The founder of one of Russia’s leading independent news websites has been recognized for her “extraordinary and sustained” efforts to protect press freedom.
Galina Timchenko, co-founder of independent media outlet Meduza, was presented with the Gwen Ifill award at an event in New York City on Thursday.
The award is presented by the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists in honor of American broadcaster Ifill, who was an adviser to the media freedom nonprofit.
Timchenko and her team have run Meduza from exile for several years. After the invasion in Ukraine, authorities blocked access to the website inside Russia.
Despite that, Timchenko said, her team has still been able to reach millions in Russia “who need the truth more than ever.”
“Our duty, our mission, stays the same,” she said in her acceptance speech. “To provide independent, objective information to our readers and not to leave them alone at the darkest hour.”
In an interview with VOA Russian, Timchenko said she was shocked to receive the recognition, saying that when CPJ first contacted her, she “thought it was a prank.”
Receiving an award in Ifill’s name is an honor, Timchenko said, as she discussed the challenges for media in wartime.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: Some people are talking about weariness of news about the war in Ukraine. What can journalists do to let the world know they should continue to help Ukraine?
GT: At such times, journalists should remember that they are the fourth power. We are not service staff. We have to say, “Come and see. This is how the war looks.”
True information now saves lives, including lives of those people who are being mobilized in Russia, including lives of those people who’ve been trying to leave the country because of military call-up. I'm talking now about the Russian people who are in Europe or in America now, who think that the war is somewhere far away.
And we should remember that our readers must receive all this information. They should not be left out.
In recent years, it has been considered good practice not to hurt the readers. And I understand and respect the right of readers not to be traumatized. And of course, we can warn prior [to that] there are scenes of violence. But it seems that at such moments, you need to honestly say, “Come and see. Your future and the future of your children depends on it.”
VOA: Journalism should be unbiased. How is it for Russian journalists to be open-minded when Russia started the war?
GT: There is nothing complicated about it. Do not hide the facts. Get to the bottom of the facts, expose the lies.
First of all, do not forget that journalism gives a voice to those who are deprived of it, who are now the victim. We must be on the side of the weak, on the side of those who are offended.
VOA: As you have already said, some people do not want heavy information, they want information that is easier to understand. How can media work in a situation where disinformation or fake news is spreading?
GT: It doesn't seem to me that there is a request for fakes. There is, of course, a request to stay in the comfort zone. Because as soon as you release this information into your life, you have to decide something, and it is always quite difficult to decide.
This is a situation of choice. You must make a choice and be responsible for the consequences of that choice.
Therefore, it seems to me that the most obvious thing that journalism can do is not to shout. Talk the way you talk to a person close to you, dear to you, whom you are afraid of losing.
It seems to me that now there is a shortage of this calm tone, explanatory, explaining … step by step, bring them closer to the realization that, in general, you need to interact with reality.
VOA: The war has changed everything. Journalism is also transforming. What future do you see for the media?
GT: It's too early to talk about a distant future. Now all independent journalists in Russia are on the brink of survival. They are fighting for their lives and for their audience.
The most important thing is not to lose the audience. There are many millions of people inside Russia, and we show them that they are not alone, and that we are still with them, we are in touch. The internet is big, the world is small, we are all together.
And when the media survive, they can keep their audience, then everything will flourish.
Russian journalism is like the dandelion that sprouts through three layers of asphalt. Everything will bloom. No one has given up the profession. People who are now engaged in journalism are aware of the risks. So, everything will be in blossom. But let's survive first.