On 22 January, a ceremony for the fırst-ever Fetisov Journalism Awards (FJA) took place in the Schweizerhof Hotel in Lucerne, in a newly introduced grant-scheme sponsored by one of Russia’s richest man, Gleb Fetisov, yet which also had heads of some of the world’s most prestigious journalism organizations on its jury.
Fetisov, a businessman, philanthropist, movie producer, a former senator in and the ex-owner of Russia’s My Bank thew in a total of CHF 520,000 or $525,000 as prizes in four categories of the FJA. For comparison, the total fund for the Pulitzer Prize is $315,000 for 21 categories. The winners were Diego Cabot of Argentina for the article The Notebooks of Corruption in the category of Outstanding Investigative Journalism; Isaac Anyaog of Nigeria and Petra Sorge from German in the category of Excellence in Environmental Journalism for the series Dying in Instalments; Philip Jacobson (USA) and Tom Johnson (UK) for the article The Secret Deal to Destroy Paradise ; Katie May (Canada) for the article Remote Life, Rough Justice in the category of Contribution to Civil Rights and Mohamed Abo-elgheit (Egypt) for his article The End User: How Did Western Weapons End up in the Hands of ISIS and AQAP in Yemen in the category of Outstanding Contribution to Peace. The winners were determined in a two-stage process: First, 14 journalists on the Expert Council of the FJA, including MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş shortlisted 33 reports from among the 168 applications from 50 countries.
The jury that made the final decision consisted of eight including Aidan White, the President of the Ethical Journalism Network; Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary General Christophe Deloire, and General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Ricardo Gutierrez. In remarks at the award ceremony, EFJ’s Guiterrez shared grim statistics about murders and routine imprisonment of journalists for their reporting in Europe and across the world:
” Every single day journalists are detained for dubious reasons. Yesterday, Phil Jacobson, award-winning editor for the science news outlet Mongabay, who was supposed to attend this ceremony, has been arrested in Indonesia for an alleged visa violation. A shameful arbitrary detention for administrative reasons,” he said and added, “As journalists, we need support. More than ever before. And that's why I am so grateful, ladies and gentlemen.”
Why is Fetisov giving such a large journalism prize?
According to a report in Forbes Russia by Anastasia Lyalikova, the idea of establishing a prize trust came a few years ago from human rights defender Eva Merkacheva, who is also on the organizing committee of FJA, who reached out to Fetisov to assist with a Russian journalism prize. Fetisov then was interested in journalism prizes globally. Merkacheva told Forbes:
“An idea emerged to establish a prize not unlike the Nobel Prize, but in journalism. A prize which would also enable a journalist to publish a book or move to another country.”
Merkacheva said Fetisov was also motivated by his own trial when a fraud case was brought against him in 2014, during which reporting by various journalists drew attention to the case. During his remarks at the award ceremony, depicting a dark picture of the global community Fetisov explained his motivation, saying:
“There is only one estate left – the Fourth Estate – that is still legitimate. This is what we call honest journalism. It is now suffering heavy losses. The list of journalist martyrs grows longer every day.”
He further noted “The Fetisov Journalism Awards have been established with the purpose of strengthening the base of genuine journalism. The project is aimed at recognizing outstanding achievements in the field of journalism. Its goal is to support journalists in their mission of promoting human values and reporting on sensitive issues of modern realities.”
Who is Gleb Fetisov?
The 53-year-old businessperson, is listed as number #1818 on Forbes’ Billionaires 2019 list, built his wealth from wealth investments. According to Forbes, he joined Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group in 1995. He later led the group's takeover of an aluminum plant in Siberia. In 2014, he sold all of his business interests including a stake in telecom outfit Vimpelcom for approximately $1.4 billion in cash. Soon after cashing out, he was arrested, accused of embezzling assets of now-bankrupt My Bank in Moscow. In February 2015, he paid $200 million to creditors and was soon after released from prison. His case is ongoing at a Moscow Court. According to Forbes Russia, in 2017 previously Fetisov sponsored the book prize “Russian Booker”. He is also in the movie business since mid-2010s. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless was among the movies produced by his Fetisoff ILLusion company. He also founded Russia’s Green Alliance party and led it until 2015, when he resigned and withdrew from politics following the allegations against him. A close aide claimed the fraud allegations against My Bank were related with Fetisov’s political activity.