You are here:   Alexander Litvinenko > BBC plays by the Kremlin's Rules

 Illustration by Daniel Pudles

The telephone rang just after 8.30pm on December 19, 2006. I was at home entertaining a friend. It was a BBC Russian Service senior editor, wanting to talk to me about my programme The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko, which he had just heard on air, and he could not wait. The programme was biased, he said, it pointed the finger of blame at Moscow. "Just imagine," he exclaimed, "this man in the Kremlin who monitors our output. What will he say about your feature?" 

I was rather surprised, but managed to give him the only answer that seemed reasonable under the circumstances: "I do not work for a man in the Kremlin," I said. "I work for the BBC. And I observed all the BBC's guidelines about balance by giving airtime to both sides, since I have Kremlin supporters in my programme as well as its critics." 

"Yes", the editor responded, "but the pro-Kremlin guys sound stupid and [Vladimir] Bukovsky [a Soviet-era dissident] and the others sound intelligent." This is hardly my fault, I thought. 

My feature went out for the first time on December 18, three weeks after Litvinenko's death and two months after I heard him speak in public for the last time. It was at the London Frontline Club — a haunt of London's war correspondents — at an event devoted to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In this, now famous, speech, Litvinenko rose from his seat in the audience and accused the then Russian President, now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, of Politkovskaya's murder. He spoke with pain and passion about Politkovskaya, who was his personal friend, and the threats she received, especially after the publication of her book Putin's Russia. The speech was not reported by the Russian Service even when, after Litvinenko's poisoning and death, the video recording of it became available on the Frontline Club's website. I tried to draw the attention of several editors to it, but letting Russian listeners know that Litvinenko was a critic of the Kremlin did not seem to interest them. Moreover, nobody seemed to pay any attention to the fact that the Russian Service was in possession of an exclusive 50-minute interview in Russian with Litvinenko, recorded in 2002, which could have shed light on his life and his views, and that our BBC colleagues broadcasting in English would have been grateful to have it in translation.

With Russian officials dismissing Litvinenko as a "nobody" and the British media consistently calling him a spy (he was neither), I thought it was my task to try to give our audience in Russia as much information about the murdered man as I could. Apart from the speech in the Frontline Club and extracts from the Russian Service's 2002 interview, I also used clips from an interview with him in a Dutch documentary available on the internet. As it turned out, it was precisely the voice of the murdered man that my bosses did not want to hear.

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Iain Sanders.
February 2nd, 2012
4:02 PM
The people who fired Karp should have been the ones to lose their jobs - and all influence.

November 6th, 2010
8:11 PM
Very bitter words from someone who was let go.

November 5th, 2010
7:11 PM
Looks like a classic clash between a dissident mentality and an objective journalism. The author seems to belong to a politically motivated breed of journalists with a clear albeit noble agenda, whereas the BBC traditionally stays neutral. Pity we can not hear the other side.

November 2nd, 2010
12:11 PM
Axe to grind?! I wonder what the rest of the Russian Service was so busy doing whilst Masha was fighting the Kremlin element at the BBC WS. What is the point of living in a free country if you continue to function exactly as you did in Russia? The sad thing is that these people don't mind that.

October 29th, 2010
4:10 AM
axe to grind?? Da

October 28th, 2010
1:10 PM
Interesting. Convincing. Encouraging.

October 27th, 2010
6:10 PM
This is a much needed testimony. For too long a culture of lazy thinking has been allowed to prevail, the phrase 'dangerously stupid' comes to mind. Well done on a great expose, and let's hope many see it.

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