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Sunday, 07 June 2009

IPI Congress Honours Russia’s Novaya Gazeta

Free Media Pioneer Award presented as IPI World Congress opens 

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta at the IPI World Congress in Helsinki. Photo: Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva

The International Press Institute today presented its annual Free Media Pioneer Award to Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that has withstood mounting government efforts to control the media and has paid dearly for its intrepid reporting over the last decade.

The award was presented to Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov as IPI opened its World Congress and 58th General Assembly, an event marked by repeated calls to defend media freedom and journalists at a time of major economic challenges for the news industry.
 
After accepting the award, Muratov described withering government crackdown on press freedom in recent years and said “they want to rule as Stalin did and live as Abramovich does.” Roman Abramovich is one of Russia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs.
 
IPI Director David Dadge said Novaya Gazeta was honoured for its daring defense of press freedom. In a scathing indictment of Russia’s media environment, he pointed out that when the walls of communism came down around the world, some barriers remained standing in Russia. Referring to the 32 journalists killed in Russia since 2000, and the near-complete lack of independent broadcasting, he said that the people of Russia were ill-served by the lack of free speech.

“Twenty years on from the fall of the Berlin wall, the Russian media — a media that for so long had nursed a desire for independence in the shadow of that wall during communist times and which was so vocal in Russia in the early years after 1989 — has been reduced to a brave whisper,” Dadge said. “In modern Russia, there are few media organisations, particularly in broadcasting, that can claim to be free from the influence of government and who are not in service of the state.”
 
The award recognises Novaya Gazeta’s focus on in-depth reporting at a time when many of Russia’s print and broadcast media have softened their news content or have come under control of Kremlin allies.

Four of the paper’s correspondents and its lawyer have been killed in the past decade, one most recently in January, and it has endured threats and government investigations whilst continuing to probe human rights abuses, corruption, and the Kremlin’s tough policies in Russia’s restive North Caucasus republics. Those killed were:

  • Igor Domnikov, who was beaten to death on 16 July 2000.
  • Yuri Shchekochikhin, the deputy editor who had investigated alleged corruption among high-level security officials, who was poisoned on 3 July 2003.
  • Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the lift of her Moscow apartment on 7 October 2006. Politkovskaya had gained a reputation for her daring reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya. She was posthumously given IPI’s World Press Freedom Hero Award in 2006.
  • Anastasia Baburova, who was shot dead on 19 January 2009 while trying to help Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who represented Politkovskaya. Markelov was slain on a city street just moments before Baburova was shot.


Muratov asked for a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives in the last decade, saying the award “is a tribute to Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, and this award will be exhibited in front of their photographs in our newspaper.”
 
Novaya Gazeta was founded in 1993 by former members of the Soviet-era Komsomolskaya Pravda. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian entrepreneur Alexander Lebedev are part owners of the newspaper.
 
Janne Virkkunen, IPI board chairman and editor of the Helsinki Sanomat, described the media’s role in defending democracy.
 
“Today’s ongoing worldwide economic crisis is reducing the resources of the media to perform their basic tasks as the guardian of states and as the exposer of hidden information and hidden intentions,” said Virkkunen said. “Given the possibilities, we must take care that the media have sufficient power to carry out their basic tasks, for stable democracy is possible only in conditions in which there is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. And the same holds true the other way round: Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are possible only in democratic conditions.”
 
The annual Free Media Pioneer Award was established in 1996 to honour organisations that have fought to ensure freer and more independent media in their country. The award is co-sponsored by IPI and the U.S.-based Freedom Forum, a non-partisan, international foundation dedicated to free press and free speech.
 
Previous winners of the Free Media Pioneer Award were: Talking Points Memo, a New York-based political blog (2008); Mizzima News Agency, India/Burma (2007); Yemen Times, Yemen (2006); SW Radio Africa, United Kingdom (2005); the Central Asia and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network, Azerbaijan (2004); the Media Council of Tanzania (2003); the daily Danas, Serbia (2002); the on-line newspaper Malaysiakini.com, Malaysia (2001); the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), Peru (2000); the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (1999); Radio B-92, Serbia (1998); the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia (1997); and NTV, Russia (1996).