Reporting Against the Odds; Honoring journalists who risk death to write the truth

The Washington Post
November 20, 2007

Reprinted with permission from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Company and The Washington Post

It was no surprise when authorities shut another independent newspaper in Vladimir Putin’s Russia this month, but the pretext was particularly illustrative of the cynicism of Mr. Putin’s regime. The Samara edition of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper had offended those in power by fairly covering the political opposition, so police swooped in on Nov. 8, confiscated the newspaper’s lone remaining computer (having seized the others last spring) and indicted its editor for allegedly using a counterfeit version of some Microsoft software. For one of the world’s leaders in intellectual piracy, this was indeed rich.

On the other hand, it was nothing new for Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the national edition of Novaya Gazeta, which continues to publish against great odds. A government-backed monopoly makes it increasingly difficult for him to secure advertising, and another makes it harder and harder to sell his newspaper in Russia’s ubiquitous kiosks. Meanwhile, three of his bravest reporters — Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya — have been murdered while investigating government corruption and human rights abuses. “I would prefer them to shut the newspaper altogether rather than kill us one by one,” Mr. Muratov said last week.

Yet Mr. Muratov — gruff, bearish and apparently beyond intimidation — continues to publish, to expose, even to investigate the unsolved murders of his own journalists. Tonight in New York City he will receive an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. So will Mazhar Abbas, who has led protests in Pakistan against Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s constriction of the free media; Gao Qinrong of China, who spent eight years in prison for accurate reporting that embarrassed local officials; and Adela Navarro Bello, whose weekly magazine Zeta in Tijuana, Mexico, reports on drug barons and their corrupt ties to officials. Two Zeta editors have been murdered, and Ms. Bello, general director of the magazine, regularly receives death threats.

In an interview last week, Ms. Bello was matter-of-fact about the risks she runs. “We are not suicidal,” she said. “We do our professional work, in a country where there are not enough guarantees for our security.” She, like Mr. Muratov and the other honorees, reminds us of the almost unimaginable bravery of thousands of others who stand up to bullies like Mr. Putin, simply because they believe it is the right thing to do.

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