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Ha'aretz has been awarded a medal of honor by the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism "in recognition of its long tradition of fiercely independent and balanced reporting under the most difficult of conditions."

Accepting the award on behalf of the newspaper in Columbia, Missouri, on Friday, publisher Amos Schocken said he did so in the names of "the thousands of journalists who, over the years, have made Ha'aretz what it is."

He said he particularly appreciated this recognition of the paper by one of the leading schools of journalism "in the country where freedom of the press in enshrined in its constitution."

Founded in 1908, the school of journalism at Missouri University is the oldest in the United States. It awards its medals of honor each year to individuals and organizations, mostly American. The awards this year covered 2001-2, as last year's ceremony was postponed following September 11. Other honorees included Gerald Boyd, managing editor of the New York Times; Bob Simon, CBS television correspondent; Donna Ferrato, photojournalist; John D. Graham, chairman and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard, Inc (public relations); and Kathy Lohr, correspondent for National Public Radio.

In a lecture to students and faculty of the school of journalism on Thursday, Schocken traced the history and the Zionist commitment of Ha'aretz from the time when his grandfather, Salman Schocken, acquired the paper in 1935. "Although Ha'aretz was never the newspaper with the highest circulation in Israel," he remarked, "its weight and influence in public affairs always substantially exceeded its circulation."

Focusing on the paper's role and performance during the current intifada, Schocken described tensions and heart-searching that constantly influence editorial policymaking. It was, he said, "a constant dilemma: How do you edit a newspaper when your readers are on the edge, and at the very end of their nerves? To what extent do you take this factor into your editorial decisions?" The Ha'aretz English Edition and its Web site had significantly extended the paper's reach and resonance, Schocken pointed out. Often, this itself exacerbated the dilemmas.

"My feeling is that the only thing we can do about it is act as an Israeli newspaper writing for its Israeli readers in a professional way. We should not take into account derivative influences in other places because to do so might destroy our mission as an Israeli newspaper. Do we always act in this manner? I hope so, but I am not sure; we are not immune to the feedback we receive from the outside world."