A few weeks ago I made the following remark in relation to the FIFA World Cup:
Russia seems to be doing a good job of hosting the tournament with visitors being rather surprised to find happy, welcoming people interested in having fun instead of granite-faced thugs with shaved heads waiting to slaughter LGBTs in the streets. Not for the first time have foreigners discovered individual Russians are a lot different from how they are collectively portrayed.
It seems the media are now having to explain themselves:
England fan shames British media,” was one of many headlines of a similar nature to appear in Kremlin-friendly news outlets in Russia over the past couple of weeks. The story referenced a tweet from England fan Matt Maybury, who on returning from a trip to the World Cup wanted to complain about the “clear propaganda against the Russian people” in the British media. Russia was an “absolutely class country”, he wrote, at odds with what the media had led him to believe.
The tweet went viral, and was covered by multiple Russian television stations and news websites as proof of the British media’s lies.
So did the British media get Russia wrong? Well, perhaps a bit.
What, if anything, does the British media get right?
The fans who did come have been impressed by the positive atmosphere: the street parties, the surprisingly lax police presence, the good-natured welcome from the majority of Russians, and the hot weather and cheap beer.
It’s almost as if the media was making judgements of a country they’d never even been to.
Along with most Russians, I’ve been surprised by just how great the atmosphere has been, but I always expected Russia to put on an excellent World Cup. I was a Moscow correspondent for more than a decade, and have seen the city and country change beyond recognition in that time. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen for some time that most fans who came to Russia would be likely to have a great time.
Did you write any columns saying this, or did you know in advance they’d be rejected because they didn’t fit the “Russia is evil” narrative?
Blaming the media is the easy way out, however. There is certainly some terrible coverage of Russia, and some blinkered “experts” with an axe to grind. It is true that if you only read the British tabloids about Russia, you would get a skewed picture, but the same could be said for many subjects.
Oh, so it’s the tabloids that have been demonising Russia since Trump’s election, is it? Not the preferred organs of the chattering classes and wannabe ruling classes? Presumably if we only read The Guardian and The Times we’d have a balanced view, although how Oliver Kamm’s deranged rantings about Russia would help with that I don’t know.
We’re not a travel guide, and it’s not our job to remind everyone that you can get a great flat white in Moscow or have a fantastic night out in St Petersburg every time we write about the difficult issues and abuses.
Because British newspapers rarely write about travel, lifestyle, and holiday destinations. All those supplements which drop out of the main paper on a weekend concern only matters of news and current affairs.
Russia’s bad press is largely of its own making – for years, it has been easier for officials to bray about Russophobia than to show a different side of the country.
In other words, The Guardian’s view of a country is wholly based on government propaganda instead of, say, what reporters see when they get there. What was the Moscow correspondent’s job then, to watch state TV all day? I suppose at least they’re being consistent: back in the Soviet days The Guardian would lap up government propaganda and ignore reality on the ground, and I guess nothing has changed.
It’s a valiant effort by The Guardian to defend their and other’s media coverage of Russia, which has proven in the wake of the world cup to be so inaccurate, but they’ve still not understood their greatest error. Early on in Colin Thubron’s wonderful Among the Russians, he writes:
I never again equated the Russian system with the Russian people.
Thubron went to Russia in the 1980s when it was still part of the Soviet Union and travel to the country was heavily restricted. What excuse the international media in 2018?