World Association of News Publishers

Biography of 2016 Golden Pen of Freedom Laureate Dmitry Muratov

Biography of 2016 Golden Pen of Freedom Laureate Dmitry Muratov

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Dmitry Muratov, Editor-in-Chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has been awarded the 2016 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Novaya Gazeta is the only truly critical newspaper with national influence in Russia today, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, founded the paper in 1993 and remains its driving force. Novaya Gazeta, with a staff of 60, is known for its in-depth investigations on sensitive issues such as high-level corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power.

In 1993, five years after leaving the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Muratov and some 50 colleagues started Novaya Gazeta with the goal of creating "an honest, independent, and rich" publication that would influence national policy. It was a lofty goal considering they began with two computers, one printer, two rooms, and no money for salaries. An initial boost came from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize award to pay for computers and salaries. By 1996, Novaya Gazeta's circulation had risen to 70,000 from its initial run of 10,000 copies. Gorbachev and Duma Deputy Alexander Lebedev own 49% of the newspaper, while the paper’s staff control the remaining 51%.

Novaya Gazeta has paid the heaviest price for its investigative and pioneering work worldwide; six journalists have been killed in retaliation for their work or have died under suspicious circumstances, and several continue to receive regular threats.

On 16 July 2000, reporter and special-projects editor Igor Domnikov was struck over the head with a hammer in the stairwell of his Moscow apartment building. Domnikov lay in a coma for two months. His murderer was identified in 2003 and convicted in 2007. Last year, the conviction and sentencing of a Russian businessman, the sixth suspect in the case to be prosecuted, for inciting murder of Domnikov, was mild progress, though other masterminds behind the crime have yet to be brought to justice.

On 2 June, 2001, Victor Popkov, a Novaya Gazeta contributor, died in Moscow Regional Hospital after being wounded in crossfire in Chechnya two months earlier.

On 3 July, 2003, Yury Shchekochikhin, the newspaper’s Deputy Editor and a Duma Deputy since 1993, died just a few days before his scheduled trip to the USA to discuss the results of an investigation with FBI officials. He had investigated the "Three Whales Corruption Scandal" that allegedly involved high-ranking FSB officials. Shchekochikhin died from an acute allergic reaction. There has been much speculation about the cause of his death, with investigations having been opened and closed four times.

The most prominent casualty was investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who gained international recognition for her independent coverage of Chechnya and the North Caucasus. On 7 October 2006, she was shot and killed in the elevator of her block of flats, an unsolved assassination that continues to attract international attention.

On 19 January 2009, Anastasia Baburova, a trainee reporter and human rights activist, was shot along with Stanislav Markelov, Anna Politkovskaia’s lawyer and a fellow human rights activist in the centre of Moscow. In early November 2009 a man and a woman were arrested for the killings.

On 15 July 2009, Natalia Estemirova,a human rights activist with organization Memorial and frequent contributor to Novaya Gazeta, was abducted in Grozny, Chechnya and found shot dead by the roadside several hours later in neighbouring Ingushetia. She had collaborated closely with Anna Politkovskaya.

In one of the latest cases of intimidation, on April 5 2012, two men attacked Elena Milashina, one of the weekly’s top investigative journalists. Elena had recently returned from Russia after speaking at a WAN-IFRA Media in Danger Workshop in San Diego, USA. The attack took place near Milashina’s home in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha. Milashina picked up Anna Politkovskaia’s mantle after her death, reporting sensitive issues from Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus. A close collaborator with Natalia Estemirova, Milashina had begun an independent investigation into her killing.

On 13 June 2012, Muratov published an open letter describing how his deputy, Sergei Sokolov, was threatened over an article that detailed corruption in the handling of a grisly murder case. The letter described a chilling encounter in which Mr. Bastrykin had Mr. Sokolov driven to a forest on the outskirts of Moscow, before threatening his life and then joking about how he would personally take charge of the investigation into his death.

Despite the Kremlin's success in marginalising independent reporting and the levels of violence and impunity media professional face, Novaya Gazeta continues to wield considerable influence with its uniquely uncompromising editorial line. However, in a TV interview in March 2015, Muratov said Novaya Gazeta was finding it increasingly difficult to compete with state-sponsored rivals, adding that the paper was hamstrung by a political system that has scared off advertisers, shareholders and investors. He hinted that it might cease publishing in paper form.

In July 2015, Russia's communications censor Roskomnadzor issued its second written warning in 12 months to Novaya Gazeta, this time for publishing "obscene language." The word was not printed in full, but rather represented by dots replacing most of the letters. Nevertheless, a spokesman for the authority claimed to Russian website Lenizdat.Ru that it "clearly was read."

On 10 October 2014, Roskomnadzor issued its first warning regarding an article that was found to be "extremist". The piece, entitled "If we are not the West, who are we?" by Yulya Latynina later had sections removed. Under its rules, Roskomnadzor is now entitled to terminate the newspaper's mass media license. 

Recently, the paper has cast Russia's involvement in Ukraine in an ‘unfavourable’ light, interviewing an injured 20-year-old Russian soldier who was fighting on the front lines in the country along with other soldiers who said they were abandoned there.

In March 2015, Alexander Lebedev revealed in an interview with The Times that he is no longer bankrolling Novaya Gazeta. Although the former Russian billionaire and ex-KGB operative remains a shareholder, he said he had stopped funding it because of the expense and also the strain. It “probably explains why I’m being left alone” by the authorities, he said. 


Hedvig Lundstrom's picture

Hedvig Lundstrom


2016-06-03 10:41

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The Golden Pen of Freedom is WAN-IFRA's annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. Read more ...

In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...