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Charlemagne Medal

May 10, 2012

Russia's Novaya Gazeta has received this year's Charlemagne Medal for European Media. Its journalists are fighting for press freedom in Russia - and some of them are paying a very high price for their struggle.

Image: DW

Despite being hampered by state restrictions, Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper continues to work towards democratic rights and freedom of opinion and the press – that's the explanation given by the jury as to why the paper will be awarded this year's Charlemagne Medal for European Media in Aachen.

The head of the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, Alexei Simonov, is not surprised by the decision. After all, he says, Novaya Gazeta is "Russia's most intelligent newspaper."

"For members of Russia's intelligentsia, it is an honor to publish articles in Novaya Gazeta," the human rights activist told DW. The paper's readers are mostly members of the middle class between 25 and 45 years of age.

A dangerous job

There are editorial offices of Novaya Gazeta in 12 Russian cities, but also in Germany, France and Israel. The main office of the paper is known for its investigative journalism in Moscow and has some 70 journalists working there.

Elena Kostyuchenko has been with the paper for eight years – for her it is more than a job. She says she likes the way that she and her colleagues cooperate on stories; if there's a lot to do The 24-year old even spend nights sleeping in the office.

Portrait of Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in 2006Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Kostyuchenko writes about political activists critical of the Kremlin, but also about corrupt policemen, about sexual minorities or drug addicts. She knows that covering such topics in Russia can be very dangerous. She frequently gets anonymous threatening phone calls – but remains calm about it.

"They want to scare me, but I think that if someone really planned to attack me, they wouldn't give me a call beforehand," she says.

About a year ago, she was attacked during a protest rally and had to be treated in the hospital. But she never thinks about giving up. "We have to continue for the colleagues we have lost," she says.

Flowers for Anna Politkovskaya

Six staff members have been killed in the past two decades. Their portraits are on the wall of the Moscow office, among them also that of Anna Politkovskaya. Her desk is exactly as it was left before her death. Six years ago, she was shot dead in her apartment – the murder sparked an international outcry.

Those behind the killing have never been found. On her desk, there's a bouquet of flowers. "Those flowers are brought here by our readers," says press spokeswoman Nadeshda Prusenkova.

Novaya Gazeta
The paper is mostly ready by the urban young emerging middle classImage: picture-alliance/dpa

She says that in fact it's the critical reporting that's causing the papers financial difficulties. "The revenue we get from advertising is very small because only a few companies dare to place ads in our paper," she says. Since it's founding in 1993, the paper has often gone through financial difficulties. The main contributor is Russian banker Alexander Lebedev who also holds 39 percent of the shares of Novaja Gazeta.

"This award will spurn us on"

The news about the Charlemagne Medal for European Media came as a surprise for the editors. "This will spur us on to continue with our work," says Prusenkova. The entire staff, she said, was proud and happy.

The newspaper has already been given the Henri-Nannen award for press freedom, the Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award and many others. Each of those awards is an important signal to the Russian government, says Kostyuchenko. All these award will add to the protection of journalists in Russia.

Author: Olga Kapustina / ai
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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