Below is a clip from the BBC Newsnight of March 5 2018, just hours after Sergey Skripal and his daughter had been found, apparently collapsed, on a public bench in Salisbury.
Notice how little the narrative has changed from this very early point. All the talking points are already assembled. Worth noting:
- They call the prison Skripal was sent to in Rusia a “Gulag”, even though the Gulag system ended in the 1960s before the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is clearly emotive language designed to create the impression of Russia as being still an authoritarian and “Stalinist” state.
- There is tacit assumption from the outset that the Russian government is somehow implicated in this incident, even though at this point there had been no claims of foul play, and no statements about how or why Skripal and his daughter had been taken ill.
- The BBC has already – just hours into the breaking story – lined up a video clip from 2010 of Putin saying traitors will “choke” on their “30 pieces of silver.” The clip contains no suggestion Putin intends anyone to be murdered, but the context in which it is run during this segment is clearly intended to weight his words with this meaning.
- It’s stated the Russian government were actively looking for Skripal for unspecified reasons, though no evidence for this is produced, and even though Skripal had been voluntarily released by Russian authorities eight years earlier in a prisoner-exchange. The obvious question – why would they let him go if they wanted him dead is not asked or acknowledged.
- Even though Skripal had been recruited by MI6 and had worked for MI6 for some years no consideration is given to the possibility that MI6 – or for that matter anybody else – might have their own motives for wanting Skripal removed.
- Three people are interviewed for this fourteen minute piece.One is self-styled “enemy” of Putin, Bill Browder, another is an ex-MI5 employee, and the third is a BBC journalist. None of them is Russian or putting forward a Russian perspective, or could even be described as neutral
Is this Newsnight piece reflective of the “balance” that is required by the BBC charter? Lt’s remind ourselves about what that means in the BBC’s own words:
Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.