Dissidents worried about KGB spies, ex-Communists infiltrating BBC Russian Service
Leading dissidents from the former Soviet Union have demanded an examination of what they claim is a string of examples of pro-Putin bias on the taxpayer-funded British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Russian Service, The Daily Telegraph reports.
The authors of an open letter, published this week in British media, complained about the allegedly pro-Kremlin tone of the BBC programs, amid fears that former and current agents of the Russian secret services and ex-Communists infiltrated the broadcasting organization.
It is worth mentioning that the BBC Russian service went off air in Moscow and St Petersburg, two major radio markets, around a month ago, soon after the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer. "Unexplained technical difficulties" with the BBC's local partners were reportedly blamed, but there is still no service in Moscow, MosNews writes.
The dissidents, led by Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB spy turned MI6 agent, and Vladimir Bukovsky, an author who spent 12 years in Soviet prison camps, are particularly angered by the unexpected axing of a programme presented by Seva Novgorodsev that had run for 19 years, MosNews marks. Novgorodsev, who still broadcasts on the Russian Service, received the MBE from the Queen in 2004, the online paper adds. His programme regularly had guests who were enemies of the Moscow regime, such as Litvinenko and the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya who both were murdered in November 2006.
"At a time when Britain needs a strong voice in Russia more than at any point over the past decade, the taxpayer-funded BBC Russian Service radio seems to have considerably mellowed in its tone towards the Russian government," The Daily Telegraph quoted the letter as saying. "By design or by neglect, it has become more accommodating of Russian government views, dispensing with difficult questions and denying a platform to some critics."
Online paper BosNewsLife meanwhile alleges that at least one senior Russian editor had links with the former Soviet Union regime and the KGB. Andrey Ostalski, the editor-in-chief of the BBC Russian Service in London, admitted in an article on the network's Russian website that he had worked for a decade for the Soviet news agency TASS, seen as a mouthpiece of the Kremlin and the Communist Party. On the eve of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Ostalski said he was asked, and agreed, to closely cooperate with the chief of the analytical department of the KGB, a certain Nikolai Leonov. Ostalski, moved to the United Kingdom soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the early 1990s. BosNewsLife also claims that several other editors and producers of the service received prestigious Communist-era education in Moscow, in the educational establishments that were closed for dissidents, their children, or those who were not loyal to the regime.
At the same time the chief of the Russian service, Sarah Gibson, has a limited knowledge of the Russian language and she doesn't even speak good Russian, BosNewsLife writes, referring to an anonymous source from the BBC.
The BBC has reportedly received also a protest letter signed by 1,000 listeners around the world. A BBC spokesman strongly denied that the company was silencing critical voices.