Saturday 24 March 2018

Where John Sweeney rushes in...

Oh no! Has Newsnight's notorious Graphics department got at this Steve Rosenberg photo too?

There was an interesting interview on this morning's Newswatch between Samira Ahmed and the BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg. 

In recounting his experiences of reporting in Vladimir Putin's Russia, it struck me how different his experiences were to that of his colleague John Sweeney as reported on Panorama

John Sweeney managed to get himself tailed repeatedly and even got arrested and never got to speak to the Kremlin. Steve Rosenberg has had none of that and even got to ask President Putin a question. 

What did Newsnight's star reporter do that the BBC's Moscow correspondent hasn't yet done to get himself into such trouble?

Anyhow, here's a transcript (for anyone who's interested):

Samira Ahmed: Well, Steve Rosenberg joins me now on the line from Moscow. Steve, you do give us the Kremlin's side of the story. And as we just heard in those e-mails, some viewers fear that it gives them credibility. How do you answer that?  
Steve Rosenberg: Well, I consider my job as the BBC's Moscow correspondent to tell viewers in Britain and around the world what Moscow is thinking. This is a very confusing story and I think it is important to listen to what the Russians are saying. They have a range of arguments. And I think then I have to use my experience of living and working in Russia - and I have been here for 23 years, not with the BBC all that time - but to use my experience to examine what the Russians are saying and to try to cut through all of that and give my interpretation, my opinion, about what is going on here. As I say, it is a very confused story but I think it is important to present the Russian perspective on it.  
Samira Ahmed: We saw you on the campaign trail asking quite a tough question of Putin. Was that a difficult, even scary, thing to do?  
Steve Rosenberg: I wouldn't say it was a scary decision. It was quite a challenging thing to do because normally question and answer sessions with President Putin are heavily controlled. We were covering him on the campaign trail, we found ourselves in a position physically where we were able to pop a question to him and it was the question that really everyone wanted to ask at the moment. Journalistically, I think it was the right thing to do. And the thing about Vladimir Putin, whether you like him or hate him, whatever you think of him, you know, he has no trouble answering questions.  
Samira Ahmed: As you mentioned, you have been in Russia for 23 years. One wonders how hard it is to report there now, and how it compares to reporting from there in the past.  
Steve Rosenberg: I think one thing that we can't always get into our short two-minute news reports but I think it is important to say is that if you go outside the bureau here, Moscow seems like a normal European city.  We don't get the feeling that we're being followed by people in long raincoats with trilby hats and that we're being watched constantly. So, in that sense, we don't feel greater pressure  now. Having said that, we have been harassed while covering controversial stories, sensitive stories, and this didn't happen, say, ten years ago.  
Samira Ahmed: One does wonder how much real political opposition there is in Russia, including from ordinary citizens.  
Steve Rosenberg: It's an interesting question. Vladimir Putin has just been re-elected with a landslide victory and it's clear that, although this was not a level playing field, this election, and only those candidates who posed no serious challenge to Vladimir Putin were allowed to take part, many Russians do support Vladimir Putin - some because they really like his sort of muscle-flexing, his strong-arm tactics, his anti-Western rhetoric. There are other people who support him because they fear change. Many Russians fear change. They don't want life to get worse than it is now and they fear picking a new president.  
Samira Ahmed: You talked about being on the campaign trail for this election. How did it compare to covering a Western election?  
Steve Rosenberg: Well, it's not like a Western election. As I said before, only those candidates who didn't threaten Vladimir Putin were allowed to take part. Russia's most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, he was barred from taking part in the election. And then you look at the amount of airtime that was given to President Putin on Russian television ahead of the election - he had far more airtime than all of the other candidates put together, and all of the coverage of Putin was very positive. So, you know, in that sense, no, this is not like a Western election.  
Samira Ahmed: The Russian authorities have been particularly critical of the British media. Do you worry about your safety at all?  
Steve Rosenberg: I have not worried up till this point. As I say, walking around Moscow right now, it feels pretty normal. You go into the coffee shop, you get happy smiley faces serving you. And although there is - I have noticed more anti-British sentiment on Russian television. For example, I saw a report the other day where the reporter claimed that over the last few centuries, Britain has had it in for Russia and they listed all the things over the last few hundred years that Britain has done to Russia. So we have seen that, but from the public, I have not noticed really any rise in anti-British sentiment. And also, Russian government officials are still talking to the BBC. We get comments from the Foreign Ministry, from the Parliament, so - which is important because, as I say, it is important for us to be able to listen to what Russia's argument is and then include that in our pieces.  
Samira Ahmed: Steve Rosenberg, thank you.  
Steve Rosenberg: Thanks. 


  1. I wouldn't want the BBC man in Moscow NOT to tell us what the Russians and their Government are thinking and doing. I've never had much of an issue with Rosenberg.

    John was probably just being John. I expect they clocked him at the border: "What's that guy with the I Hate Nige badge on his lapel over there doing? - look at him gesticulating wildly and shouting at the baggage coursel! We better follow him..."

  2. Sweeney was followed around and accused of vandalism that he didn't do. Was he previously known to Moscow? I wouldn't be surprised. He has a high profile for his exploits such as going undercover in N Korea with a group of students. Once he applied for a visa or permission to film or whatever, they'd do a check on him I expect. The programme reminded me of a travel documentary last year by Simon Reeve who was also followed and detained


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