 30 in Paris of complications following a long battle with cancer. He was 80. For those of us at The Essential Edge who knew him as a friend and colleague, he will be missed. A report from Reporters sans Frontières.
The international press freedom community is in mourning since the passing on October 30 of Ronald Koven, European Representative of the World Press Freedom Committee. A journalist with a long and distinguished career, Koven was an ardent ambassador for freedom of expression and press freedom around the world.
Guy Black, Chairman of the CPU Media Trust and Executive Director, Telegraph Media Group, writes, “Rony was one of the bravest Field Marshalls in the battles to protect press freedom over many decades. His commitment to free speech and freedom of expression was unrivalled. His tenacity in standing up for the free press – and shaming those who tried to undermine it – was exemplary. We have lost a very fine, and very brave, colleague, and also a dear friend.”
Mark Bench, Executive Director of the World Press Freedom Committee says, “No one that I know of had the depth of knowledge in the press freedom arena. Rony’s uncanny ability to see through the verbiage of resolutions of the numerous intergovernmental organizations and parse real meaning was crucial and greatly appreciated. ”
Koven had his eyes set on journalism from an early age. When still a student, he began working at a local weekly in Ohio, then later at Time magazine and The New York Times while at Columbia University.
In the 1960s, he was the “De Gaulle watcher” at The Herald Tribune in Paris, then joined The Washington Post, where he was the Diplomatic Editor, the Canada correspondent, and the Foreign Editor. He returned to Paris in 1977 as The Post’s correspondent in charge of covering Latin Europe and the Maghreb. He reported extensively in the Middle East and Iran, from the start of the Islamic revolution. From 1981 to 1991, Koven was the Paris correspondent of The Boston Globe.
Current London Bureau Chief for The New York Times, Steven Erlanger, described those heady days working side by side with Koven for The Boston Globe. “I covered the Iran Revolution for The Globe and in early 1982, Rony got the first set of 10 books of secret papers taken from the American Embassy in Iran after the students took it over. The students pasted together much of what was shredded. I went to Paris and we sat together in his apartment, full of piles of newspapers, ate at the wonderful Szechuan restaurant near his place, and wrote world exclusive stories for The Globe about what was in the secret papers. We beat the competition into print by several days, which pleased Rony, and our editors, no end.”
In 1981, Koven also became the European Representative of the World Press Freedom Committee, a position he held until his death. For the World Press Freedom Committee, he covered and acted as a spokesman on press freedom concerns at UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Commission, the Council of Europe, European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he undertook an extensive program of aid to the emerging independent press in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, including organizing and leading conferences and seminars, publishing training manuals, legal aid projects and providing targeted material help to news outlets and journalists unions and associations of the region.
He taught a course on “American Media and Society” at the Political Sciences Institute of Paris for a number of years. He is a past president and treasurer of the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris.
Following news of his passing, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović stated, “It is with great sadness I learned of the passing of Ronald Koven. He was a true and tireless advocate for free media at the OSCE and other international organizations in Europe. Ronald’s unique and inspiring voice will be sorely missed and he will remain a role model for journalists around the world.”
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, also expressed regrets. “Rony was one of the world’s greatest champions for freedom of expression and media freedoms,” said Bokova. “He was a man of tremendous moral stature, an outstanding advocate in standing up for the human rights and dignity of women and men across the world.”
Born in Paris in 1935 to a French father and American mother, Rony’s family moved back to New York when he was five years old. Rony’s father Marc, a fine jeweler, was also a painter and sculptor, which had a lasting effect on Rony as a connoisseur of fine art. Rony attended Brooklyn Friends, a fact he often cited as an important influence in his Quaker education.
Koven died from complications after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his daughters, Michèle and Martine, and by 2 grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at Père Lachaise cemetery on Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30 AM sharp in the Grande salle de la coupole du crématorium, before his body is transported to the United States for burial.
Contact: Virginia Power World Press Freedom Committee, Paris. Email: [email protected] Tel. +33 (0) 6 5959 7795