The Russian Ministry of Justice has classified the journalist and Nobel Prize winner Dmitry Muratov as a ‘foreign agent’. According to the ministry, he has used foreign platforms to fuel a negative attitude towards Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. The ministry also claims that he has distributed the work of other ‘foreign agents’.
Muratov, who founded the renowned quality newspaper Novaya Gazeta and served as editor-in-chief for years, has not yet commented on his addition to the growing list of so-called foreign agents. It will have little effect on his work. His newspaper closed its doors in Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many journalists from the critical daily newspaper now write for Novaja Gazeta Europe, from Latvia.
People and organizations with the foreign agent stamp must state in all their reporting that they have been designated as such and they are under stricter (financial) supervision by the Russian authorities. Apart from those practical consequences, the predicate evokes memories of the Soviet era for many Russians. At the time, a foreign agent was by definition an enemy of the people. Many people still have that association.
Labeling (human rights) organizations and journalists in this way is generally seen in the West as a way of silencing critics and restricting press freedom. Sources often become reluctant to speak to journalists if they have been labeled a foreign agent for fear of being labeled themselves. Advertisers, too, often retreat, fearing later to be accused of funding foreign agents.
In addition, the stamp affects the reporting. For example, journalists who have been labeled as a foreign agent – under penalty of a large fine – must provide all their statements with the disclaimer, in capital letters: “This message (material) was created and (or) distributed by a foreign medium that performs the function of a foreign agent, and (or) by a Russian legal person performing that function”. The same goes for social media posts, which tend to become quite unreadable due to the lengthy disclaimer.
Numerous journalists, critical media, political groups and human rights activists have already received the conscious stamp. Well-known examples are members of the punk band Pussy Riot, the award-winning investigative collective Bellingcat and the now banned human rights organization Memorial.
Dmitri Muratov made headlines last summer when he put his Nobel Peace Prize up for sale at auction in New York. Bidding for the award started at $800,000, but bids quickly ran into the millions. Ultimately, the price went under the hammer for $ 103.5 million. Muratov donated the proceeds to UNICEF, which helps children displaced by the war in Ukraine.
A year earlier, Muratov had been awarded the Nobel Prize together with Philippine journalist Maria Ressa for their fight for freedom of expression and press freedom in their country. The Russian editor-in-chief said at the time that he should not have received the award and dedicated the award to six of his Novaya Gazeta colleagues who have been killed for their work in recent years.
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