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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Press Protests 'Fabrication' Charge

Moscow correspondents for several major British newspapers have lodged a formal complaint with the Foreign Ministry after the Russian ambassador in London accused them of paying for information and fabricating stories.


Ambassador Anatoly Adamishin had accused the British press in general -- and the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph in particular -- of paying sources and fabricating facts when the official information issued by Moscow press services was too timid.


"The English who buy information in Moscow are not only experienced, they are also rich," the ambassador told Komsomolskaya Pravda in a recent interview. "But they don't always have gripping information. So, some things have to be fabricated."


The Financial Times created a furor in official Moscow, when on Sept. 23 it reported that President Boris Yeltsin had recently suffered a stroke and could not work for more than 15 minutes a day. It based the information on unnamed sources in Moscow and London.


The next day, the Daily Telegraph published an interview with security chief Alexander Lebed, in which the gruff ex-paratrooper talked tough on NATO. His press service later disowned the statements and denied that any interview had taken place.


In an Oct. 1 article headlined "Who breeds ducks on the Thames?" -- with "duck" in Russian implying false or misleading information, as in the French "canard" -- Adamishin said cutthroat competition among the London papers forces journalists to sensationalize.


He said the Financial Times in London was officially warned that "if the paper does not run a correction, it will lose the beneficial status it has enjoyed in Moscow up to this time."


After that, the paper followed the report about Yeltsin's alleged stroke with a "good story" about the president the next day, Adamishin said.


Financial Times foreign news editor Quinten Peel said in a phone interview from London on Thursday that the paper's Moscow staff have suffered reduced access to the Kremlin since the Yeltsin health story was published.


"I am very unhappy our correspondents are being restricted," Peel said. "We are not being notified or invited to press conferences. I am also aware that presidential staff are being instructed not to talk with our reporters."


He called the reprimands, "in the flavor of the regime that came before this one." Defending the original report that Yeltsin had indeed suffered a stroke some time this summer, Peel denied the paper was ever pressured into writing a correction, or that one ever appeared.


Peel also denied that the Financial Times had written any "nice" stories to curry favor, although they did run stories covering the angry reaction in the Russian press to their original article.


Despite a recently pronounced new age of openness with the press, Moscow has been slow to issue credible information about Yeltsin's health and in the recent past has been quite unreliable.


Last month, a doctor expected to perform heart surgery on the president admitted Yeltsin suffered his third heart attack in late June. The Kremlin had said the president was well, but tired.


Ambassador Adamishin also took offense to the Daily Telegraph's interview with Lebed, published Sept. 24.


Referring to journalist Carey Schofield, who wrote the story, Adamishin said he has discovered "that madam pays out of her own pocket to invite dignitaries and journalists to England ... That's how the rich English tame our sources."


Alan Philps, the Telegraph's Moscow bureau chief, said the British papers had come to an agreement to inform the Foreign Ministry they did not find Adamishin's remarks in good taste.


"We drew a line in the sand," Philps said.


Schofield is the author of a book on Russia's special and airborne troops, in which Lebed -- an ex-paratroop general -- is prominently featured.


Because she has known Lebed for several years, Schofield's interview was conducted without ever informing the security council secretary's press service, which usually handles such requests, Philps said. This explains why the press service initially denied Lebed talked to the Telegraph.


But Philps remarked that the standoff between Moscow and the British press appears to be part of trend.


"It seems Russia is less interested in cooperating with Western press than it was in the Gorbachev period," he said, while adding that it is not unusual for Western governments also to treat their domestic press with greater privileges.