On Russia there is no journalism

This is Andrew Roth’s latest piece on Navalny. It is full of the usual sheer fictions which one struggles not to construe as sheer lying. Either way it is far from journalism. On Russia, and especially on Russia, liberal journalists abandon any attempt at all to follow the normal rules of journalism. For example checking sources, not repeating as ‘true’ facts or details which are contested and which they cannot establish, and so on. On Russia they just write a particular brand of made up stories. As usual, corrective comments:

He has lost a lot of weight, plus he has a strong cough and a temperature of 38.1C,” Olga Mikhailova, the lawyer, said on the Echo of Moscow radio station. “This man is seriously ill. It’s a complete outrage that the IK-2 [prison] has driven him to this condition.

If Navalny is indeed seriously ill then one reason for this will be that he is (as the article informs us) on hunger strike. In most countries of the world making yourself ill by not eating is not usually considered an acceptable way to get out of prison. The article does not consider the extent to which Navalny is contributing to his own situation

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, on Tuesday published a letter sent to her from the prison warden who said that he could not send Navalny to hospital because he did not have his passport. In a statement posted online, she also claimed that the warden had taunted her husband by grilling a chicken and handing out sweets to his fellow inmates while the opposition leader has maintained his hunger strike.

Navalny’s wife is one of the team and whatever she says should be corroborated. Can the chicken story be corroborated? I’m struck by Roth’s use of the phrase “prison warden”; who does he mean; “a prison warden” or the governor? It is a basic task of reportage to clarify facts such as this. It seems Roth is just repeating what Navalny’s wife has claimed without any attempt to clarify what the actual facts are.

Navalny is serving a two-and-a-half year prison term on embezzlement charges that he has said is retribution for his political opposition to Vladimir Putin. 

Actually technically true. Since if a suspended sentence is activated due to probation violations you can be said to be serving the original sentence. But a certain amount of elision is taking place here.

Navalny survived a poisoning attempt that he traced back to Russia’s FSB last year. 

Well; Bellingcat apparently claimed to have some phone records which showed (guess what) that the FSB had been tailing Navalny. But in the world of anti-Russia ‘journalism’ “joining the dots” is considered “empirical” (Luke Harding’s explanation of how he does journalism on Russia) – even if the dots are a million miles apart and no one except a believer can see any connection.

Later on Tuesday, Navalny said he had been visited by doctors representing the Vladmir region who said they would not allow him to meet with someone sent from Moscow, a decision that he said violated the law.

I don’t in fact know what the Penal Regulations are in Russia. (And quite possibly they vary from region to region). But in general when people are in prison in most countries as far as I know they have to accept the prison doctor and cannot order in their own personal doctor. (Mr Roth has all the resources of the Guardian media group at his disposal so he could have in fact checked whether this violated the law or not).

There are two points here. Firstly; Navalny is a publicist whose entire strategy is based around creating scandals and getting media attention. He may be ill of course; and in that case my sympathies are with him. But I would treat this drama with a certain amount of caution. Secondly; on the media level the point I want to make is how, on Navalny, the Guardian simply prints as news whatever they are fed by team Navalny. It is not journalism.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer