The Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards

Winners Recap: Chain Camera Productions, GMA, HBO Documentary Films, PRX and Al Jazeera America

Matt Shedd - 5/15/2014
Winners Recap: Chain Camera Productions, GMA, HBO Documentary Films, PRX and Al Jazeera America

Many Peabody Awards each year go to programs that tell us about unpleasant realities going on in the world around us. Whether a program speaks truth to power, as in the case of The Invisible War, or risking everything to bring the world coverage of one of the worst tropical storms in recorded history, as GMA did with its coverage of Typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan), the Peabody Board makes an effort to recognize when broadcasters can tell us the painful truth without being sensational.

Dangers to the general public can come from abuses of power (as is the case with many of the below-listed winners) or from something as impersonal as a natural disaster. Regardless of the source, alerting viewers and listeners to such dangers usually requires great risk from the producers and the talent involved in these programs. One of the central reasons the Peabody Award exists is to recognize the people who are willing to take these risks to keep us informed and safe.

Independent Lens: The Invisible War (PBS)

Sexual assault is epidemic in the U.S. military. A female soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. It’s estimated that 26,000 soldiers were assaulted in 2012 alone. Statistics like these have never been documented more personally or powerfully than they are in The Invisible War. The documentary catalogues rules and conditions that perpetuate rape and protect perpetrators. But the film’s real power comes from a series of wrenching interviews with veterans still coping with the aftermath of vicious, shameful assaults.

Coverage of Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) (GMA Network Inc., Philippines)

Likely the strongest typhoon in history, Yolanda not only hit the Visayas region with monstrous force on November 8 but, as if it had a malevolent mind of its own, the storm feinted and struck again and again, making landfall a total of six devastating times. The destruction was mind-boggling. Faced with daunting logistical challenges and sharing in the national shock and grief, GMA reporters and crews provided desperately needed spot news coverage and information, gaining strength and perspective as they worked. They followed up with solid reporting and public-service broadcasts about the aftermath, heroic acts and relief efforts.

Fault Lines: Haiti in a Time of Cholera (Al Jazeera America)

Following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, a widespread cholera epidemic devastated an already shattered island nation, claiming nearly 8,000 lives and infecting more than half a million others. Al Jazeera America’s Fault Lines investigative team traveled to Haiti to follow the unfolding tragedy of this fatal illness. Their pursuit of accountability starts on the island but leads them to the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. Through relentless inquiry and a growing body of scientific evidence, they determined that the UN Stabilizing Mission peacekeepers almost certainly brought the disease into the country.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (HBO)

Mea Maxima Culpa investigates and exposes the atrocious crimes of a Milwaukee priest who sexually abused more than 200 deaf children in a school under his control. Through this disquieting story and others, Alex Gibney’s documentary explores the secret cover-up and the procedures enacted by the Catholic Church in light of thousands of sexual abuse accusations all around the world. The accounts and facts incriminate prominent and powerful figures within the Church, including Marcial Maciel Degollado and His Holiness, Benedict the 16th. Their stories, the first known public protest against clerical sexual abuse in the United States, are vividly told through sign language and voice-over.

Reveal: The VA’s Opiate Overload (Public Radio)

This investigative report discovered that over the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been a 270 percent increase in opiate prescriptions at Veterans Administration hospitals, leading to an overdose rate among VA patients more than twice the national average. Veterans often need complex psychological treatments, and this report indicates that in order to deal with the increase in veterans needing help, doctors from the VA prescribed opiates to mask the symptoms rather than treating the root cause. In response to this report from Reveal, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to investigate.