Dmitry Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, the only truly critical newspaper with national influence in Russia today. He founded the paper in 1993 and is still 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. It has paid a heavy price for this pioneering work; three of its reporters have been killed. The most recent casualty was investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who gained international recognition for her independent coverage of Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
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.
Despite the Kremlin’s success in marginalizing independent reporting, Novaya Gazeta continues to wield considerable influence with its uniquely uncompromising editorial line.
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Following are transcribed excerpts from a videotaped interview with Muratov, airing as part of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards Dinner:
In the course of six years we have suffered war-like casualties. Battle casualties. First, our bright journalist, department editor, and an amazing reporter Igor Domnikov was killed by mercenary killers. They beat him to death using hammers at the entrance to his apartment building. Three days ago his killers were sentenced: two got life sentences, the others 25 and 19 years in prison. But the mastermind of the killing is still at large. …
Four years ago, in 2003, my deputy and a famous Russian journalist, Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was known far beyond Russian borders, died from mysterious poisoning. He was also a parliament member, a member of the State Duma anticorruption committee. In short, he was a man who fought corruption all his life. … Within a week, we saw all of his skin peel off. Within one week, he turned from a youthful man into a frail, old person with no hair on his head and at one-third of his normal weight. His medical records have been classified; even his relatives were denied access to his autopsy report that indicated the cause of death.
He was investigating complicated corruption cases, including an out-of-control arms and furniture smuggling scheme. We believe Yuri was poisoned. … I would very much like it if this material you are now filming would, first and foremost, help restore justice in the deaths of our murdered colleagues. I am not even talking about Anna Politkovskaya yet. …
These were three pillars, three islands, on which the newspaper was standing–Domnikov, Shchekochikhin, and Politkovskaya.
Of course, afterwards, we all had an incredibly hard time coping… I cannot even begin to tell you how hard it was for us to work. In the aftermath [of Politkovskaya’s murder in October 2006], frankly speaking, I wanted to shut down the newspaper. Because it was just wrong for the lively, beautiful Politkovskaya, for the bright Shchekochikhin, and the exceptionally brilliant Domnikov, to have been killed because of their ideas. And yet it happened. I wanted to close down the paper. I wanted to say: “To hell with all of this!” However, the newspaper staff and shareholders–Aleksandr Lebedev and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev–did not allow me to do that.
About Politkovskaya one can talk without end. … Our mutual existence could be characterized as a constant conflict. Mind you, these conflicts were only professional, work-related. We never had any personal battles. Our relations were friendly and good-natured. But we constantly we had work-related conflicts. …
I’d tell her: “That would be all! You have to leave Chechnya already. Enough!” … And she’d tell me: “You know, you are probably right. But I cannot leave the weak without my help.” And this was the key quality about Politkovskaya–Politkovskaya was always on the side of the defenseless. And Politkovskaya always criticized those powerful with passion, fervor, and strong arguments. Thanks to her articles, many were released from prisons; some who had been abducted in Chechnya were recovered; elderly people were rescued from harm and given assistance…
Here are Dmitry Muratov’s prepared remarks for the International Press Freedom Awards ceremony:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Esteemed Colleagues:
Igor Domnikov was murdered for investigating corruption. Yuri Shchekochikhin, my best friend, deputy, and a nationally famous journalist was murdered. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. Three of the most important people in my life. And I am the one who gets to stand here in a tuxedo and receive an award. It’s not normal. I feel no joy. I never will.
If she were alive, Politkovskaya would have had some of her favorite red wine with me. With Domnikov and Shchekochikhin–I would have had lots of vodka. And we would’ve been happy. But now we cannot be. And I won’t ever be.
So why do this? Why continue to publish a paper that endangers people’s lives? Because our million readers share the values of democracy. Real democracy–not its imitation. This is not fashionable in Russia today. This could damage one’s career and reputation. Because today there is only one official god–the state and its interests, as opposed to society and individual rights. The state, alas, became a corporate business–the business of special services.
And that business–like special services–needs silence, not press freedom.
On November 9, one of our regional editions was shut down – Novaya Gazeta in Samara. The pretext: police found unlicensed Microsoft software in its computers during a search. The paper is no longer. All of its documents and equipment were seized ahead of parliamentary elections, now just two weeks away.
Our paper is denied advertising for political reasons. American companies and institutions are allowed to advertise in other Russian papers, but not in ours. I call on these advertisers to work directly with Novaya Gazeta. Support us, and our smart, thinking readership. My paper needs your support.
On the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s death we turned on her cell phone. We received thousands of phone calls. The readers called on us to continue her work; not to be silent.
But we can afford a moment of silence for our murdered journalists. I am asking you to honor them right now.