The president of the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA), Jeff Mason, accepted the award during DW's Global Media Forum in Bonn on Monday evening on behalf of the journalists who are reporting on the front lines of US President Donald Trump's administration.
Mason, who has been president of the WHCA since July 2016, said he was "humbled" by the prize, adding that his organization "would have never sought or expected" to receive the Freedom of Speech Award.
"If receiving it helps shed light on the importance of press freedom around the world, if Deutsche Welle's choice highlights the fact that even in strong, established democracies reporters rights must be fought for... then it is in that spirit that I humbly and gratefully accept this award," Mason said during the award ceremony.
He admitted that since Trump's election in November last year, the challenges facing WHCA reporters "increased dramatically." Trump has repeatedly railed the press as being "fake news" and even labeled the media as "the enemy of the American people."
DW Director General Peter Limbourg said the award is meant to be a "sign of solidarity and encouragement for those colleagues who have the exciting task of reporting about the US president and his policies."
'Stand together, never give up'
The president of the German Press Association, Gregor Mayntz, expressed surprise while delivering his laudation during the awards ceremony.
"There are some important people in the world who should be ashamed that the WHCA has deserved this award," Mayntz added.
He praised his US-American colleagues for their professionalism, transparency and commitment to fact checking. "Stand together, never give up, as the challenges to democracy and freedom of speech are not limited to one country," Mayntz urged.
Monika Grütters, the German government Commissioner for Culture and Media, said during a speech that democracies can only defend against "authoritarian and totalitarian attacks" when freedom of speech is functioning.
She noted that countries who limit the freedom of the press by arresting journalists and critical voices, "they are sounding the death knell for democracy."
"Only diversity of opinion and perspective helps to legitimize the truth," Grütters said.
DW began the Freedom of Speech Award two years ago to honor initiatives or individuals who stand out in their fight to promote freedom of expression and human rights.
Last year, the prize was awarded to Sedat Ergin, then editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Hurriyet newspaper, which is one of the few papers in Turkey that is critical of the government. Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received the award in 2015.
'If you lose democracy, you lose the free press'
Concerns over the state of freedom of the press and freedom of speech permeated panel discussions on the first day of the Global Media Forum - which runs from Monday through Wednesday in Bonn. Many moderators and panelists noted that they are working in "troubled times."
In a panel entitled "Satire as a weapon," satirists and artists from Africa and Latin America spoke about the restrictions and backlash they face for their work, both from those in power and the general public.
Samm Farai Monro, a satirist with Magamba TV in Zimbabwe, noted: "We've got freedom of expressing, but you don't have freedom after expression."
Özgür Mumcu, a Turkish lawyer and journalist with the Cumhuriyet, noted during a panel on press freedom in Turkey, that the country doesn't just have a problem with fake news, it has a "fake democracy problem" as well.
"If you're losing democracy, you lose the free press," he added.
Despite the challenges facing journalists and others who work in the media worldwide, WHCA President Mason said young journalists shouldn't shy away.
"It couldn't be a better time to be a journalist and it couldn't be a more important time," he said.Rebecca Staudenmaier