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 the independent media company Medusawas 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 the American broadcaster Ifill, which was an adviser to the non-profit organization Freedom of the Media.
Timchenko and her team ran Medusa from exile for several years. After the invasion of Ukraine, the authorities blocked access to the site from within Russia.
Despite this, Timchenko said her team was still able to reach millions in Russia “who need the truth more than ever.”
“Our duty, our mission remains the same,” she said in her acceptance speech. “To inform our readers independently and objectively and not to leave them alone even in the darkest hour.”
In an interview with VOA Russian, Timchenko said she was shocked by the recognition, saying that when CPJ first contacted her, she “thought it was a prank.”
Receiving an award on behalf of Ifill is an honor, Timchenko said while discussing the challenges faced by the media in wartime.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: Some people speak of being fed up with news about the war in Ukraine. What can journalists do to let the world know they should keep helping Ukraine?
GT: Journalists should remember at such times that they are the fourth power. We are not service personnel. We must say, “Come and see. This is what war looks like.”
True information is now saving lives, including people mobilized in Russia, including people who tried to leave the country for military conscription. I’m talking about the Russians who are in Europe or America now who think the war is far away.
And we should remember that our readers must receive all this information. They shouldn’t be left out.
In recent years, it has been considered good practice not to offend readers. And I understand and respect the readers’ right not to be traumatized. And of course we can warn beforehand [to that] There are scenes of violence. But it seems that at such moments you have to honestly say: “Come and see. Your future and the future of your children depends on it.”
VOA: Journalism should be impartial. How is it for Russian journalists to be open-minded when Russia started the war?
GT: There’s nothing complicated about that. Don’t hide the facts. Get to the bottom of the facts, expose the lies.
Above all, don’t forget that journalism gives a voice to those who are deprived of it, who are now the victims. We must stand on the side of the weak, on the side of the offended.
VOA: As you said, some people don’t want heavy information, they want information that is easier to understand. How can media work in a situation where disinformation or fake news is being spread?
GT: It does not seem to me that there is a request for fakes. There is, of course, a request to stay in the comfort zone. Because once you release this information into your life, you have to make a choice, and it’s always quite difficult to make a choice.
This is a situation of choice. You must make a decision and be responsible for the consequences of that decision.
So it seems to me that the most obvious thing journalism can do is not to shout. Speak the way you would with someone close to you, someone you love, someone you fear losing.
It seems to me that now there is a lack of that calm tone, explaining, explaining … step by step, bring them closer to the realization that in general you have to interact with reality.
VOA: The war changed everything. Journalism is also changing. 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 fight for their lives and for their audience.
The most important thing is not to lose the audience. There are many millions of people in 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 if the media survives, they can keep their audience, then everything will thrive.
Russian journalism is like a dandelion sprouting through three layers of asphalt. Everything will bloom. Nobody gave up the job. People who are journalists today are aware of the risks. So everything will bloom. But let’s survive first.