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Meduza: news site based outside Russia to report freely

June 10, 2019

The arrest of Russian journalist Ivan Golunov on widely denounced drugs charges has focused global attention on his investigative reporting and the independent news site he works for, Meduza.

Created in recent years by a respected team of journalists and based in Latvia, the site has carved out a reputation for fearless reporting. Here is more information on its history.

– How did Meduza start out? –

The team that created Meduza in 2014 previously worked for a Moscow-based website set up in the 1990s and known for its investigative reporting, Lenta.ru.

In 2014, its new owner, Kremlin-friendly billionaire Alexander Mamut, sacked the respected editor-in-chief Galina Timchenko, after she had been in the post a decade.

She and some of her colleagues set up the new site in Riga, Latvia, an EU member with a large Russian-speaking population.

Meduza’s editorial staff said they set up in Latvia because they felt they could not work freely in their home country. The site has investigative reporters on the ground in Russia.

Meduza means jellyfish in Russian. The site has jokingly suggested this is because journalists are also slippery and unpleasant.

Lenta.ru has since become more pro-Kremlin in its editorial stance.

– What does Meduza cover? –

Meduza has a focus on hard-hitting, in-depth stories that show the problems of Russian society and give a voice to victims.

In 2016 it published a letter from prisoner Ildar Dadin in which he said he was beaten and threatened with rape and murder in prison.

It has also used fact-checking to counter official accounts of events. In 2017 it reported that President Vladimir Putin was describing a video as footage of Russian strikes on Syria when it actually showed the US bombing Afghanistan.

In 2018 it published an in-depth interview with an ex-policeman who is Russia’s most prolific serial killer.

The arrested journalist Golunov most recently wrote about microfinancing organisations that cheated Muscovites out of their flats and are linked to money-laundering in Latvia.

– How popular is it? –

“Meduza is one of the best-known independent publications in Russia, we ourselves are surprised how it all worked out,” editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov told AFP at the weekend.

The site is read by about 12 million people per month in Russia, he said.

According to Alexa Internet tracking website, 40 percent of visitors are from Russia, where it ranks 223 in the country’s most popular websites.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has re-published a number of Meduza articles on its website and Meduza has partnered with BuzzFeed, giving it greater international exposure.

Meduza publishes stories in English as well as Russian, unlike most Russian news sites. It also sends out a daily newsletter in English called “The Real Russia”.

– Does it have problems with the law? –

Meduza says that because it is based in Latvia, it has avoided some of the problems with Russian authorities suffered by media registered inside the country.

Last year Meduza mocked Russia’s media watchdog, which regularly blocks online resources, with an online game where players could attempt to “block the whole internet”.

Meduza has been blocked in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Kolpakov said last year.

The site separately courted controversy last year when editor Kolpakov resigned over a sexual harassment scandal.

Timchenko opted to reinstate him, prompting criticism from some liberal journalists that the site had discredited itself by not immediately sacking him.

The case was one of the first to be widely reported in Russia, where the Western #MeToo movement still has little traction.

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Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.