Mikhail Zygar, Russia

International Press Freedom Awards

2014 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee

(Courtesy of ABC News)

Mikhail Zygar is the editor-in-chief of the independent Russian TV channel Dozhd.

Under Zygar’s leadership, Dozhd has provided an alternative to Kremlin-controlled federal TV channels by focusing on news content and giving a platform to opposition voices. The channel’s coverage of politically sensitive issues, like the Moscow street protests in 2011 and 2012 as well as the conflict in Ukraine, has been dramatically different from the official coverage by Russia’s national television stations. Because of its independent editorial line, Dozhd has come under immense pressure.

After Russia’s cable and satellite operators dropped Dozhd off their frequencies, the channel’s audience shrank overnight from 18 million to 2 million households. Then, Dozhd had to cut its staff in half after it was told that the lease of its building would not be renewed. Finally, the State Duma passed a law banning all advertising on private channels. The law, which was signed by President Vladimir Putin in July, will go into effect on January 1.

Zygar was appointed to the editorship of Dozhd TV in 2010, the same year the channel was founded. Prior to that, he worked for Newsweek Russia and the business daily Kommersant, where he covered the conflicts in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Serbia, and Kosovo.

He is co-author of the book Gazprom: Russia’s New Weapon, which explores Russia’s recent history through the currency of gas. His new book, Putin’s U-Turn, a historical look at what has led to the Russian president’s domestic and foreign policy choices, is scheduled for release by year’s end.

Follow Mikhail Zygar on Twitter: @zygaro

The text of Zygar’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

Thank you.

I started my career in journalism as a foreign correspondent. I covered lots of truly important stories: the war in Iraq, armed conflict in Lebanon, genocide in Darfur, revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the Obama-McCain presidential election campaign of 2008, and “other” horrible massacres all over the world.

About five years ago, I quit war reporting and turned to politics and society. I thought it would make my life easier. I was wrong. Running the only independent TV channel in Russia is just like walking through a mine field. And that is the reason why I’m standing here tonight. 

Of course, I’m pleased and honored to have this award. But to be very frank, the fact that I’m receiving it is a sad acknowledgment of the reality in Russia today. This award means that TV Dozhd, our channel, is in real trouble.

I owe this award to all the problems we have had. By “we” I mean my colleagues and my country. Unfortunately, this award would have been impossible without the terrible pressure–psychological, political and financial–that we’ve been suffering.

It would have been impossible without harsh criticism from every side of every conflict we cover: the Russians and the Ukrainians, Putin’s admirers and political opposition, patriots and pro-Westerners. But it does mean we did something right.

This award would have been impossible if my country weren’t split by endless war. And by war I mean not only the recent conflict in eastern Ukraine but also the fight with corruption and all sorts of tension between different parts of our extremely polarized society.

Finally, I am ashamed to stand here without all my beloved colleagues who merit this award as much as I do. My colleagues and I are happy that we still have an opportunity to keep exploring, to keep doing our job, and to keep being disliked by the people whom we “un-cover” in our reporting.

All that we have been doing together with my colleagues over the past four years has brought us neither fame nor fortune. What’s worse–it hasn’t brought about crucial liberal reforms in our country. But we still have the feeling that we are doing something right. And I assume that this award means you agree with us. Thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart.     


Support Mikhail Zygar and CPJ’s fight for press freedom in Russia by tweeting:

President Putin, allow Dozhd TV to work freely in #Russia! #IPFA @tvrain

Three facts about press freedom in Russia:

Key coverage:

April 12, 2014: The Last Journalists in Russia,” Vice News
February 5, 2014: Asking the wrong questions on Russian TV,” The New Yorker
January 31, 2014: A Week Before the Olympics, the Kremlin is Attacking Russia’s Last Independent TV Channel,” New Republic

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The ceremony • Awardees • Aung Zaw, BurmaSiamak Ghaderi, IranMikhail Zygar, RussiaFerial Haffajee, South AfricaJorge Ramos, Benjamin Award