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A harassment scandal at Meduza

Meduza

For the past two weeks, Meduza has been at the center of a sexual harassment scandal involving its chief editor. In the interests of transparency, Meduza is summarizing recent events, its executive board’s response, and reactions from around the Russian mediasphere. Disclosure: The following article concerns developments inside the Meduza newsroom.

Update: On November 9, Meduza chief editor Ivan Kolpakov announced his resignation. “This is the only way to end the crisis surrounding the editorial board and minimize the damage to our reputation,” Kolpakov told the staff. Tatiana Ershova, who previously served as managing editor, has been appointed acting chief editor. One of Meduza's founders, Ivan Kolpakov became chief editor in 2016.

What happened?

On October 20, at the outlet’s annual celebration, Meduza chief editor Ivan Kolpakov became intoxicated and groped the buttocks of an employee’s wife, saying, “You’re the only one at this party I can harass and get away with it.” Kolpakov does not remember this incident, but he does not dispute the misconduct allegations. The woman in question is the only person who recalls what happened.

The following Monday, October 22, the woman’s husband attended Meduza’s editorial meeting and conveyed what his wife told him about the incident at the party. At that moment, Kolpakov was on his way to the airport, about to leave on a business trip. Hearing about the harassment incident, he canceled his trip and returned to the newsroom, where he called an emergency editorial board meeting to determine Meduza’s next steps. Kolpakov also apologized directly to the woman he groped (in writing, as she did not wish to speak in person) and to her husband (in person). The woman accepted his apology. The next day, Kolpakov asked to be removed as chief editor, pending the results of a formal review by Meduza’s board of directors. After speaking to the individuals involved in the harassment incident and polling Meduza’s staff voluntarily, the board of directors met on November 4 and decided to include another three staff representatives in its deliberations.

What did Meduza decide?

After reviewing the facts of the case and considering the views expressed by the women and men in the newsroom, Meduza’s board of directors voted on November 6 to reinstate Ivan Kolpakov as chief editor, formally censuring his behavior at the anniversary party. Both Kolpakov and Meduza CEO Galina Timchenko recused themselves from the vote.

The board could find no one else who previously witnessed or experienced any harassment by Kolpakov, and determined that his suspension and public censure were sufficient punishment for his misconduct. Acknowledging that it was unprepared for this situation, Meduza also announced that it is now drafting overdue internal procedures and protocols to deal with any future harassment incidents.

What happened to the employee who came forward?

He quit. The employee was offered three options: continue working at Meduza (remotely, if preferred), step down by mutual agreement with severance pay, or resign voluntarily. On November 7, he chose the third option.

How are people responding?

According to the website TJournal, which reports on Russia’s Internet culture, reactions have divided largely into “two camps,” with some observers praising Meduza’s openness about the harassment incident, and others arguing that Kolpakov should have been punished more severely, if not fired outright. Many critics have accused Meduza of hypocrisy, recalling that the outlet published instructions in October 2017 on what to do “if your boss makes a pass at you,” and demanded State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky’s resignation in March 2018, following sexual harassment allegations by multiple women reporters.

Not everyone embraces Meduza's defense that Kolpakov's misconduct was a one-time occurrence. Nastya Krasilnikova, who runs a Telegram channel devoted to sexism in Russian culture (read more about her work here), wrote on November 8 that harassment with impunity is the scandal's most important element.

The pro-Kremlin media has also piled on, with Russia Today chief editor Margarita Simonyan mocking the “hypocrisy of the so-called liberal clique,” and Lenta.ru (where many Meduza journalists worked, before an exodus in March 2014, precipitated by meddling in the publication’s editorial practices) vowing “in protest” not to hyperlink to any Meduza content.

Criticism of Meduza’s handling of the harassment incident is not limited to the pro-Kremlin media. Financial Times correspondent Max Seddon tweeted on November 7 that Meduza “needs to do a hell of a lot better” to earn its reputation as a progressive Russian media outlet. In a Facebook post on November 8, Novaya Gazeta correspondent and LGBT-rights activist Elena Kostyuchenko acknowledged the “toxicity” of Russia’s mediasphere, while arguing that the woman and her husband at the center of Meduza's harassment scandal have suffered most of all.

What do you think?

Meduza welcomes feedback from readers about this story. You can share your thoughts with us by sending them to reports@meduza.io.