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Russian Dissidents Accuse BBC of ‘pro-Putin’ Bias in Documentary Series

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Russian dissidents accuse BBC of ‘pro-Putin’ bias in documentary series

Putin. Photo credit: World Economic Forum

The BBC’s four part documentary Putin, Russia and the Westhas come under fire from Russian exiles based in Britain for allegedly displaying a “pro-Putin bias” and “a lack of understanding of Russia’s recent history”.

The series, which will conclude next Thursday on BBC2, was produced by renowned film maker Norma Percy and Brooke Lapping Productions, also responsible for The Death of Yugoslavia and The Second Russian Revolution. The documentary featured over 100 interviewees, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, Putin’s defence secretary, Sergei Ivanov, and his press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. Putin himself refused to appear.

Putin propaganda?  In an article on Wednesday, The Guardian reported that the renowned Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovksy, who spent 12 years in a Russian prison, wrote a heavily critical review of the first episode in a blog for liberal Moscow radio station Echo Moskvy. “The documentary makes no attempt to illuminate events critically. It turns out to be an utter apology for Putin and his regime,” he said, adding: “If Putin had asked his propagandists to come up with a film they couldn’t have done better.” And that’s not all: Former editor at the BBC Russian service Masha Karp complained of “glaring gaps” in the narrative, including the 1999 apartment bombings which paved Putin’s rise to power.

“The contrast between the high level of professionalism in the film-making and the lack of understanding of Russia’s recent history is striking,” said Karp in her review.

That’s no bog standard rock…  The second episode’s revelation by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell that a British “spy rock” was placed in Moscow made headlines, such as this one on The Financial Times (£). The columnist Victor Davidoff described the revelation as “suspiciously good timing” in The Moscow Times, occurring just as the 2012 presidential election campaign began. As On the Box reminded us, it is widely assumed that Putin will seek a third non-consecutive term as President and so circumnavigate the Russian constitution. The footage of Powell has since been featured in Russian state television attack on the most respected independent critics of the regime, who were sceptical of the Russian government’s 2006 “spy rock” allegations.

The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne quipped, “How fortunate for Putin that he has a useful idiot in Jonathan Powell and a fearful news organisation like the BBC to make life easy for him.”

Roxburgh rocks the boat.  Angus Roxburgh, the former BBC Moscow correspondent and PR consultant to the Kremlin for three years with Ketchum PR, has also attracted criticism in his role as series correspondent. Peter Oborne on The Telegraph found it “profoundly shocking that the BBC should even have considered using him”. However, Roxburgh defended himself in a letter to The Guardian after a similar sentiment was expressed by Luke Harding, labelling Bukovsky’s claim “utter nonsense”: “I have not read a single review of the BBC series that agrees it paints Putin in a favourable light – rather the opposite.” Indeed, The Telegraph’s own review by David Blair said the series offered “interviews with almost every key figure, a scrupulously neutral script, an eye for drama and the telling detail.”

The BBC bites back.  The BBC has not taken these accusations lightly, describing Putin, Russia and the West as “a thorough and multisided account of Putin’s time as President and Prime Minster of Russia.” Norma Percy argued that the subject of the series was Russia’s international role rather than its internal politics. A BBC spokesperson said: “Putin, Russia and the West was made in complete accordance with the BBC’s editorial guidelines. Based on three years’ research in Russia, United States and Europe, it is under pinned by the highest journalistic standards.”

More on Russia

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  • Is this the year of a Slavic Spring?

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