By John Helmer, Moscow
A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent in Moscow named Steven Rosenberg staged and filmed a rehearsal of what he claims Pussy Riot told him they were planning at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral at least a day, possibly several days before February 21. That is the day when three of the group members committed the acts for which they were convicted in a Moscow court on August 17, and sentenced to prison for two years.
The BBC’s role in encouraging these acts, coaching them in rehearsal in front of a camera, and then acting as an international megaphone for their songs and claims, was not called in evidence during the court proceedings, nor mentioned in the judgement. But the BBC is now refusing to answer questions about what they have done to promote Pussy Riot in media that have been circulating worldwide since February.
The video clip Rosenberg directed and produced on or before February 20 shows four women he has identified as the Pussy Riot band. They appear to be miming through their balaclavas. The soundtrack, which includes a drum and a tambourine not visible in the filming, appears to have been added after Rosenberg and his cameraman took the women through their act.
Here is the BBC-staged version, dated February 20, in which the Russian language voice-over claims the cathedral performance was to take place the very next day, and that the purpose of the “rehearsal” was get the timing right for the cathedral.
Here is the purported cathedral performance by three women on February 21. On the 2.15-minute tape, less than 60 seconds was filmed in Christ the Saviour Cathedral; film from another church, in Elohovsky Epiphany Cathedral, shot earlier with other participants, was spliced into the running to make it appear to be part of the same cathedral sequence; the soundtrack was fabricated and added afterwards.
And here is Rosenberg’s report, dated February 28, in which he claims that earlier that same month eight members of Pussy Riot, standing on top of Lobnoye Mesto, “had conquered Red Square.” Other press reports, including Pussy Riot support groups, say this incident happened on January 20. The discrepancy was either a mistake on Rosenberg’s part, or a sign that the February 28 commentary was prepared much before its broadcast date, and delayed for some reason. In voiceover, Rosenberg claims the women had performed a “concert” at the Red Square monument lasting two minutes before the police arrived. But the BBC film of the women, and of the police reaction, runs for less than 60 seconds.
Rosenberg didn’t report that they were arrested; apparently they weren’t. Nor did Rosenberg reveal there was no concert – the guitar sounds were faked.
The Wikipedia history of Lobnoye Mesto, which dates to the 16th century, was modified on August 17 to include a photograph of Pussy Riot on the monument. From the positional evidence this image appears to have come from the same source as provided the footage edited into the BBC broadcast on February 28.
Rosenberg’s version of what was shouted during the “concert” came from him; it is impossible to verify his claim from the soundtrack of the tape. Just 40 seconds of the “rehearsal tape” were shown again. It’s possible that both pieces of film were prepared for broadcast before the cathedral incident had actually taken place. Either that, or else Rosenberg knew the cathedral incident had happened, but didn’t want to report that news. By February 28, according to Rosenberg, Pussy Riot had “asked us not to reveal where they are, or who they are. It’s all very hushhush.” Rosenberg and the BBC didn’t explain why. If Pussy Riot was Rosenberg’s idea of a poster for freedom of speech, he was being strangely coy himself.
The rehearsal clip with Russian commentary has been tagged on screen as a production of the BBC Russian Service. It was authenticated this week by Maria Nikitina of the BBC office in Moscow. She said it was made before the cathedral incident. She claims not to know if it was a production of the Russian Service or of the International Service.
The head of the BBC’s Russian Service is Sarah Gibson. In London this week, she referred questions about the filmed reports to the BBC’s press office. A spokesman there, Matthew Hall, said “the interview was done by Steve Rosenberg, a correspondent based in Moscow.”
When the BBC Moscow Bureau was telephoned and Rosenberg requested, Nikitina said she would not put the call through, nor would she provide Rosenberg’s email address to receive questions for his response. Later she added: “Steve is going to a business trip soon.” As for the questions about the Pussy Riot contacts Rosenberg has had, Nikitina said “the questions are not positive in tone. Steve is very busy now.”
According to the BBC management, the state media organization takes seriously the possibility that film footage it airs may have been tampered with, forged, or fabricated. According to a recent US academic study, since 2005 the BBC has operated a User-Generated Content Hub to investigate all images that may be broadcast. Twenty staff are currently employed on this work. But this is an operation to guard against the risk of publishing or broadcasting unauthenticated images provided by third-party sources.
If Rosenberg and a BBC camera team fabricated a film of their own about Pussy Riot ahead of the cathedral incident, there would be no job for the User-Generated Content Hub to do in London. Rosenberg was the guarantor of the film’s authenticity and of what Pussy Riot had been doing before he compiled his selection of their images.
Or is he? How much of Pussy Riot’s history with the Voina group, and how many of the sex-shock videos the convicted Pussy riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova performed with her husband, Voina leader Pyotr Verzilov, were known to Rosenberg and the BBC, but not disclosed in their “concert selection”?
Rosenberg was asked by telephone and email to respond to the following questions:
|1. Is this clip of what is tagged as a BBC Russian Service interview with Pussy Riot a genuine one, and if so, on what date was it filmed: link? What part did you play in setting up the presentation? In the interview itself? If you did not interview the group, what is the name of the person who did?
2. Did the BBC edit the raw footage before the film clip took this form? In Moscow, or in London, or both?
3. Was the Pussy Riot group recorded by the BBC in this clip making sound with their instruments? Singing a song? Or was sound added later?
4. On February 28 you reported again from the same earlier footage – is that correct?: link. At the time, did you know that the Christ the Saviour Cathedral event had occurred on February 21? Why did you not report that on February 28? When did you become aware, or was the BBC’s technical team (User-Generated Content Hub) aware, that the February 21 YouTube clip was a pastiche of two different locations, sound dubbing, etc.?
5. In your February 28 excerpt, you also reported that Pussy Riot “conquered Red Square”. When and at what time did you record that footage – or did you receive the footage from a source other than the BBC? What do you mean by the term “conquered Red Square”?
6. What reports have you prepared on the group Voina, and when were they published or broadcast?
7. When did you become aware that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is married to Pyotr Verzilov? Have you seen the sex performance clips in which they participated? When?
Rosenberg has refused to answer. In his place, BBC spokesman Hall provided this email statement: “BBC Moscow’s Newsgathering team filmed a Pussy Riot rehearsal on February 17th 2012. It was for a wider report about Russian music and politics ahead of the presidential election. The team was not made aware if, when and where Pussy Riot would perform. The English-language report aired on February 28th. A separate report produced by BBC Russian was broadcast earlier, on February 22nd, edited from the material gathered on February 17th.”