Interview with Dmitry Muratov, Editor of "Novaya Gazeta"
Why do you think this pressure on the paper has increased particularly now?
Because we, as independent media, supported and wrote about public rallies against dishonest elections. Because we continue to explore corruption among high ranking officials, including Putin and his cronies. Those who are in power today understand that they are losing public support, they are losing their power, and that they can lose their billions. This is why independent media, focusing on investigations and honest reportage, is considered the enemy.
When and how did such problems appear? Are they merely financial?
We have always had problems with authorities, but the pressure which we face today is probably the strongest. We started to face it at the end of the previous year, when more than 130 officials of the Central Bank, together with law enforcement and FSB (Federal Security Service), came to the office of Alexander Lebedev's bank.
Do you think the blocking of bank accounts is а political decision?
Of course we believe it is a political decision. First of all, the Central Bank checked Lebedev's bank half a year ago. They didn’t find anything illegal and acknowledged that the bank is following all the laws. 6 months later they came to the bank again. It is not ordinary practice, even in Russia. The second reason. The main target of their attention is Lebedev's personal bank account from which he sponsored Novaya Gazeta, British newspapers, children ill with cancer and other charity projects. The third reason. Novaya Gazeta is not the only media outlet which faces troubles today. It is a trend. Prior to us, the General Prosecutor's Office started to check financial sources of the independent TV station Dozhd, Gazprom made changes in the board of directors in independent radio station Eckho Moscow. Simmultaneously, law enforcement is checking bank accounts in Kirov of the famous political activist Alexey Navalny. So, all these facts allow us to say that this is a coordinated campaign to suppress independent political and media representatives before and after presidential elections.
Do you think legal suits filed against the newspaper have political undertones?
It is an attempt to stop us from publishing our investigations about corrupt officials. Important note: for the last year and a half we faced 5 suits from the Department of Presidential Affairs, which has many times been in the center of our investigations.
These suits were launched after the paper published some investigative reports. Does this mean that investigative reporting has become dangerous for Novaya Gazeta?
It has always been dangerous. And not only for us, but for every honest journalist in Russia. As for us, we lost 4 of our reporters. All of them published investigations on different topics: nazis, high ranked officials, human rights in the North Caucasus, etc.
How do you think the financial problems of Novaya Gazeta can be tackled? What solutions do you see in terms of getting the paper back on track?
We are ready to work without salary as much as it is possible. We believe that today it is early to talk about any specific solutions. We still believe that we will be able to resolve the problems. Today, we receive hundreds of offers with financial aid from different people - from our readers who are ready to donate their pensions and salaries, from artist and businessmen. We are very grateful to everybody, but we don’t accept these offers. We believe that there are hundreds of other more important issues which need money. For example children ill with cancer, who don’t get any money now, because corrupt officials decided to pressure Lebedev and Novaya Gazeta.
How long can the newspaper operate without adequate financing? How long can reporters hold out?
We are ready to work without salary as long as it is possible.
If this pressure has political overtones, don't you think they will only increase after Putin gets elected president?
If so, it will cause troubles only for him. It will be one of the last decisions in his political career. He doesn’t understand that the mentality of our society has changed. People need independent media, political freedom and the chance to listen to different voices. If he decides to put an iron cover over this boiling pot, he will boil in it himself.
As an editor, do you think it is possible to have free and fair elections in Russia?
Of course. It is simple. If you are confident in yourself, if you are not afraid of competition, just give equal rights to every political leader. Equal rights include equal access to TV, equal beauracratic requirements of every candidate or political party and so on. In general, equal rights mean political freedom. If we had it, our elections would be honest and fair. But of course as long as the ruling authorities are in power we will not have fair elections. Because they are afraid of losing their power and money...they are afraid of possible criminal prosecution.