Two months ago I wrote an article in which I used data and statistics to show that Russian journalists today under Putin are, contrary to extravagant claims in the Western media, far safer than in several acknowledged democracies such as India or Brazil; far safer than ordinary Russians; and indeed, far safer than they were under Yeltsin. Why then does one get the exact opposite impression from reading the Western media on this subject? Mainly that is because they lean on rhetoric and hyperbole over fact; they deny the utility of comparative perspective; and in some cases, they outright lie or make things up. The Guardian is an example par excellence of all this. On reading a certain Guardian editorial, longtime DR commentator Alex Mercouris noticed that its figure of 200 journalist deaths under Putin clashed irrevocably with ALL estimates from reputed press freedoms watchdogs, most of which converged on a figure of 40 deaths or less. Did The Guardian just make up its own facts? Unable to rest without an answer to this question, Mercouris embarked on an investigation to find out the origins of this massively over-inflated figure… and why The Guardian left it up on their site unchanged for SIX MONTHS after having become aware of their mistake. I am happy to present:
The Guardian and Putin
As readers of the British newspaper the Guardian know, the Guardian has conducted for many years a fierce campaign against Vladimir Putin. This began almost from the moment of Putin’s appointment by Boris Yeltsin as Prime Minister in 1999. I still remember an editorial the Guardian published at the time which called on Yeltsin to sack Putin just a few weeks after he had appointed him.
On 18th December 2011 the Guardian published another in its long line of anti Putin editorials under the provocative title “Truth is being murdered in Putin’s bloody Russia.” The language used in this editorial was extreme even by the Guardian’s standards. I was particularly shocked by the final sentence, which referred to the Russian state as “slack, slimy and savage”. Such language seems to me completely inappropriate in an editorial in a serious newspaper with an international readership.
The editorial appeared in print form in the Guardian’s Sunday supplement the Observer and online in the Guardian’s website on “Comment is Free”. The timing of the editorial on 18th December 2011 is important. Parliamentary elections took place in Russia on 4th December 2011 over the course of which the pro Putin party United Russia suffered a substantial loss of support, triggering protests amidst allegations of vote rigging. An unauthorised protest took place in central Moscow on 5th December 2011, which turned violent. A much bigger peaceful protest took place in Moscow on Bolotnaya Square within sight of the Kremlin on 10th December 2011. This was followed by a further big protest in Moscow on Sakharov Avenue on 24th December 2011. The editorial therefore appeared at a tense time in Russia, when the protest movement in Moscow against Putin was at its height and when the Russian and international news media were buzzing with speculation that Putin might be on his way out with rumours circulating of troop movements in Moscow and of a violent crackdown being planned against the protest movement.
The editorial was supposedly written in connection with the murder in Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan in the northern Caucasus of a journalist called Khadzimurad Kamalov. In emotional and angry language the editorial condemned Kamalov’s murder, which it linked to the murder of what it said were “around 200” other journalists who had supposedly been killed in Russia since Putin came to power. Amongst the murdered journalists named in the editorial was the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was killed outside her apartment in 2006. The editorial accused Putin and his government of complicity in these murders as part of a “bloody” campaign to “murder the truth”.
In other words at a time when Putin was facing a challenge in Moscow from the protest movement and at a time when speculation of a violent crackdown on the protest movement in Moscow was rife the Guardian published an editorial that accused Putin and the Russian government of complicity in the murder of “around 200” journalists and which referred to Russia as a “slack, slimy and savage” state.