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By John Helmer, Moscow

Private Eye, the only periodical of investigative journalism still made of paper and ink and for sale in the UK, is old enough to be a grandfather in his dodders. So when the editor, Ian Hislop (aged 52), and his anonymous reporters took sides with Pussy Riot last month, it may have been natural for them to find a figure they called a “British grandfather”, and here’s what he reportedly did:

 

WHEN a British grandfather read about the trial of three members of the Russian feminist collective Pussy Riot, he was moved to write to the Russian embassy, expressing his shock at the “senseless prosecution and punishment of its citizens”.

He went on: “I admire their courage and the example that they set, especially for my own two granddaughters, aged 4 and 8.”

One might have expected a stock response from the Russian embassy. Instead the Pussy Riot supporter got sent an unsigned email from the embassy’s press and culture department: “As one can see from your email, you are interested in the creative activities of the group Pussy Riot. Here are two more of them for you to enjoy (please do not show them to your granddaughter, as it might lead to your inclusion in sex offenders register).”

Shocking stuff
There followed links to two pieces of performance art, not by Pussy Riot but by the art collective Voina, which is affiliated to them. One showed members of Voina entering a museum, stripping off and having a naked orgy. Shocking stuff.

The other showed the group entering a supermarket and choosing a chicken from the fridge before a woman member took off her knickers and pushed most of the dead bird inside her vagina. Really shocking stuff.

Vaguely sinister reply
The concerned Brit asked if this was a response from the ambassador. The press and culture department sent another vaguely sinister reply: “It is not a response from the ambassador. It’s awareness raising for you to have a better understanding of the situation. Do feel free to see the artistic performances, but as long as there are no children or vulnerable persons around.”

The Eye asked the embassy’s press department why an anonymous staffer was sending disturbing “performance art” to a British citizen – and why the embassy staff took such a hard-line stance against Pussy Riot. After all, at the time no verdict had even been reached.

Curiously, the embassy chose not to answer the Eye’s questions.

The BBC’s Moscow correspondent, Steven Rosenberg, is too young to be a British grandfather. He is also not quite old enough to admit to watching the video record of Pussy Riot’s corporeal performances before they moved on to the metaphysical plane. Rosenberg is also keeping shtum about how he and his cameramen fabricated a series of clips of Pussy Riot “performances” in the run-up to the big one at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow on February 21.

After Rosenberg’s fabrications were reported last week, the BBC spokesman Matthew Hall acknowledged there had been an internal investigation. Hall has also admitted that Rosenberg’s reports were either inaccurate or misleading on key details of the Pussy Riot sequence. “Errors” had been made, according to Hall, responding to questions about three pieces of Pussy Riot tape which Rosenberg has compiled and the BBC has broadcast – outside a jail at an unidentified date; at Lobnoye Mesto in Red Square on January 20; and at a rehearsal arranged by Rosenberg on February 17. Hall was also asked to say what authentication the BBC has undertaken of the February 21 Cathedral clip.

Hall’s reply was evasive on the concrete issues, but on the general point there is no mistaking the acknowledgement of “errors”. Here it is:
 

Any suggestion that the BBC fabricated or staged any footage is absolutely untrue. BBC Moscow’s Newsgathering team filmed a Pussy Riot rehearsal on February 17th for a wider report about Russian music and politics ahead of the presidential election. When these pictures were filmed, Pussy Riot did not tell the BBC that they were rehearsing for their later demonstration in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. A report, edited from this material and produced by BBC Russian, was later broadcast on February 22nd – the day after the demonstration. The new voiceover in the BBC Russian piece incorrectly states that the rehearsal took place the day before the demonstration and includes additional commentary which could have given the misleading impression that the BBC was aware of the demonstration. However this is categorically untrue. We are taking steps to ensure the errors are not repeated.

Hislop was invited to review the evidence, the BBC responses, and investigate independently. He has refused to reply. He was then asked to prove that the British Grandfather on which his story hung actually exists. Curiously the editor chose not to answer.

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