UK Media Prefers Russian Spies

In British media's eyes, Israel's use of UK passports in Dubai hit was a grave sin, but similar deeds by Russians are no big problem.

Gil Ronen , | updated: 8:57 PM

BBC Broadcasting House, London
BBC Broadcasting House, London
Creative Commons

British media coverage of the misuse of British and Irish passports by Israel and Russia shows a hypocritical attitude, a British research organization has found.

Just Journalism, a independent research group focused on how Israel and Middle East issues are reported in British media, examined news coverage of the Russian spy ring recently nabbed in the United States, which allegedly used British and Irish passports. It compared it to the coverage of the misuse of passports by the Israeli hit team that allegedly killed a terrorist in Dubai earlier in the year.

“In the latter case, expressions of political and media outrage were abundant,” it determined. “In the former, not so much on either front.”

An editorial published on March 24 in The Guardian, after London expelled an Israeli diplomat following the Dubai assassination, proclaimed that the faking of British passports was "the mark of an arrogant nation that has overreached itself." On June 30, an editorial on the Russian espionage case in the same newspaper failed to even mention the alleged use of a forged United Kingdom passport. 

The BBC, too, has given “negligible” coverage to the UK passport forgery in its items on the Russian spy affair. “Of the eight articles published on its news website on the subject in the last 24 hours, only three even mention the issue,” Just Journalism reported. One BBC journalist, Paul Reynolds, did draw a link between the two cases at the end of his piece on the Russian spies, identifying the common alleged use of British passports by Israel and Russia as a “diplomatic footnote.”

The June 29 program “PM” on Radio 4 contained a three-minute report on the Russian spy story in which the introduction said: “British officials say they’re investigating whether a member of the alleged Russian spy ring used a UK passport.” However, the rest of the report was an interview with an ex-KGB agent in which the passports were not brought up.

Other news editions on the BBC and Channel 4 mentioned the alleged use of UK passports briefly, or not at all.

“Unlike the swift and strong political reaction from the UK to the suggestion that Israel had misused British passports in the Dubai affair, the Foreign Office has, as yet, not issued harsh words aimed at the Russian government,” the independent research group noted. “However, this only goes some way towards explaining the near total lack of interest on the part of the British media in this aspect of the Russian spy ring story.”