Rudi Vranckx and Elena Milashina receive honorary doctorates from VUB and ULB on World Press Freedom Day

On 3 May, VUB and ULB host Difference Day at Bozar

This coming Friday, 3 May, on World Press Freedom Day, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and a number of other partners will host Difference Day, an annual event that stands up for free expression and a free press. Two journalists who risk their lives every day to bring the truth to light will receive honorary doctorates at the event: renowned war correspondent Rudi Vranckx and Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina. The day will also see students set up a Speakers’ Corner in the Ravenstein Gallery, where they will speak out on themes such as diversity, ecology and inequality. On the eve of Difference Day, VUB and ULB will present their honorary title for freedom of expression to Mexican freelance journalist Marcela Turati, who reports on the drugs war in her homeland.

The programme for Difference Day – with debates, lectures, workshops, an exhibition and award presentations – can be found at

Who controls the truth?

Press freedom around the world is decreasing. In ever more countries, there’s a climate of hate towards the news media and it’s becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists to do their job. That’s the conclusion of the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, published this month by Reporters Without Borders. Furthermore, misinformation, often in the form of ‘fake news’, continues to grow. How do we know what the truth is, and how can journalists and a high-quality press play their role?

On 3 May, the United Nations puts the importance of a worldwide free press in the spotlight. VUB and ULB are doing their bit by organising the fifth Difference Day with a number of partners. The central theme is ‘who controls the truth?’ The universities will jointly hand out two honorary doctorates to journalists who risk their lives to report the truth about conflict and political power.

Honorary doctorate for Rudi Vranckx

Rudi Vranckx is one of Belgium’s best-known journalists, thanks in no small part to his unique reporting of international conflicts. What makes him remarkable is the way in which he always tries to focus on the human aspect of war.

Vranckx isn’t interested in spectacular images, but in understanding what drives people to war. Like no one else, he understands the dangers linked to populism and propaganda in an armed conflict. In each conflict he reports on, he must get to grips with the eternal struggle between truth and lies. In every war, news sources become coloured and it’s down to the journalist to remain sufficiently critical.

Honorary doctorate for Elena Milashina

Elena Milashina is a Russian investigative journalist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta. She’s known for her extensive investigations and critical articles about human rights violations and government corruption. Among her work are investigations into the persecution of the LGBTI community in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus.  

Following the assassination of her colleague Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, Milashina continued her work by reporting on forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions, torture and the persecution of relatives of alleged insurgents.

Milashina also works closely with Human Rights Watch to record the atrocities that took place during the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia. With Human Rights Watch, she has interviewed victims of human rights violations in South Ossetia, Chechnya and Dagestan.

In October 2009, she won the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for extraordinary activism, and in 2013 she received the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award.

Honorary title for freedom of expression for Marcela Turati

On the evening of Thursday, 2 May, VUB and ULB will present their honorary title for freedom of expression to Marcela Turati, a Mexican freelance investigative journalist who specializes in covering the victims of the Mexican drug war. A 2017 Harvard University Nieman fellow, she is co-founder of the citizen journalism network ‘Periodistas de a Pie’ which is committed to creating security networks for journalists and defend freedom of the Press. She is also a founding member of ‘Quinto Elemento Lab’, a lab dedicated to help investigative journalists with their research. She has been a frequent contributor to the Mexican magazine Proceso.

She is the author of Fuego cruzado: las víctimas atrapadas en la guerra del narco (Crossfire: the victims trapped in the drug war) and is the coordinator of many collective journalistic projects in Mexico such as ‘Másde72’ (Morethan72) about massacres of migrants, or ‘A dónde van los desaparecidos’, about the disappearence of thousands of people in Mexico.


In 2014 she won the FNPI award of excellence and in 2013 the Louis M. Lyons award for ‘Conscience and Integrity in Journalism’.

Speakers’ corner about diversity, ecology and inequality

Following London and other world cities, Brussels now has its own Speakers’ Corner for one day. Students from VUB, ULB, Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel and IHECS who are concerned about the future of our society will have the chance to address the public on this spot. The organisers’ aim is to allow people to openly express their views. There are few places where people can go to be heard.

Watch the video from last year’s event here:

Practical information

Thursday 2 May, 20.00, Gala Dinner, Bozar
Presentation of the Difference Day Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression to Marcela Turati.
See the programme here - Invitation only

Friday 3 May, 10.30-20.00, Difference Day, Bozar. Including:

  • Speakers’ Corner (10.30-12.30)
  • Expo 'Cartooning for peace': by Cristina Sampaio (Portugal) en Hossam Al Saadi (Syria)
  • Speeches and debates: with Alan Rusbridger, Erdal Güven, Nils Hanson, Sanita Jemberga, Eric Smit, Marianne Bouchart, Olaf Steenfadt, Elina Ravantti, Sabino Metta, Brigitte Alfter
  • Presentation of honorary titles for Elena Milashina and Rudi Vranckx
    See the programme here.

More information

Do you need more information? Do you wish to interview one of the speakers, artists or laureates?

Please contact:

  • Ilja Bakker, coördinator Difference Day
    T 0032 (0) 478 32 26 44
  • Sicco Wittermans, spokesperson, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
    T 0032 (0) 473 96 41 37
Contact us
Aurélie Rousseaux Chargée de Communication, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Aurélie Rousseaux Chargée de Communication, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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