tv The Media Show BBC News March 21, 2022 1:30am-2:01am GMT
this is bbc news. we will have the headlines and all the main stories for you at the top of the hour, straight after this programme. hello, as governments around the world race to sanction associates of vladimir putin, the british media is turning its attention to the role russian oligarchs have played in public life. this week, an edition of panorama aired allegations about the source of roman abramovich�*s wealth. at the weekend, the sunday times reported that newspaper owner evgeny lebedev was made a peer despite the concerns
of the security services. and the gossip sites are all over the gilded lifestyles of the oligarch kids and their swanky homes around the world. but why is it only now that the mainstream press has put the oligarchs in the spotlight? what has stopped them before? just some of the big questions for my guest today. they are, paul caruana galizia, who is a journalist behind a new podcast for tortoise media called lebedev: lord of siberia. adam bienkov is political editor at the byline times. laura kayali is tech correspondant at politico. natalia antelava is a journalist and co—founder of the news site coda story. and lionel barber was editor of the financial times from 2005 to 2020. he is now an investor in the new european. and lionel, just if we start with you, the last time you were on the media show, you had just been to interview vladimir putin. what chance today, do you think, that a journalist could get an audience with that president? extremely limited. under 1%. maybe in seven weeks if this is over, he they might do something, a staged event.
but a one on one like the financial times did in 2019, very unlikely. and by the way, it did take five years to get there, to the kremlin for the post—midnight meeting. and when you did get there, what did you talk about? we talked about everything from the failed assassination of sergei skripal, which he dismissed, mr putin. as a story worth less than five kopeks. to the relations with china, the intervention in syria and notably two stories that came out. one was about when he declared under questioning the idea that liberalism, he said it was obsolete. he really felt the west was in decline, decadent, preoccupied by secondary questions of things like genderfluidity.
he also said that his risk appetite had gone up because he who does not dare to risk, quoting a russian proverb, does not get to drink russian champagne. do you recognise the man you see now, do you think he has changed? i see him a lot puffier. he looks like he's put on a bit more weight. the effects of two years�* isolation during covid has got to have had some effect. i think the circle has gotten narrower and i can exclusively reveal that when we sat down, the table was a bit shorter than the one he is currently using. i was going to say you were not at the end of a very long table. it was the same room, though. with all of the great russian historicalfigures. there was a question about why evgeny lebedev seems to have
such good access to borisjohnson. paul, you have explored this question. take us back to the beginning. in 2009, businessman and former kgb agent, alexander lebedev bought the paperfor £1. and then a year later they bought another one. tell us a little bit more about that. so we release the podcasts before the sunday times released their article. it was commissioned in december. back then we thought it was going to be a colourful profile of evgeny lebedev and his father and how they use the papers and how they use it to build friendships with celebrities. and politicians as well like borisjohnson. it was kind of an influence
machine that they ran with these newspapers. but of course the reporting changed character in february when russia invaded ukraine. we started looking more closely at other aspects of the lebedevs. when it when it comes to the owning of these newspapers. lebedev senior owned media bits in russia. is that more than just a business decision and how did you read the way they bought into the british media? it is much more than a business decision. as a kind of strategy survival for oligarchs, you need more than wealth. you need some way of buying influence and promoting
yourself as a liberal or western leaning figures. that's what a lot of early oligarchs did. in russia alexander bought a large chunk of a paper with gorbachev. and he also bought a smaller tabloid. there is some irony in that tabloid because in 2008 it reported allegations that a putin was having an affair with a young gymnast and in a few days the tabloid was shut down. it was within a couple of weeks of that that alexander and his son started the process of purchasing the evening standard. for us it was about the openess of the british press. the then owner of the newspaper was looking to off—load it because it was a loss—making enterprise. i think it is also significant that the deal was set up by another newspaper editor.
it is a story about how closely bound up all of these people are with the oligarchy. i'm going to bring in adam now because he published a big piece on saturday called the johnson—lebedev letters. what did you find? i first became aware of the relationship of about ten years ago in 2012 when i spotted on a register that they declared a trip to italy paid for by lebedev. i thought it was very curious at the time. it had not been announced in any way. i started to ask questions about it, but it was not really picked up by anyone even when later it appeared that this was an annual enterprise. he kept being sent out there and several years after that when we learned about his trip in 2018 when he ditched his security detail to attend a party. it was not picked up by many
other news organisations and i was interested in it and did some freedom of information act request. i just wanted to see what the relationship was between boris johnson and lebedev. and i've got some correspondence from their time. it follows on from what paul was saying, it kind of gives you the nuts and bolts of how these influence operations work and they work both ways. by buying the newspaper, that is the only paper covering the london mayoralty and so for borisjohnson it was important to have a good relationship. he one of these lettersjohnson
gives a memoir about his pet projects. it gives a memoir about his pet ro'ects. ., ., projects. it works the other wa . in projects. it works the other way. in some _ projects. it works the other way. in some of— projects. it works the other way. in some of the - way. in some of the correspondent he pushesjohnson to push a new arts festival. and the purpose for the festival, we understand... is to transform russian global perceptions in london him, he's going to reach out to the kremlin to secure funding for it. let me just read you what evgeny lebedev has said in response to all of this. he wrote i am not a security risk to this country which i love. my father a long time ago was a foreign intelligent officer of the kgb, but i am not some agent of russia. he obviously ads as well i have called on president putin to end the invasion of ukraine in the most
public way possible. paul, i wanted to bring you in because mr lebedev is now a peer sitting in the house of lords. he was deemed a security risk in the process and borisjohnson ignored that. we know that really just a few weeks within borisjohnson being elected prime minister in december 2019, he decided to make lebedev a member of the house of lords, it was a personal nomination. we know through documents we got that the house of lords, the semi—independent board that can that but not veto nominees was chasing lebedev for information or information that is routinely asked for.
the difference in his case is that they turn to the security services for advice. it was only on the 17th of march that they finally got that advice and they met to discuss it in a committee room in parliament and were so disturbed by it, they immediately wrote to the prime minister saying that they feel deeply uncomfortable about this nomination, will you please reconsider or would you consider an alternative which they propose. and he did indeed end up becoming a peer. that is right. two days after that report was discussed, evgeny lebedev met with boris johnson in downing street. and borisjohnson pushed his name through and evgeny lebedev took his seat later that year. you would have watched
the entrance into the lebedev into high society what did you make of it at the time and what do you think about it now? i had lunch with evgeny lebedev when he asked me about what he should be doing as a proprietor as well as with the evening standard. i also met the father in moscow in 2008 on a trip where he was very much the man in jeans with the very expensive leather shoes. nothing wrong with that, but you could feel ex kgb. we need to be clear about a few things here and i do not want to discredit the reporting, but first of all, proprietors, that is what they do. they want to ingratiate themselves with the establishment and they often get things like knighthoods. and prime ministers use patronage.
i am not surprised that he he wanted to give him a peerage. but first of all, lebedevs were very proud of the money they raised for a cancer foundation. they had gorbachev in the evening standard. and putin despises gorbachev it is a strange thing to have that kind of close relationship. third, i would draw a distinction between the father and the son. the son always struck me as a bit of a hedonist. i didn't go to the parties. ijust think that we need to be careful about adopting a kind of mccarthyist attitude
towards all russians and also understand, who was going to buy it? newspapers are not football clubs. the lebedevs put in money and from what i could tell and i have had conversations he did not feel the heavy hand of evgeny lebedev on his shoulder, the editor when he was making editorial decisions. and i have spoken to other editors who have said the same. i think we need to look very clearly. one other thing about the intelligence services. the sunday times has done great reporting, made a big deal of the fact that the boss of m16 had raised objections to evgeny lebedev attending lunch with the editor.
i went to lunches at m16 i would never have dreamt of bringing the proprietor. i'm the one who is making the decisions about who comes to my lunch, and i think that was why he did not want evgeny lebedev. not that he thought he was some kind of person in disguise. we should say that we invited evgeny lebedev to join us on the programme, but we have not heard back. but someone who has worked with him is natalia. you made of film for bbc news night back in 2012. mr lebedev had secured an interview. what was he like two he was very polished and very underwhelming, i would say. he came across as a rich man's son. i did not hang out with him.
we had one meeting ahead of time. we did not start off very well because he approached newsnight and it was part of his transformation of a party boy into a much more serious figure in the british public life. he approached us with a suggestion for a collaboration and they called me up and asked if i wanted to do a collaboration who had secured a incredible interview with the belarusian president. who doesn't normally do interviews. i thought it was... i had no desired to do a collaboration with evgeny lebedev. to cole valley mayor putin himself he once said in one a spy always aspired. whether or not that is the case, that was the father not the sign and we are talking about the son. evgeny lebedev had just taken over the newspaper
i think it is very disputed weather there is such a thing as a former kgb agent. to quote a vladimir putin himself he once said in one of his famous press conferences, once a spy, always a spy. he said that to edward snowden. whether or not that is the case, that was the father, not the son, and we are talking about the son. weather or not that is true, at the same time, he had just taken over and it was very clear it was about his reputation, him trying to come across as a different kind of figure. and i knew he had gone to central african republic on a reporting trip and here he was going to this reporting trip while also cutting jobs at becoming independent. let me 'ust becoming independent. let me just interrupted _ becoming independent. let me just interrupted you. _ it will be good to hear a clip from it. we have that here, a clip from
mr lebvedev talking about his expectations for the interview. one interesting thing about this is i don't know how it is going to go. i think it is the first one that i have done where i really do not know what to expect. apparently according to his press secretary he is up for a fight. as you were saying, he was the boss of the independent, not a journalist. i wonder what you made of him as a interviewer in that situation? he was terrible, he was terrible! it was a four—hour interview. it went on and on forever, he asked terrible questions and very weird questions. there was a bizarre moment in the interview when he turned to lukashenko and said what do you think about group sex. and lukashenko looked at me, and i had to kind of move in. goodness, a bit early for that on the radio.— goodness, a bit early for that on the radio. because the deal, ou
on the radio. because the deal, you know. _ on the radio. because the deal, you know. we _ on the radio. because the deal, you know, we ended _ on the radio. because the deal, you know, we ended up, - you know, we ended up, newsnight ended up doing a story about lebvedev interviewing lukashenko rather interviewing lu kashenko rather than interviewing lukashenko rather than doing the story with lebvedev stop. lebvedev did not want me asking any questions. he secured the interview, and you were along for the ride to film it. i think we will move on from there. and move away from evgeny lebedev and back to the question that i asked at the star of the show why is it only now that we are reading investigations into russian influence into the uk? and i'm thinking particularly about roman abramovich. and what we are learning now. lionel barber, you will know from your time editing the financial times about the legal perils of writing about oligarchs. has the risk of litigation from london's top law firms suppress reporting about them until now? i am not carrying water for the financial times, but i can assure you that we did write about the influence of russians in london
and i still have letters from the law firms threatening us. this was literally boots, hung up by my boots on saturday morning. we've seen the names of the law firms in the house of lords. that is when tom burgess and catherine skelton were testifying just this week. crucially, the problem is this is a very interesting question about the word, of the use of "oligarchs." some of these rich people sent very tough letters insisting they were not oligarchs because this refers to the late �*90s where some people became very, very rich very quickly, gaining control of natural resources in the 1990s when we basically had the wild west out in russia. some of them have since become great philanthropists.
if you think of len voblakmin, he owns warner music... he makes it very clear he is ukrainian. the crucial point is some of... i think you've got to distinguish between groups of oligarchs. some have become great philanthropists. they've given money. some of them are ukrainian, some of them own a football club like mr abramovich. he also happened to be a governor and a siberian province. he does give money to charity. he doesn't sponsor art museums. and then there are others who are much darker figures. who controls rosneft. these are different categories of people. bottom line, the law is not in favour of investigating, public service investigations because the balance of libel. that is essentially what you mentioned, thosejournalists, catherine and tom from the ft, they said to the foreign
affairs select committee this week about the difficulty of publishing these stories. tom burgess from the ft, he told the government's committee that london lawyers apply psychological pressure to journalists. do you recognise that? i do, actually. not on the level of that, i should say. because i was never threatened. though i thought they might go there. but in general a lot of the most aggressive libel lawyers are centred in london and they targetjournalists not just in this country, in this jurisdiction, but overseas. they have targeted maltese journalists, for example, acting on behalf of maltese politicians, claiming damages in england. politicians, claiming damages in england-— in england. and anatolia, i think you _ in england. and anatolia, i think you have _ in england. and anatolia, i think you have tried - in england. and anatolia, i think you have tried to - in england. and anatolia, i. think you have tried to write about the children of oligarchs, but it was not easy, is that right?— is that right? well, it is never easy _ is that right? well, it is never easy with - is that right? well, it is never easy with the - is that right? well, it is -
never easy with the oligarchs. i suspect that there is a lawyer listening to this conversation as well. catherine nelson is a really great example, you know how hard it has been for her. just auoin to hard it has been for her. just going to change _ hard it has been for her. just going to change direction now. because i want to pick up on something we talked about a few weeks ago which is the crackdown on russian—backed channels in the uk and around the world. laura is tech correspondent at politico based in paris. it turns out blocking russian news channels is not as simple as the eu hoped for. why not? first of all, it wasn't that easy legally because it was a political decision to ban those media from european soil. it was unprecedented, so the first question that needed to be answered was what legal grounds do you use to forbid media organisations from broad broadcasting in europe? and of course rt and �*s the are not your usual media
organisations. —— sputnik. not your usual media organisations. -- sputnik. they do use journalists _ organisations. -- sputnik. they do use journalists with - organisations. —— sputnik. tie: do use journalists with actual press cards and press credentials. so what happened is eu leaders realise that a normal regulation was not going to cut it to ban them, so that is why they went to the economic sanctions around. rt is actually challenging but in front of eu courts. we will see if that is legally solid or not. is the onus on the tech companies to block rt voluntarily? they were not in the scope of the sanctions, so the online channels and telegram channels, youtube, facebook, all of that was in the scope, so they have been removed. it was legally binding for them to do so. but we are seeing mirror websites which are websites that show the same information but with different urls. you can still find rt on a website that has a very fringe conspiracy
theory type content. lionel, to bring you back in at the last few seconds, how successful do you think russian backed media has actually been at influencing public opinion in the west?— i think a few people have got very rich, but i will not mention them on this programme. good boy. they appear on these kinds of shows and are essentially apologists, or near that. just having an english reporter, an english voice on rt, which has a tiny audience, i don't think is that influential. i do think there was important influence in other areas particularly on brexit. and in america...
i'm sorry, i'm going to have to stop you there. because we have run out of time. i want to say thank you to all of our guests. lionel barber, laura, adam, natalia and paul, the media show will be back at the same time next week. for now, thank you for watching. goodbye. hello there. temperatures on sunday weren't quite as high saturday's, but still not bad. in the spring sunshine we got to 15 degrees in porthmadog in north—west wales, the warmest spot in the country. looking at the weather over the next few days, more of that spring sunshine is on the way. it will become warmer, mostly dry, just a few isolated showers to watch out for as the week goes by. high pressure still dominating the picture. that stays to the east of us. this little curl of cloud is associated with a pool of cooler air, and that has showers within it. what happens over the next couple of days is that area of cool air pulls north, taking showers away, and at the same time we will then
see temperatures rising significantly, high teens and even low 20s over the next couple of days. right now there's a risk of seeing an odd showerjust brushing the eastern coast of england, the cloud in northern ireland could also bring an odd spot of rain but should keep the frost at bay. clear skies for most of southern england and wales, allowing a widespread frost to take us into the first part of monday. temperatures down to —6 in aberdeenshire, a particularly cold start but a lovely start to the day for most of you. lots of sunshine around, that cloud extending from the south—west as the day goes by. the small chance of a shower for eastern scotland, but for most of you it's essentially a dry day. we will see those temperatures rising across england and wales, highest here about 1a or 16, cooler air still across scotland, northern ireland and the far north of england. tuesday's forecast, still the risk of frost to start the day across scotland in particular, a lovely day with lots of sunshine. there could be one or two isolated showers popping up across central areas for a short time, but most of you will dodge them. high temperatures, into the teens, perhaps reaching 20 celsius in the warmest areas, that will threaten the highest
temperature we have seen so far this year. wednesday, a similar day, plenty of sunshine across the board, but if we do see some showers they could affect the far north of scotland. still, those temperatures will continue to rise, 17 in newcastle, 16 for glasgow, again in parts of england and perhaps eastern wales we could see temperatures into the high teens, perhaps 20 degrees or so. this is drier weather will last to friday and into the weekend, although there's a tendency for it to turn cloudier.
welcome to bbc news — i'm david eades. our top stories: ten million people have now fled their homes in ukraine since the start of russia's invasion — nearly a quarter of the population. among them — children who escaped from besieged mariupol — but they are left with life changing injuries. all of these are victims of russian attacks. it is notjust the physical injuries. many of these children have deep psychological trauma that they will perhaps never get over. as a russian deadline looms for the defenders of mariupol to lay down their arms — the deputy prime minister says there'll be no surrender. and — the legacy of war — we examine how this conflict could be redrawing the world as we know it.