“Killer of Russian Journalist Is Known, Editor Says”

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Novaya Gazeta (Russia) today.

“Lies and violence rule this country.” — Lyudmila M. Alekseyeva, the Moscow Helsinki Group

As long as it is believed that representatives should be accountable, then there are clear advantages to having them deliberate in public, but as long as it is also believed that representatives should exercise a degree of independent judgement in making decisions, then transparency can also have costs … recent discussions of transparency in government have often overlooked the fact that it can have both costs and benefits. –David Stasavage, “Public versus Private Deliberation in a Representative Democracy”

You can be aggressive in hunting down news, that’s one thing. It is quite another thing to be agressive in a way that disrespects authority. You must not let your authority be disrespected. … In those who have authority, that authority is intrinsic, it is innate. … if you do not respect yourself, journalist will not respect you, just as no one at home will respect you. A single look can generally resolve half such problems. The way you look at them when you answer, and the journalist will not persist in posing a disrespectful question.Antônio Carlos Magalhães (Brazil: Magalhães on Managing the Media)

Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general, said in August that Ms. Politkovskaya’s killing had been ordered from abroad with the aim of destabilizing Russia. Mr. Muratov said last week that he knew of no evidence of foreign involvement and that he believed that Ms. Politkovskaya had been killed because she was investigating corruption within Russia.

Killer of Russian Journalist Is Known, Editor Says: The New York Times follows editorial decision-making at the Novaya Gazeta as it prepares an anniversary edition on the assassination of journalist Anya Politkovskaya, and translates an interview by its editor with the lead investigator in the case.

See also

I actually met Ms. Politkovskaya once, when she was teaching a course on investigative journalism at NYU (I had to drop it because it conflicted with my work schedule). Her assassination left me with a heavy, heavy heart.

And let’s not forget Paul Klebnikov, either. An emerging Brazilian angle on some of the events swirling around that unsolved mafia-style execution:

From an editorial point of view, the Times‘ coverage provides an interesting case study in balancing (1) the public interest in transparency with (2) the public interest in the effective administration of justice.

Ms. Politkovskaya, a tireless critic of the Kremlin and of President Vladimir V. Putin, was an advocate for victims of human rights abuses, especially those from the two wars in Chechnya since 1994. She was shot multiple times with a pistol at the entrance to her apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006.

Much noise is made about Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and his government’s replacement of RCTV with TVes.

But Russia’s state-owned Gazprom buys up newspapers, radio and TV stations by the dozen. (Critics here in Brazil see parallels with the role Petrobras takes in the area of cultural production, but this is confusing alhos and bugalhos. Subsidizing the creation of an open, competitive market is a far cry from concentrating media ownership and control in the hands of the government and political parties.)

If you are looking for analogous cases in the Western Hemisphere, this gambit probably most resembles the media relations strategy of Vladimir Montesinos in Peru, in terms of its intentions, though the means used are different. See

In the year since, [the killing] has been framed as a challenge to Mr. Putin’s legacy — an example of the criminality, corruption and culture of impunity beneath the surface of the partial recovery of Russia’s economy and of the Kremlin’s confidence that have accompanied Mr. Putin’s rule.

Framed by whom?

The case has proved a challenge to Novaya Gazeta as well. Long a sharp critic of Russia’s government, the paper has cooperated closely with federal investigators and withheld publishing many details of the prosecutors’ work and the newspaper’s own parallel investigation.

Exceptions to the principle of transparency: The Novaya Gazeta discloses that it is withholding information it has in order not to compromise an ongoing investigation:

On Friday, as editors and reporters put the last touches on a special edition of the newspaper to mark the anniversary of the killing, Mr. Muratov said the report would disclose important new information. But it would not be a full accounting of what the editors know.


The Folha published information that apparently leaked — the Folha does not source it — from an ongoing secret investigation of organized crime and police corruption.

It did not explain why it did this, or why (1) the public interest in knowing that cops paid off by Escobar-class Colombian marching powder merchants are being investigated might outweigh (2) the public interest in not tipping those cops off that they are being investigated, so that they can be successfully investigated and prosecuted — and further leads developed from court-ordered surveillance, for example.

Tipping off antimafia investigation subjects, in Brazil, it seems, can lead to queima de arquivo — elimination of witnesses.

With extreme prejudice.

The principle of transparency at all costs is often invoked by (gabbling elements in) the press here in Brazil — as when an O Globo paparazzo captured the private electronic communications of Supreme Court justices from the screens of their laptops during a public hearing on a case of great public moment.

I am one of those people who finds O Globo‘s defense of this practice skeevy and absurd. See

Miriam Leitão’s defense of the practice was especially bizarre because she granted anonymity to “Supreme Court sources” — quoting them as defending the legality of the practice (as if ethics and legality were the same thing) — who were identified by name in reporting by Globo’s G1 news service, published at almost exactly the same time, saying exactly the same thing.

These people are unbelievable.

O Globo defended intruding open the private deliberations of Supreme Court justices by invoking the value of “democratic transparency.”

Eleven people have been arrested in the case, and nine held on charges, Mr. Muratov said. He added that those held were middlemen and accomplices, but that important suspects remained at large, and the newspaper was taking care not to compromise the investigation with leaks. “My main task is not to give interviews and to write stories,” Mr. Muratov said. His ambition, he said, is to see that the killers go to jail.

The Times reports that the Novaya Gazeta reports:

Mr. Muratov provided advance copies of the two main articles. One is an extended interview with Petros V. Garibyan, the prosecutor leading the investigation.

Note that the Times actually does some fact-checking and supplemental reporting of its own.

His account differed slightly from Mr. Muratov’s, saying that 10 men were in custody, not 9. But he agreed that the identity of the man who shot Ms. Politkovskaya had been established. “We have not charged the killer yet, but we know who he is,” Mr. Garibyan is quoted as saying. (He did not answer several calls on his cellphone on Sunday.)

The Clown:

The second article, “Anna and the Clown,” describes the ordeal of Eduard Ponikarov, who, the article said, was beaten in 2002 for hours by several men, including Maj. Pavel A. Ryaguzov, of the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the K.G.B. Major Ryaguzov sought to torture Mr. Ponikarov into becoming an F.S.B. informant, code-named “Clown,” Mr. Muratov said.

Formal complaints:

Instead, Mr. Ponikarov survived and lodged formal complaints. But no one was punished, even though Major Ryaguzov and an accomplice were identified, the report said. Major Ryaguzov, later promoted to colonel, is one of the suspects detained in the Politkovskaya case, accused of assisting the killers by providing her address.

Were identified by whom?

Hog heaven of the hard men:

Mr. Muratov and the special report suggest that the handling of the Ponikarov case was an example of the culture of impunity for law enforcement officers in Russia. If the men who tormented Mr. Ponikarov had been arrested in 2002, the newspaper’s report said, “perhaps Anna Politkovskaya would still be alive.”

Again, the Times pointedly does some fact-checking of its own before running with someone else’s reporting, no matter how plausible it finds it:

Mr. Ponikarov, reached at home by telephone on Sunday, confirmed Novaya Gazeta’s account of his beating.

Best would be an account of the independent corroboration on this point.

The Moscow Helsinki Group is chosen as representative of the people rallying over the case:

Ms. Politkovskaya’s friends and supporters attended memorials and an anti-Kremlin rally on Sunday. “She was killed because she was uncompromising and brave,” Lyudmila M. Alekseyeva, a longtime dissident who leads the Moscow Helsinki Group, a prominent human rights group, said at the rally. “She struggled against violations of law, lies and violence.”

Dramatic quote:

She added, “Lies and violence rule this country.”

Divergence of opinion over Kremlin responsibility:

Many of the speakers at the rally said they expected that the Kremlin would ultimately block an honest investigation of the killing.

How many?

Concurrence with a caveat:

Mr. Muratov has also criticized elements of the official investigation of the case. He has said he feared that the Kremlin would in the end approve a politically convenient version of the killing for public consumption.

Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general, said in August that Ms. Politkovskaya’s killing had been ordered from abroad with the aim of destabilizing Russia. Mr. Muratov said last week that he knew of no evidence of foreign involvement and that he believed that Ms. Politkovskaya had been killed because she was investigating corruption within Russia.

Mr. Muratov said that Mr. Putin’s rule had allowed a climate in which journalists have been killed with impunity, but that he did not believe that Mr. Putin had put out Ms. Politkovskaya’s murder for hire, as some Kremlin detractors have suggested.

Interesting story. I would really like to know who killed Anya Politkovskaya. And why.

And if she was killed because of what she wrote, what did she write? Is there some Russian-speaking news junky like me out there who could translate her work pra inglês ver?

The only Russian I ever learned being phrases like ya chort (“I am the devil”) and other “the book is on the table” basic phrases of that kind.


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