Three-dozen people gathered at the northern Virginia home of Susan Talalay and Alberto Mora to celebrate the launch of the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Fellowship, including nine journalists from India who represented influential outlets such as The Hindu, Hindustan Times, BBC News and India Asia News Service.

Frank Islam said they chose Smitha Rajan of Ahmedabad, India, to join the Fellowship Class of 2017 because she “is a fearless fighter, a foe of the power structure and a friend to the disadvantaged.”  During the six month fellowship, which began March 16, Smitha will work in Washington D.C. at Politifact and the Washington Post. Smitha is on leave from her post as assistant editor with DNA Divya Bhaskar in Gujarat, India, where she leads a team of 10 journalists.

Islam-Driesman Fellow Smitha Rajan talks with Yashwant Raj of the Hindustan Times

Talalay is a former executive director and board member of Alfred Friendly Press Partners and now is on the organization’s Leadership Cabinet. Mora is a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard University.

Islam said the introductory remarks by Board Chairman Jonathan Friendly reinforced the “tremendous significance of the work of the Alfred Friendly Press Partners – especially in these trying times.”  

Islam, who heads a private investment holding company, wrote two books and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, told the guests, whom he called “kindred spirits,” that he joined Alfred Friendly Press Partners in supporting the fellowship as a way to help promote freedom of the press amid growing challenges.

“In a free society, the free press matters —it really matters,” Islam said.  “Our American democracy hinges in the balance. Indeed it does. As do other democracies around the world.”