Free Media Awards 2023 to journalists and media outlets from Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and Russia
This year’s Free Media Awards will be presented to journalists Sevgil Musaieva and Yuriy Nikolov (Ukraine) and to the editorial staffs of OC Media (based in Georgia), Reform.by (Belarus) and Vazhnye Istorii (Russia). Special mention is made of those journalists, photographers and media professionals who lost their lives in the line of duty over the past year.
The award ceremony will take place on Thursday, 14 September 2023, in Hamburg.
The Free Media Awards are conferred annually by the Norwegian Fritt Ord Foundation in partnership with the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. Through the awards, the two foundations aim to strengthen independent reporting in Eastern Europe, while encouraging journalists and editors to continue their valiant efforts, despite threats and violent suppression. This year, the jury has highlighted the role of the media in the Caucasus region, along with the crucial importance of investigative journalism in discovering the truth and ensuring insight into Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, as well as into the ongoing crises in Belarus.
The awards are being presented to Ukrainian, Caucasian, Russian and Belorusian journalists and media outlets in recognition of their outstanding journalistic work.
About the award winners
The Ukrainian journalist Sevgil Musaieva has been chosen to receive a Free Media Award for her work as editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth). Founded 2000 by Georgi Gongadze, this online newspaper is one of the largest independent media entities in Ukraine. It has consistently been an important source of balanced, critical information. After the newspaper changed hands in 2021, Musaieva and the rest of the editorial staff have managed to maintain its independent and critical point of view, and investigative reporting has remained an important aspect of those efforts. While the full-scale Russian invasion on 24 February 2022 changed almost everything else, it did not alter the high standards of the journalistic work done by Sevgil Musaieva and Ukrainska Pravda. With the creation of an English-language version, Musaieva ensured that a readership far beyond the borders of Ukraine can access high-quality, reliable reports on the war and its consequences.
Musaieva embarked on her career as a financial journalist with Forbes Ukraine, among others, investigating corruption among high-level officials and MPs. Following the Russian occupation of Crimea, Musaieva, herself a Crimean Tatar, co-founded CrimeaSOS. It started out as a Facebook page to help refugees and provide verified information about the situation on the Crimean peninsula. As of today, CrimeaSOS is an NGO that sees its mission as contributing to the de-occupation of Crimea and its subsequently reintegration into Ukraine. Sevgil Musaieva has been editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda since 2014. Recently, she made a series of in-depth interviews with influential politicians. She also hosts UP.Chat, a weekly discussion featuring invited journalists who talk about war, international relations and the problems related to fighting corruption. Time Magazine named her one the 100 most influential people of 2022.
Yuriy Nikolov comes from Ukraine and is receiving a Free Media Award for his work investigating corruption. The journalist and co-founder of the project Nashi Hroshi (Our Money) has published exposés primarily in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, one of Ukraine’s most influential weekly newspapers, which has been available online only since 2019. At the start of 2023, Nikolov drew international attention following his sensational discovery that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence had contracted to supply food to military units at prices two to three times higher than normal. After his report was published, the deputy defence minister was fired, the NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine) launched an investigation, and food prices dropped significantly. Even though corruption scandals are a particularly sensitive issue to cover in wartime, Yuri Nikolov has demonstrated the importance of the work being done by investigative journalists in terms of ensuring accountability and transparency.
OC Media, an independent online news platform headquartered in Tbilisi, Georgia, is one of the few media outlets dedicated to reporting on political developments throughout the entire Caucasus region, bringing together a wide range of contributors. OC Media publishes in English on its website and reaches local audiences through partnerships with local media throughout the region. The local news outlets republish OC Media’s content in the Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian languages. This regional outlet provides a platform where critical independent views, including those that promote peace, are given voice. OC Media covers sensitive topics such as domestic abuse, the harassment of LGBTI people, and smear campaigns against those who speak out against war. The platform reports on the significant impact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had throughout the Caucasus region. For example, it details how men from the North Caucasus republics are being drafted for deployment in Ukraine, and how Russian migration is affecting life in Georgia and Armenia. Another important aspect is its coverage of protest movements, such as the demonstrations against the draft ‘Foreign Agents’ bill in Georgia in March 2023, which OC Media illustrated with impressive photo reports. In addition, there are reports on regions such as Abkhazia and Nakhichivan, which are otherwise underserved and receive little attention. The platform was established in 2017 by Mariam Nikuradze and Dominik Cagara.
The online media project Reform.by has been chosen to receive a Free Media Award for its reporting on Belarus under particularly difficult conditions. The platform was first established in 2016 by editor-in-chief Fyodar Pauluchenka. In 2021, Reform.by was blocked by the Ministry of Information, a fate suffered by all independent Belarusian media providers, and the permanent editorial staff was driven out of the country. However, Reform.by has managed to stay in touch with its sources in Belarus, and has continued to work under extremely risky conditions. In addition to providing in-depth interviews, insightful commentaries and a diversity of voices, the platform stands out not least for its investigative journalism. During the 2021 situation along the Lithuanian and Polish borders prompted by Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, Reform.by was able to establish exactly where the refugees came from and how Belarusian institutions were involved. One important contribution by Reform.by is that it provides not only news coverage and investigative journalism, but also a platform for reflection on the development of Belarusian society in the wake of the 2020 protests. The project Pyataya Respublica, curated by Olha Shparaha, is an excellent example.
The challenges of exile journalism are also familiar to the editorial staff of Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories, in short: IStories). The independent Russian website was founded in 2020 by Roman Anin, previously a reporter for Novaya Gazeta. Two years later, IStories had to discontinue its activities in Russia following its designation by the Russian government as a ‘foreign agent’ and an ‘undesirable organisation’, and the Russian secret services conducted raids on the newsroom and Anin's flat. The office of IStories is now located in Europe, and the team continues to provide independent reporting from there. Since the beginning of the heinous Russian war on Ukraine, IStories has focused on investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine. It has conducted research on the names and identities of Ukrainian children abducted from Ukraine and taken to Russia. Just recently, it reported on an investigation of how nearly 2500 Ukrainian orphans have been forcibly deported to Russia. Another research project shows how Kazakhstan has become a major conduit for supplying Russia’s war machine, despite international sanctions. The platform is also strongly committed to working in partnership with other international and regional media entities, a fact confirmed by the participation of IStories journalists in the efforts that led to publication of the Pandora Papers.
About the jury
The candidates were initially nominated by international institutions and organisations active in Eastern Europe, as well as by experts on Eastern Europe. An international jury subsequently selected the prize laureates. The five-person jury consisted of: Ane Tusvik Bonde, senior advisor with the Human Rights House Foundation, Alice Bota, reporter for Eastern Europe with Die ZEIT, Juri Durkot, Ukrainan journalist and translator, Martin Paulsen, head of the Foreign Languages Department at the University of Bergen, and Silvia Stöber, reporter and editor for ARD Tagesschau.
Juri Durkot abstained from the jury‘s deliberations on and the further voting for the Russian award winner.