If you watch the news, you couldn’t have failed to notice the negativity that accompanies any coverage of Russian politics. Being Russian-born but living in England, I keep an eye on the coverage in both Moscow and London and have to say that objectivity seems to have been lost in a tidal wave of negativity when it comes to television coverage.
It is the latest news coverage, following unconfirmed reports of Europe and US considering lifting the sanctions flying in the air, that has somewhat unsettled me. First came the report of the verdict on the Litvinenko case and even though every single news report was very carefully worded when it came to levelling accusations against President Putin, who ‘supposedly’ or ‘potentially’ has played a part in a devastating circumstances of the death of a man, I was rolling my eyes as I listened to ITV’s anchor Tom Bradby’s comments. Normally I enjoy his anchor style and reporting, appreciating his perspective & insider knowledge of the political process and politicians, but sadly objectivity was lacking on this occasion.
Then on Monday BBC1’s Panorama aired its investigative documentary ‘Putin’s Secret Riches‘, narrated by reporter Richard Bilton. I haven’t heard of the people who took part in the programme as potential witnesses of events, bar one ( so I presume they aren’t widely known to the Russian population ) but using former banker and oligarch Sergei Pugachev as a supposedly credible source was surprising to say the least. Why? Let me explain. He was known for his proximity to President Putin; for living a lavish lifestyle and for fleeing to London when he got a lot of heat for his bank going bankrupt. Pugachev denies bankrupting the bank and siphoning the funds, while Russian investigators seem to have enough proof that allowed them to open an investigation. Warrant for his arrest was issued and authorities are keen to have him extradited to Russia to face the charges in court. A fraud case was opened against him in the UK, where he was residing for several years, as well, accusing him of stealing more than £655 million. United Kingdom is known for its strong law ethics and it is a country where law and order are trusted, respected, appreciated and enforced diligently. So, instead of waiting for the case to come to a close in the UK, Pugachev unlawfully escaped to France and was interviewed by Bilton, from a secret location in Nice, in France. A side note: there is a warrant for Pugachev’s arrest not just in Russia but in the UK now as well, as he was supposed to have rendered his travel documents to court while his case was pending in the UK. Would you consider a man like that a credible witness ?
The actual documentary failed to make a convincing case for me personally. If you have enough information and credible sources, please make a tight, convincing case and present it – everyone can only benefit from the knowledge based on facts that are backed by documents – to me, this is what genuine investigative reporting is about. Instead, there were many special effects, trying to create an air of mystery and pointing a finger at President Putin – that didn’t make for compelling or memorable viewing.
Every country has its own set of rules and procedures. We have all seen movies about ‘black ops’, when certain events take place and if people in the middle of those operations get caught in the process, government always refuses to admit its part in them. We all watch Homeland, don’t we? Most of us are not privy to this kind of information and I don’t know whether it is good or bad.
What I fail to understand is what happened to journalistic integrity and why has it become a norm to report news with a big dose of a journalist’s opinion that is often strongly aligned with the news channel he or she works for? Isn’t a journalist supposed to simply report a story, so that people can watch it and think about what’s going on in the world, instead of being spoon-fed information we are supposed to interpret in a certain way? I grew up with respect for journalists, particularly the ones covering war stories. Those people were and are incredibly brave, risking their own lives to tell a story. Tellingly, what you often get when it comes to reporting political stories, is the tossing of the facts, in order to satisfy this or that political agenda. Shouldn’t news reporting allow people to make up their own mind about a particular event based on actual facts, with emotions or personal judgement taken out?
I speak both languages, Russian and English, and cherish each country, however it pains me to see my country of birth often vilified. Is President Putin an angel? Of course not. To be honest, one of the best insights I got into the political life of President Putin & his immediate circle, as well as the historical overview of Putin as President, was from a book written by a Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar, former editor-in-chief of the independent TV channel Dozhd. It was published late last year and is called ‘Putin’s U-turn’ (Вся Королевская Рать). Unlike the above mentioned documentary, it makes for compelling reading and is based on facts and research, not insinuations or dramatic sound or visual effects.
As to corruption, yes, Russia, sadly, is a corrupt country, which makes lives of many Russians and their businesses at times unbearably complicated. However, let’s be honest – corruption, in some shape or form, exists in most countries on the map of the world. I wasn’t aware that President Bush or Clinton or Prime Minister Blair left office ‘poor’. If anything, each one of them has made a tremendous amount of money since leaving the office and many question the way they continue to make money. Is Panorama planning to make a documentary on this subject?
Politics is a dubious business, many politicians don’t like each other and don’t necessarily work to ‘better’ the lives of the people who elected them into power in the first place. Most politicians don’t go into politics with altruism as their guiding compass. What I fail to understand is why see bad in other people, while failing to see your own shortcomings? Why do some journalists continue to over-dramatise the facts or intentionally create biased reports that will cloud the judgement of viewers from the beginning. Shouldn’t the rules be the same for everyone?
I recently read an interview with Cate Blanchett‘s in Bazaar UK, where she talked about her new movie ‘Truth’ with Robert Redford. In it she plays the 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, ‘who aired negative allegations-subsequently found to be less than watertight – about George W Bush before the 2004 elections’. The film itself focusses on the ‘erosion of the ground television news once occupied, the demise of investigative journalism’. Even though the interview came out in the February edition of the magazine, which was on the stands in January, I read it as I was writing this piece and was mulling over this exact subject, so what Cate Blanchett was saying, actually fell on fertile ground of my mind. Let me finish with her quote from the interview that really sums up the subject of this blog so well: ‘Truth is subjective but facts are not’.