Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Text of Remarks by Ilya Barabanov, 2010 Peter Mackler Award Winner, During This Year’s Ceremony

October 27, 2010

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to begin by giving thanks to the Peter Mackler Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, and the Global Media Forum all of whom took part in awarding me with the prestigious 2010 Peter Mackler Award. I am grateful to the director of the Peter Mackler Award, Camille J. Mackler, as well as the entire Mackler family, to the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, and also to David Hoffman, who voiced so many kind words today. I would never have received this award if not for my colleagues at The New Times magazine, and I would like to express special thanks to Irena Lesnevskaya, the magazine published and owner, and our Editor-in-Chief, Yevgenia Albats.

The New Times appeared on the Russian media-market four years ago, in February of 2007. Irena Lesnevskaya stated her desire to begin such a project immediately after the murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya back then in an interview.

Naturally, it would have been more satisfying and fulfilling for me and my colleagues to work if Russia had a more developed news media market: only in the face of lively competition can publications grow, develop and progress. However, we have to admit, that all the independent media sources can be counted on the fingers of not two, but even just one hand.

Aside from The New Times, among them is the well-known Novaya Gazeta, the radio station Echo Moskvy, as well as a number of developing internet publications. Unfortunately, just a few days ago the Russian Newsweek ceased publishing, causing the number of political journals to drop even lower.

Often times, The New Times has been mistakenly identified and referred to as an “opposition” publication. Indeed, over the past ten years, an unhelpful notion has developed that any media outlet which allows itself to write about politics, without adjusting its position to that of the Kremlin, is by definition “in opposition.” Yet this is incorrect. The position of our magazine is that we simply support the right of citizens to information. This right is guaranteed in the Russian Constitution and, in the United States, as far as I know, it is the First Amendment to the Constitution. We do not take any sides, and attempt to be equally critical of both the representatives of the ruling elite, and to those who call themselves political opponents of the regime in Russia. We are ready to provide a platform for all parties in any discussion, and, whether we are writing a political piece of conducting a financial investigation, we are always interested in both sides of the argument.

Investigative journalism, in particular, is a genre that The New Times specializes in. In our very first issue, we published an investigation of the murder of a Russian special agent, Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was murdered in the fall of 2006. The magazine is constantly publishing articles exposing corruption in various government agencies of Russia. My own most recent investigations are concerned with corruption within the Ministry of Internal Affairs – Russian police – and the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB.

My colleague at The New Times, and a very dear friend, Natalia Morari, was conducting for quite some time an investigation of the murder of a high ranked official of the Russian Central Bank – Andrei Kozlov. His death was linked to the struggle he led against “cash pushers” – officials and criminals engaged in money laundering. For her courageous articles, Natalia was expelled from Russia in December 2007. Natalia, who is a citizen of the Republic of Moldova, was denied entry to Russia, which declared her to be a national security threat. Any and all attempts made to challenge this decision through the legal system have been fruitless, but we continue to fight for her return.

Even with the use of such harsh methods, the enemies of independent press have yet to break down or intimidate those journalists who truly believe in honestly executing their duty before the citizens of their country.

But I am not complaining. My colleagues and I derive great pleasure simply from the opportunity to practice investigative journalism in Russia, despite the fact that the nature of our jobs presents certain difficulties. We are not, by any means, in despair, and Natalia Morari, who, for the past three years, has not been permitted to enter Russia, has become one of the most recognizable television reporters in her home country. If any of you follow the happenings of the former Soviet Union, then you are probably aware of Natalia’s activity especially in connection with the famous Twitter-revolution which occurred in Chisinau about a year ago, and resulted in the end of the communist rule in Moldova and the commencement of clean and legitimate elections in which democratic parties were able to participate and gain support.

I would like to use this opportunity to take a moment to highlight the situation which has developed in Russia with regards to independent media. The International Press Institute demonstrated that the first nine years of the new millennium 735 journalists were killed. Thirty-five of those were in Russia. Only a month ago, at the request of The New Times, Russia’s Glasnost Defense Foundation conducted its own investigation, the results of which, I must admit, shocked us. We discovered that over the past five years in sixty-six of eighty-three regions in Russia (that is almost eighty percent) journalists were either killed or crippled. Over seventy percent of the regions (sixty-one to be exact) journalists were faced with criminal charges. In forty-three regions (fifty percent), censorship is a natural occurrence. Contrary to popular opinion, the most dangerous place for journalists to work, are not the republics of North Caucasus, but the central Russian cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg. Researchers found a complete lack of incidents of government pressure on journalists only in 5 Russian regions.

However, even these numbers are due only to the fact that in such places as Chukotka, the Magadan or Tambov regions any and all independent media were silenced earlier, and hence, in the past ten years, there simply haven’t been any journalists who would allow themselves to speak out critically against the local authorities. Unfortunately, the international journalistic community becomes aware of only the most notorious of these tragedies. This, in my opinion, is completely unacceptable. Annual human rights advocacy monitorings gather only dry statistics: The updated number of journalists killed, in jail and fired for their alternative views. But each and every one of these incidents is connection to a very real human tragedy, disastrous for our colleague, his friends and family. Today, standing here at this podium, I would like to call upon you to pay attention to all of these cases.

And lastly… yes, the reality is that independent media outlets are not able to feel safe in Russia. But of course, this is not news for any journalists working in countries with authoritarian regimes. Most importantly, of course, is that our work gives us great pleasure. Being an investigative journalist in a country whose state authorities do everything to prevent such activity, is perhaps more interesting than working in an environment free of such obstacles. Furthermore, just by the rise in our sales we see that our readers need us. Based on ratings from September, The New Times has become the most quoted Russian magazine in the country, surpassing, for the first time even Forbes, which always held a firm first place in this report due to their publications of the ratings of the richest people in Russia. Is is all the more wonderful to realize that by doing your duty, you are helping ordinary citizens who have found themselves in difficult situations as well as our society as a whole. My countrymen will inevitably realize that a normal and comfortable life is impossible in our country without the presence of independent media outlets.

Thank you.

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