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A Case for Compromise

by Sofia Tomacruz, 2022 Journalism Fellow

On July 28, 2022, Russian authorities moved to revoke the license1 of Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow-based independent newsroom that had been a stalwart of critical reporting in the country. The development demonstrated a reality that many watching the war in Ukraine had seen coming: in a matter of weeks, the chance to report on the conflict not only critically, but factually, had disappeared.

Just four months earlier, the government had forced Novaya Gazeta to suspend publication after registering a second warning for refusing to tow the Kremlin’s line. The law threatened errant journalists with up to 15 years behind bars. Russia’s media regulator did not specify a particular article or project—there was just swift, silent action, followed by license revocation.

“It’s got to the point of absurdity,” Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta’s editor and a co- winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, said in an interview with the New Yorker2 in late February, referring to the pressure Russian authorities place on journalists. At the time, all media in the country had been ordered to ban the use of words like “war,” “invasion,” and “occupation” in describing what Russia’s government referred to as a “special operation.”

But some did not comply. As Muratov asserted at the time: “We continue to call war ‘war. ’We are waiting for the consequences.” We know now that Muratov’s newsroom would see them.

Novaya Gazeta’s shutdown was swift—but there is a longer history here, one full of compromises.

Before they suspended publication of their paper, Muratov and his team carried out a delicate balancing act. With increasing pressure from its government, the newsroom announced to its readers in early March that it would take down3 some of its material about the war on its website owing to censorship rules. It would, however, they said continue to report on the brutal effects of waging war, to cover matters like economic crises, persecution of critical voices, and problems with accessing essential foreign needs like medicine. It was firm in having versions of its paper in both Russian and Ukrainian while obeying a government directive that forbade referring to the conflict as a “war” or an “invasion.”

Having reached the point of possible closure—one wonders: were these compromises worth making? It’s worth looking at Novaya Gazeta’s history, as well as Muratov’s career, during which the question of whether to compromise has been a recurring theme, a constant debate.

Muratov’s Nobel captured the very tension surrounding this journalist’s approach. “If you lived in Putin’s Russia, what compromises would you make?”4 New York Times Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski wrote, in a piece that documented the differences between Muratov’s approach and that of detained opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Both figures oppose an autocratic regime, but their ways of resisting bring up a central question: how can one fight back and safeguard vanishing freedoms?

Does one take the path of “principled and unyielding resistance” or that of incremental systematic improvement?
Muratov himself said5 he would have chosen to award the Nobel Prize to Navalny. Nonetheless, the editor’s approach demonstrates that there is no singular way to resist, nor should there be hierarchies of opposition when you’re up against a common enemy with overwhelming resources.

In opposing a fraught system, Muratov’s example can also remind journalists of other questions worth asking time and again: Who are we standing against? And who or what are we standing up for?

Novaya Gazeta’s advocacy for the provision of treatments for children with rare diseases stands as one answer to these questions about values. Muratov acknowledged using his connections with Russian elites like Andrey L. Kostin, chairman of VTB, one of Russia’s largest banks—and even Putin himself6—to get children access to expensive medicines. Does engaging with figures who enable a harmful regime make one complicit?

“You can say, 'He’s an accomplice of the regime,’ but tell that to the parents of children ill with S.M.A. (spinal muscular atrophy). Tell them that bankers who work for the state gave money and you can’t take the money, and the child will die,”7 Muratov told the Times in response.

There’s also the funding of Novaya Gazeta itself. In 2006, the paper sold 49% of its stock to a pair of powerful individuals: its longtime benefactor former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev bought 10%, while Aleksandr Lebedev8 bought the other 39%. Up until then, the company’s stock had been completely owned by its journalists. The sale of a portion of the company’s stake to a figure like Lebedev naturally left some people with apprehensions. He was, for one, a banker involved in national finance and a member of United Russia, the ruling pro-Kremlin party. Lebedev assured Novaya Gazeta’s staff he wouldn’t influence editorial matters.

The paper’s reporting would, it turned out, testify to its editorial integrity.

Years later in 2014, the outlet, struggling at the time, would receive funding from Sergei Adonyev, a figure in the telecommunications industry who had partnered with a state-owned company. Again, Novaya Gazeta managed to survive and continue its investigative reporting.

Considering some of these decisions, there’s an illuminating lesson journalists can learn from Muratov about what it might mean to function within a flawed system—compromises, because they are often so tricky, may only work if a newsroom or individual reporter is clear about their limits.

And so, the key question before a reporter ventures to compromise is: where do you draw the line? The consequences won’t always be so clear, nor can you account for all outcomes. These limits, these “red lines,” shape everything.

Is compromise like this possible in all spaces? Like many other elements of journalism, much depends on local context. Cultural anthropologist Natalia Roudakova9 noted how in the USSR, journalists occupied a “unique social and cultural location” as a profession entrusted by the Soviet state to “perform this work of realigning the moral and the political vectors of authority.” Journalism’s historical role in Russia is among the central factors that made it possible for Muratov to use his connections among Russia’s elite, allowing Novaya Gazeta not only to report on, but indeed to advocate for, certain causes.

Examining Muratov’s decisions, it seems that while people may question how productive some of his compromises have been, he has always known what the enemy is: tyranny in all its forms. Muratov made his choices in keeping with the interests of the disadvantaged and disempowered, holding authorities to account, and protecting both independence and truth. It took skillful compromise with unsavory characters, yes, but always with red lines and end goals in mind.

In interviews with foreign media both after winning the Nobel and war’s breaking out in Ukraine, Muratov himself has spelled out some of these lines in the sand. For instance, though his newsroom would report on corruption, Muratov said it would not publish stories on the personal lives of the Russian elite. Ultimately, he would not play partisan politics10 or compromise his newsroom’s freedom and independence. Muratov referenced the need for this dogged and balanced approach in his award-acceptance lecture:

"The dogs bark, but the caravan keeps moving” […] The government sometimes derisively says the same about journalists. They bark, but it does not affect anything. But I was recently told that the saying has an opposite explanation. The caravan drives forward because the dogs bark […] The caravan can move forward only with the dogs around. Yes, we growl and bite. Yes, we have sharp teeth and strong grip. But we are the prerequisite for progress. We are the antidote against tyranny.11

Muratov and his team worked hard, pressing up against their limits; unfortunately, the Russian authorities had reached theirs as well and moved to silence the critical newsroom.

Asked why the paper decided to stop publication in March after receiving two warnings concerning its reporting about the war even though it had held out despite worse in years prior (call to mind the murder of several of its staff,12 including Anna Politkovskaya), Muratov responded: “We understood that we would be treated like other media, that criminal investigations could be opened against collaborators.”13

“It was important to survive, to stay free, and continue to resist,” Muratov said in his message to the paper’s subscribers: “For us, and, I know, for you, this is a terrible and difficult decision. But we must preserve each other, for each other.”14

And as it faced the prospect of closure in July, Muratov and his team assured their readers they not only would fight cases filed against them but also would continue reporting. “The most important thing is that we are and will be,”15 its editorial team said. “We do not say goodbye.” This, Muratov and his team would not compromise on.

Sofia Tomacruz was a 2022 FASPE Journalism Fellow. She is a journalist at Rappler and is based out of the Philippines.


  1. Lock, Samantha. “Russian News Outlet Novaya Gazeta to Be Stripped of Licence Under Court Order.”
  2. Remnick, David. “How Russia’s Nobel-Winning Newspaper Is Covering Ukraine.” The New Yorker, 28 Feb. 2022, www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-russias-nobel-winning-newspaper-is-covering-ukraine.
  3. Reuters. “Russia’s Novaya Gazeta Cuts Ukraine War Reporting Under Censorship.” Reuters, 4 Mar. 2022, www.reuters.com/world/russias-novaya-gazeta-cuts-ukraine-war-reporting-under-censorship-2022-03-04.
  4. nytimes.com. 15 Oct. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/10/15/world/europe/russia-dissent-muratov-navalny-nobel.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
  5. —. 8 Oct. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/10/08/world/europe/russian-laureate-.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
  6. “Putin Announces Foundation to Support Seriously Ill Children Funded by Income Tax Increase for High-earners.” Meduza, 6 Jan. 2021, meduza.io/en/news/2021/01/06/putin-announces-foundation-to-support-seriously-ill-children-funded-by-income-tax-increase-for-high-earners.
  7. nytimes.com. 15 Oct. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/10/15/world/europe/russia-dissent-muratov-navalny-nobel.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
  8. Committee to Protect Journalists. “Anya’s Paper: CPJ Special Report.” Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 Nov. 2008, cpj.org/reports/2007/05/anya.
  9. Roudakova, Natalia, “Journalism as ‘Prostitution’: Understanding Russia’s Reaction to Anna Politkovskaya’s Murder,’ Political Communication, 26:4, 412-429.
  10. Geneva Solutions. “Dmitry Muratov: ‘Russia Had a Future, Many Think It Has No More.’” Geneva Solutions, genevasolutions.news/global-news/dmitry-muratov-russia-had-a-future-many-think-it-has-no-more. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
  11. Muratov, Dmitry. “Nobel Lecture.” NobelPrize.org, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/muratov/lecture. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
  12. “‘This Prize Belongs to My Lost Colleagues’ Novaya Gazeta Editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov on Winning This Year’s Nobel Peace Prize.” Meduza, 8 Oct. 2021, meduza.io/en/feature/2021/10/08/this-prize-belongs-to-my-lost-colleagues.
  13. Geneva Solutions. “Dmitry Muratov: ‘Russia Had a Future, Many Think It Has No More.’” Geneva Solutions, genevasolutions.news/global-news/dmitry-muratov-russia-had-a-future-many-think-it-has-no-more. Accessed 23 Sept. 2022.
  14. —. 28 Mar. 2022, www.nytimes.com/live/2022/03/28/world/ukraine-russia-war/novaya-gazeta-the-hard-hitting-russian-newspaper-suspends-publication?smid=url-share.
  15. Editorial Staff. “RKN Demands to Cancel the Media License of the Novaya Gazeta Website.” Novaya Gaeza, 28 July 2022, novayagazeta.ru/articles/2022/07/28/rkn-trebuet-annulirovat-litsenziiu-smi-u-saita-novoi-gazety.