The following interview with the principal editor of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper for which Anna Politkovskaya was working when she was murdered on Saturday, has been published in Chechen Society Newspaper. The interview was conducted in late September this year, before Saturday’s terrible event. I have translated the text of the interview, as it gives an insight into some of the background to Politkovskaya’s work in the perod leading up to her murder.
Our newspaper can be found everywhere in Chechnya
Recently readers of Novaya Gazeta newspaper have begun to say that they can feel some changes in their favourite publication.
“Something in Novaya has changed,” they believe. The changes that have already taken place and the changes that may yet come about in this newspaper, which needs no advertisement in the Chechen republic, were described to Russian journalists at the end of September at the Dagomys All-Russian Media Festival in Dagomys by the paper’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov.
Transcribed by Timur ALIYEV
What changes have taken place in Novaya Gazeta and what are they connected with?
We’ve gone public and become a shareholding company. This was announced at the World Press Congress which took place in Moscow in June, by Mikhail Gorbachev and his old friend Lebedev (Aleksandr Lebedev - banker, member of the RF State Duma ,ed.). Gorbachev and Lebedev presently own 49 percent of the newspaper’s shares, and 51 percent are owned by a group of the editorial staff. This is a consolidated package, and we don’t plan to de-consolidate it.
Why Gorbachev, exactly?
I greatly respect Gorbachev as a human being. He was one of the few leaders of the country who earned nothing from it. And it’s good that Lebedev is there, who can help him to realize various philanthropic projects.
Russia is probably the only country in the world where civil servants have become the middle class (mainly on bribes). We were talking to Satarov (Georgy Satarov - President of the Indem Regional Fund, which engages in projects on the fight with corruption - ed.), who said that although the number of bribes in the last Russian Parliament was reduced, their value increased (to 50,000 dollars on average).
Gorbachev is also convenient because he is practically one step away from almost any prominent figure in the world. For example, he can call up Bill Gates and suggest he should give an interview for the paper.
What else has going public brought to Novaya Gazeta?
Starting next year we’re going over to colour. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the paper will come out as usual, but the Saturday issue will be in colour. There will also be a TV show. Actually, in the present size of the paper there isn’t room for all the material we get - so many are the people who bring us their pain and suffering.
What is the present size of your paper’s readership?
Our readership is two million (federal issue, regional issues and Internet site). And these are all people out of the ordinary, whose contributions to the newspaper’s Internet forums are sometimes more intelligent than our regular experts. And we really want to keep this readership for ourselves, and our newspaper for this readership.
For the past two years our circulation has remained more or less static: 151,000 for the federal issue, about half million regional supplements, 70,000 for the daily Internet readership. But during this time the general circulations of the other newspapers has fallen by 20-30 percent, while ours has remained the same. And the price hasn’t changed, either. A few years ago we reduced it from 9 rubles to 7 rubles. It’s true that those “jackals” sell it for 14-15 rubles.
Mail of course kills a newspaper. A mail subscription to the newspaper costs more than selling it by single copies. In Russia the distribution networks are being bought up by Russian Aluminium, and in Moscow just about everyone is buying up everything, though it’s mainly the special services who are doing it.
Why does one constantly get the feeling that there’s a “split” in Novaya Gazeta?
There are two tendencies in the newspaper. I favour “free breathing”, articles on light subjects. But other of our colleagues consider that that’s not why people read us, and therefore we mustn’t waste pages on those articles. I agree with that point of view, but I don’t want to support it.
But on the whole there’s a generational shift of generations going on in the paper. That is bound to go away. People don’t write the same way any more.
I will gradually move over to the side of the rarities. A new generation will come along. Even now one of our deputy editors is 24, the other is 26. There are departmental heads who are 23, or 30. They even think in a different way.
Anna Politkovskaya complains about you. She says you refuse to publish her material about Chechnya. What are the future prospects for “Chechen" articles, and especially for Anna Politkovskaya’s material in Novaya Gazeta?
Politkovskaya complains about me, on the radio, too, and it’s true. I’ll explain why. She brings me a text that reads more or less like this: “Early in the morning armoured personnel carriers manned by bloody Kadyrovite hangmen entered Malgobeksky district and seized the peaceful guerrilla Ahmet, who is not fighting at present, but working as a farmer, took him to Grozny, and handed him over to the Oktyabrsky district commandant’s office, where he was tortured to death.” Then I say to her: Anya, we need to think more of who we are writing for.”
If Politkovskaya were to have her way, then the newspaper would look like this: Page 1 - Chechnya, Page 2 - Kadyrov, Page 3 - Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Page 4 - Kadyrov, Page 5 - Chechnya… and so on, all the way to Page 32.
I know that our newspaper can be found everywhere in Chechnya, it is sold and photocopied. People from Chechnya queue up for Politkovskaya But I tell her: You are not a Chechen Joan of Arc. You can’t save the entire Chechen people.
This year I have sent her on an assignment to Chechnya only twice. That’s all I would let her do. But in my absence she “extorted” a signature from my deputy Sergei Sokolov. Then she calls me from there and says with malicious glee: “I’m in Chechnya”
But that’s Politkovskaya. I once said to her: “That’s not a car you parked just now, it’s a broomstick.”
I usually say to Politkovskaya: Chechnya doesn’t exist, forget about it. There have been elections there, a referendum. It’s all legitimate now. OK, the falsification at the elections was 30 percent. But no one’s going to court about it. No one’s saying anything against Kadyrov. But they come to Novaya Gazeta, to Politkovskaya, to complain. That’s not right, and we will change this.
[Yulia] Latynina has just written an article, she went and spent a whole day with Prime Minister Kadyrov. And it came out interestingly. Apparently, she was penetrated by his machismo, and her material proved (unusually for Novaya) to be impregnated with a kind of lyricism.
We will change Politkovskaya’s profile. I’ve already told her: We are going to re-brand you. We’ll put her into the social sphere, on national projects. I don’t think this “broomstick with the energy of Chernobyl” is going to remain without work.
“Chechen society” Newspaper, # 21 (86), 9 October, 2006.