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Dmitry Muratov and Novaya Gazeta: independent media giants of Russia

By AFP

Moscow: Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the editor-in-chief of which Dmitry Muratov won. Nobel Peace Prize Friday, is one of Russia’s few surviving independent news outlets, and many of its journalists have lost their lives in its work.

Muratov, one of a group of journalists who founded the Novaya Gazeta in 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said after the announcement of the awarded prize that it actually belonged to all journalists in the newspaper.

“I can’t take credit for it. It belongs to Novaya Gazeta,” Muratov, 59, told Russian news agency TASS.

The Nobel came a day after the 15th anniversary of the assassination of its most famous journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, by Novaya Gazeta, who was shot on October 7, 2006.

Since the early 2000s, six Novaya Gazeta journalists and contributors have been killed in connection with their work – their black-and-white portraits now hang together in the newspaper’s office.

In an interview with AFP in March, Muratov said newspaper reporters knew his work could put his life in danger, but unlike some other Kremlin critics he would not flee the country.

“This newspaper is dangerous for people’s lives,” said Muratov. “We are not going anywhere. We will live and work in Russia.”

Muratov and the other founders of Novaya Gazeta were inspired by the new independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A major early supporter was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize money to the new publication to buy his first computer—one of them still on display in his office.

The prime optimism of those early days is long over. In the years since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, critical voices in Russia have been increasingly sidelined.

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Nevertheless, the Kremlin congratulated Muratov for the award, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov describing Muratov as “talented and “daring”.

“He is committed to his ideals,” said Peskov.

This year in particular, Novaya Gazeta has been a hotbed of assertiveness in the gray media landscape.

Critics of the Kremlin say officials are campaigning against independent and critical voices, with many branded foreign agents and others being forced to shut down. Some prominent journalists have fled the country.

Novaya Gazeta and its journalists have long faced threats and violence.

In another high-profile incident in 2009, human rights activist and contributor Natalia Estemirova, a friend of Politkovskaya, was kidnapped in Chechnya and later found dead in neighboring Ingushetia.

In 2018, a funeral wreath and a severed ram’s head were delivered to the paper’s offices along with a note addressed to one of its journalists who had worked as a shady Wagner mercenary working in the Middle East and Africa. The group was covered.

The investigation had shed light on Wagner’s operations abroad and his alleged links with Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Earlier this year, the newspaper was again targeted for what editors said was an apparent chemical attack.

Despite the hefty price tag, the newspaper has refused to shy away from strict scrutiny, and was one of the publications that exposed Russian officials’ offshore funds through a collection of leaked documents in the Panama Papers scandal.

Muratov was born in the southwestern city of Kuibyshev, now called Samara, on October 30, 1961.

He worked for the populist daily Komsomolskaya Pravda early in his career, but left with many of his colleagues who were not happy with its editorial policies. Together they founded Novaya Gazeta and Muratov has served several times as its editor-in-chief since 1995.

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