Lebedev pledges journalism fund to fight corruption

Alexander Lebedev said last night that he was planning a fund to finance journalistic investigations into large-scale corruption.

The owner of The Independent and the London Evening Standard said he was considering a partnership with Mikhail Gorbachev – with whom he has joint ownership of Moscow’s Novaya Gazetta newspaper – to create a foundation dedicated to investigative journalism next year as part of a series of events to celebrate the former Russian premier’s 80th birthday.

The former KGB officer turned newspaper boss promised to help journalists in Russia and elsewhere expose “corruption on a global scale”.

Lebedev said the foundation would aim to support investigative journalism across the world through a series of grants and prizes to established organisations and start-ups aimed specifically at conducting time-consuming investigations.

‘Our involvement, with just funding coming from us, would be to support investigative journalists in the form of prizes and in the form of giving money to newspapers and institutions like Propublica in the United States, the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London, focusing on certain subjects, there are quite a few [topics for investigations] that I’m interested in,’he said.

During a Q&A session following his opening address to the Society of Editors conference in Glasgow, Lebedev told delegates he believed global corruption spread across the world’s financial markets was a significant international issue.

“The millions of bank accounts held by shady people in sunny places are not the right way for our countries to run their economies,’he said in his earlier address.

“We need transparency and for the international community of journalists to be able to work together to report on the billions of dollars that are hidden and often stolen.

“Russians pay bribes totalling $300 billion a year, equivalent to almost a quarter of Russia’s gross domestic product, according to Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee.”

Lebedev praised the way British newspapers held MPs to account over the expenses scandal, saying it was an example of journalists demanding their right to know how public money was spent.

“In Russia, I would welcome such openness and access to information,’he said

Lebedev’s address comes in the wake of a round of fresh intimidation towards journalists in Russia.

Journalist Oleg Kashin was beaten almost to death last weekend by two men armed with iron bars who waited for him outside his home.

Campaigners say there have been 19 unsolved killings of reporters in the country since 2000, including the yet unresolved death of Novaya Gazetta reporter Anna Politkovskaya in 2007.

‘It [Gazetta] is a paper that employs journalists who every day try to push back the boundaries of what is allowed to be told,’he said.

‘Some of our journalists have been murdered as a result of what they discovered and then wrote about.

‘We have had intimidation and threats but yet every day these journalists go into their offices or into the streets to be able to report on what is happening.

‘It was no accident that I was unable to be in London on the day I bought the Evening Standard; I was attending a funeral of three colleagues who were murdered simply for doing their job.”

Lebedev said Russia had undergone change for the better since becoming a democracy but was still ‘far from perfect”.

He was speaking after being detained for several hours earlier this month following a raid on his Moscow bank by police officers wearing balaclavas and armed with semi-automatic guns.

“The power of the state when unbridled is frightening. Men in masks are just a small taste of that,’he said.

He added: ‘They can snuff out hope, liberty, freedom and human happiness.

“Being able to report what is happening in the corridors of power, on the battlefield, behind closed doors is an un-negotiable principle of journalism, to hold people up to account so that they will behave and so bring about more good things in society for more people.”

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