Friday, December 21, 2007

Russian editors shoot themselves in the foot, again

Kononov's "breaking news" as reported in Russia, later removed from the front and changed.

Kononov won the case against Latvia
Strasbourg court acquitted Kononov
Red partisan won

These are both the breaking news titles in major Russian media outlets (at the moment Yandex news search engine finds 54 Russian news sources reporting it today) as well as a demonstration of their pitiful failure in objectivity, neutrality and quality. In the news it was an exciting victory. But short lived. Right now, as I am writing these lines, the editors of more decent looking channels across vast Russian web space are hurriedly deleting these titles from their frontpages. Because it is a lie, too shameless to disregard even by the Russian standards.

The news in question is about alleged victory of Soviet WW2 partisan Vasili Kononov over the state of Latvia in the Strasbourg Court. Kononov was convicted for WW2 war crimes he committed in Latvia against civilians. He appealed his conviction in the European Human Rights Court. This story in its original shape can't be found anymore in the English edition of RIA Novosti (the state "news agency") or in the English channel Russia Today (the state TV station), but as of now it is still on the page of at least one English language channel naive enough to use such sources, see a piece here (update: removed). The case is different, however, in Russia proper, where the editors of thousands local online and print media aren't as sensible to actually make any changes. Excerpts of the text from

The FINANCIAL -- According to RIA Novosti, the European Court of Human Rights has acquitted a Russian World War II veteran convicted in Latvia of war crimes, a Russian-language newspaper in the Baltic state said on December 21.
Vasily Kononov, 84, who led a guerrilla party during the war, was convicted by Latvian authorities for ordering the killing of nine villagers in 1944, with some reports saying that the dead had included a pregnant woman.
The republic was occupied by German troops at the time. Kononov admitted the killings, but said they were Nazi collaborators, and that they had been caught in cross-fire.
"This is complete victory, one I have sought for eight long years," the Telegraf paper quoted Kononov as saying.
The court found that "Latvia has no grounds for reprisals against me," Kononov said, as quoted by the paper, adding he learned about the verdict on December 20.
The veteran had accused Latvian authorities of treating him in an inhumane and humiliating manner.
A retired police colonel who was born in Latvia, Kononov was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison in 2000 on genocide charges. In 2004, after several years of litigation, his sentence was cut to 20 months in prison and the charges changed to "war crimes." Kononov filed an appeal with the court in Strasbourg the same year.
In the fall of 2005, doctors diagnosed Kononov with a life-threatening il
lness, which prompted the European court to speed up the examination of his case. Russia pressurized Latvian and European authorities over the case.
Latvia, along with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, became part of the Soviet Union in 1940, and the Soviets wrestled control of the three Baltic nations from Nazi Germany in 1944.
While Russia maintains that the Red Army liberated the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from Nazi invaders, many local residents fail to distinguish between the Soviet and Nazi periods.

The news in question even in its erroneous way is a much softer version of what the Russians actually say at the moment ridiculously claiming "complete victory" and that the court recognized Latvia as part of USSR (see here 1, 2, 3, subject to change as the editors are dealing with the story).

Not hard to imagine the Strasbourg Court never took that decision, in fact it hasn't taken any meaningful decision, the Estonian Daily Päevaleht reports. My guess is that the poor old fellow was confused. For the Russian papers it was enough proof what 84 years old, probably soft on the head veteran told them by phone. He's already got the decision, 45 pages long, he won on all accounts and Mr Putin was proclaimed European of the Year (just kidding). Was the document, likely some procedural paper, which he received from the court and mistook for the awaited victory even written in a language unsophisticated enough for him to understand?

The European Court of Human Rights publishes press releases of the rulings daily. But for the news makers, however, the absence of the alleged verdict's text on the web page of the court did not seem discouraging. The most characteristic is the fact that the thought about asking for opinion of the second party to "Kononov vs Latvia" case, which is the Latvian state, as good journalism principle would suggest, never crossed the minds of the numerous agencies in Russia. The text they published bears exclusively Mr Kononov's personal excitement.

Kononov "breaking news'" left trail in Google:

Google News in Russian, dozens of articles on "Kononov acquitted by the court" (temporary link)

Clicking on the Google link to Russia Today TV produces following result (below). Did the fools actually air the piece?
(however at given moment you can still enjoy similar pieces by the main Russian TV channel TV1 as it was aired, at this address, as well as similarly inadequate video stories on different TV channels, TVC and O2TV, in Russian)

RIA Novosti changed the story. Instead of "acquittal" as in Google it now tells about "hearing the case". still shows RIA Novosti saying "Strasbourg acquits WWII veteran convicted by Latvia of war crimes" while clicking at the very same link now produces following, different story: "Strasbourg to hear Russian WWII veteran's case vs. Latvia":

For the overview of the true opinion of the court on the Baltic cases see this Wikipedia entry.


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

The pieces did air -- we got a call from Moscow, and I've been trying to figure this out ever since, wondering why the Latvian media didn't pick it up (except for Telegraf).

Your forum is linked here and here... so perhaps you'll get some traffic out of this!

Best wishes and Merry Christmas!

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Thank you Pēteris. And Happy Year's End