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‘Journalism has Been Lost in Russia,’ Says Novaya Gazeta Journalist

FILE - Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta's plate is seen next to an entrance to the office in Moscow, Oct. 8, 2021.
FILE - Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta's plate is seen next to an entrance to the office in Moscow, Oct. 8, 2021.

The front page of renowned Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta offered a grim assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine this week.

Ballet dancers are silhouetted in front of a mushroom cloud, and the words read: “A copy of Novaya, created in accordance with all the rules of Russia’s amended criminal code.”

The cover references a ratcheting of nuclear tensions, a performance of Swan Lake broadcast continually on Russian state TV during an attempted KGB coup in 1991, and the newly amended media law that carries hefty penalties for “false news” on the war in Ukraine.

Pressure on Russia’s independent media and international outlets has forced several to close or move operations outside the country. Journalists are ordered to use only official statements and to avoid the words “attack” and “invasion.”

The Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta, run by Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov, received a warning from the Roskomnadzor media regulator in the early days of Russia’s invasion.

Since then the regulator ordered several sites, including the Russian language version of Voice of America, to be blocked.

Novaya Gazeta’s journalists are used to working under pressure. The media outlet’s staff have been threatened, harassed, even killed for their reporting.

Now, they are working to survive a repressive environment, says Nadezhda Prusenkova.

In an interview with VOA’s Russian Service, the Novaya Gazeta journalist spoke about the pressure on the country’s media and the efforts to keep news flowing.
The interview has been translated and edited for length and clarity.

What is the mood of Novaya Gazeta’s editorial staff?

Prusenkova: I’ve been working at Novaya Gazeta for quite a long time and now is probably the hardest time in all of Novaya Gazeta’s history. The latest issue we published has been the hardest one to put together, both technically and morally.

How are you managing to keep working?

Prusenkova: When the law on fake news came into effect, almost 30 media outlets were blocked, closed or destroyed. Journalism has been lost in Russia — it just doesn’t exist anymore. Independent journalism, at least.

We are still around. We are trying to do our job. We understand that our voice — even when it can’t call black "black" and white "white" – has been silenced, too, because if we call things by their names, we will be shut down and cease to exist.

We asked our readers: What shall we do if we can’t call the special operation by its real name? If we can’t write about what is really happening and can only retype press releases from the Ministry of Defense — something we won’t do because that goes against ethics and common sense and all laws of being?

And our readers supported us. They said they didn’t care what we called the current situation: “We know what you mean. Just stay for as long as you possibly can.”

That’s the only reason we haven’t closed or left, ourselves.

Media outlets including Ekho Moskvy have been blocked and liquidated. Do you think that Muratov being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize has helped Novaya Gazeta stay open?

Prusenkova: I’ll be honest, I don’t know. Based on the horrible logic according to which things are happening now, the prize would be an argument to close us.

Like everyone else, we received a handful of warnings from the [media regulator]. Like everyone, we got a letter from the Ministry of Defense that media outlets — and Novaya Gazeta especially — are publishing unchecked information and fake news. That was before the law came into effect.

So in that sense, we’re not different from others. We were just trying to respect the rules of a game that we don’t know.

We understand the Nobel Prize is not a defensive shield. We understand everything can end at any moment, not even in the coming days, but in the coming hours and minutes, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

This article is taken from VOA’s Russian Service and Current Time.