A courageous voice for press freedom and independence in Russia
Me and my late husband, Stephen Cohen, first met Dmitrii Muratov in 1993. He and a few other colleagues had gathered in the basement cafeteria of Moscow News– then a daring journal of the glasnost epoch — to plan the launch of Novaya Gazeta. Survival was on their minds at the time; they started the newspaper with two computers, a printer, two coins – and no money for wages. A few months later, a first surge of support came from President Mikhail Gorbachev, who paid part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize to buy the newspaper its first computers.
Almost 30 years later, the newspaper has another Nobel in its history. On October 8, Muratov jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa “for their efforts in favor of freedom of expression, which is a prerequisite for democracy and lasting peace”.
I knew in 1993 that “Dima” was a bold and creative editor. What I did not foresee was that he would become such a vital defender and defender of press freedom in Russia. The newspaper, which continues to publish through thick and thin, has paid a heavy price for its crusading investigations into the corruption of Putin and other senior officials, human rights violations, the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya, l right-wing nationalist extremism, and abuse of power. The newspaper also spent decades carefully tracking Stalin’s crimes in newly opened archives.
Six of his brave reporters, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed exactly 15 years ago, have been murdered for their flawless investigations. (Less than half of the murders are solved.) “When Anya was killed, I called an emergency editorial meeting and wanted to shut down the newspaper,” Muratov once told me. “I told my staff that no story is worth dying. But they wouldn’t let me do… I knew we had to keep going.
Muratov is not afraid to publish dissenting and opposing opinions on Crimea, Donbass, Syria, growing poverty and the abuse of civil liberties in Russia. It processes at least 10 lawsuits per month, filed by official bodies. It is remarkable that amid the escalating crackdown on press freedom, he has managed to retain his sense of humor and visibly enjoy mentoring a new generation of investigative journalists and readers. . Elena Milashina, who began to Novaya in his late twenties, is one of those journalists; Since publishing her article in March documenting murders of LGBT people and reporting cold-blooded killings by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, she has been the subject of physical threats and death threats.
Indeed, most of the journalists working at the newspaper are like Milashina: the same age, if not a few years older than the publication itself. Younger generations may not read the print edition, but Novayain October 2021, the print circulation was 90,000, social media traffic 30 million per month, and its website receives 8-11 million pageviews per month.
The founding independence of the newspaper was reinforced by the fact that, until 2006, Novaya journalists owned 100 percent of its shares. In 2006, to get a capital injection, Muratov persuaded his staff to sell 49% of their shares to Gorbachev (10%) and a partner, the mini-oligarch Aleksandr Lebedev (39%). Lebedev invested nearly $ 4 million to increase staff salaries, modernize the newspaper’s offices and transform Novaya in a national newspaper. (In 2015, Lebedev stopped funding Novaya, revealing in a Guardian maintenance that he had ceased because of the expense and also the strain.)
Fifteen years after the murder of Politkovskaya, almost 30 years after Novaya was founded, independent journalism and media freedom in Russia face increasing threats. A range of media regulations and laws, the labeling of independent media as “foreign agents” and the increasingly restrictive regulation of the Internet are all deeply troubling. Some Russian media analysts and journalists believe that many of these new restrictions are fueled by anti-Russian sanctions from the West, rising political tensions and a worsening and dangerous cold war. In such times, the already narrow space for diversity of viewpoints and freedom of expression shrinks. Many analysts also view the culture of impunity – the continued failure to hold accountable those who threaten, attack or kill journalists – as a serious threat to media freedom and democracy itself.
The way Dmitrii Muratov navigated for decades the dangerous waters of Russian politics – he has friends at all levels of Russian society, including high-level politicians – often irritates members of the opposition. toughest Russian, and some Western observers, who believe it sold out to the Kremlin. As I ventured to Twitter this morning to post a congratulatory note, a cat lover named Svetlana posted: “With immense respect for Dmitry, in Russia there is a saying: ‘If he’s still in life, he works for them. ‘ I admire his courage. And Peskov too [Putin’s press secretary]. Where does that leave us? Thank you.”
Muratov used his influence and connections not for personal ambitions, nor to enrich himself, but to keep alive one of the last havens for investigative journalism in Russia. The Nobel Prize will probably give Novaya and Muratov’s national protection, but could also win Muratov more enemies among Putin’s elite, who will claim he betrayed the country for foreign rewards and funds. What matters, as Muratov said upon hearing of the Oslo call, are “Igor Domnikov, Yuri Scheckochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Nastya Baburova – these are the people who won the Nobel Prize today. “.
Today’s award will be a blow to all Russian investigative journalists.