Recently, a slew of articles have been popping up in the Western media concerning Georgia’s claims that it was acting in “self-defence” when it unleashed an artillery attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on the morning of 7 August. The Independent wrote, “The timing of the Georgian attack, as of the arrival of the first Russian reinforcements two days later, coincides for the most part with the original Russian version”. The “original Russian version” was that it was acting in self-defence after Georgian forces killed hundreds of innocent people, as well as a dozen Russian peacekeepers in a sneak attack.
Here’s an editorial from a Boston Globe editorial (“Reckless Georgia”), “The OSCE monitors on the ground when the attacks occurred admit that they ‘heard nothing that would confirm Saakashvili’s claim that Georgian artillery attacks on Tskhinvali were in response to the shelling of ethnic Georgian villages’”. However, the most devastating salvo against Georgia’s claims comes from the international rights organisation Human Rights Watch, which reported that Georgia, according to testimony from hundreds of witnesses, acted with “indiscriminate use of force”. A BBC report followed up the charges when it discovered evidence that Georgian forces may have committed war crimes “when its tanks fired directly into an apartment block and how civilians were shot at as they tried to escape the fighting”. Such behaviour is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.
The question must be asked how the western media, in an age of lightning-fast satellite imagery, not to mention on-the-ground reporters and witnesses, got the story concerning the breakout of the Georgian war so wrong? The only answer can be the inherent bias of the Western media machine. After all, even in the earliest moments of the war, before Russia had initiated its “excessive” counterattack, the Georgian side was freely defending its actions on CNN and BBC, whilst the best the Russian side could hope for was a non-biased western commentator to plead its case. Nevertheless, the bogus reporting on the five-day Georgian war is certainly not the only case of the Western media jumping the gun in its compulsive desire to paint Russia as a global bogeyman.
Consider the recent case of Karina Moskalenko, the lawyer who represents the family of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was killed inside the elevator of her Moscow apartment building two years ago. Before travelling to Moscow from her present home in Strasbourg, France for pre-trial hearings in the high-profile murder case, Ms Moskalenko claimed that she found traces of mercury in her car. The Western media immediately jumped on the story, never once presenting a possible alternative explanation to the extremely damaging claims that Russia was responsible. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Karina Moskalenko, who’s represented some of the Kremlin’s harshest critics, says she fell ill after finding a mercury-like substance in her car. Colleagues suspect political motives”. Boom, just like that, Russia is once again guilty as charged without the benefit of a fair trial, not to mention judicious reporting.
How many people know the outcome of this story? Certainly, very few. David Johnson, the editor of Johnson’s Russia List, which compiles articles on Russia on a daily basis, wrote in an accompanying memo to one of his e-mailings, “After press coverage around the world of Karina Moskalenko’s accusation that Russian authorities tried to poison her family with mercury, the French police report that stated that such was not the case has had almost no coverage”. So, who was the ruthless “assassin” responsible for trying to poison Ms Moskalenko? All evidence from the French police points to the previous owner of her car, who admitted that he accidentally broke a barometer inside the vehicle. Isn’t it strange that not a single journalist ventured to question all of the possible causes for the “poisoning” before penning their venomous theories? Or, should the public be satisfied with the implied conclusion that the police are just plain smarter than journalists?
Now, that the Western media has been found severely wanting on two of the latest scandals involving Russia, could media negligence also be responsible for denying a fair trial in the Litvinenko case? When a high-profile crime is committed in a local area, the defendant’s lawyers may request to have the trial held at a distant location in order to guarantee that the criminal proceedings are not tainted with emotion and prejudice. Given the immediate flow of information (true or otherwise) in this age of instantaneous communication, can Russia, or any other countries for that matter, escape the knee-jerk conclusions of the media? Moreover, can a victimised nation be compensated in a court of law for damages resulting from a negligent and even slanderous press? The economic losses alone that Russia has suffered since November 2006 as a result of reckless reporting would probably make an oligarch blush. Russia deserves a fair trial.
14 November 2008
An American in Moscow