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BBC criticised over 'biased' Vladimir Putin documentary

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BBC logo at BBC Television Centre

© Rex Features

A BBC documentary on the difficult relationship between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the West has been accused of "bias" by Russian exiles in Britain.

Putin, Russia and the West, the four-part series on BBC Two which concludes next week, has been described by Russian dissidents as having a "pro-Putin bias", and demonstrating a "lack of understanding of Russia's recent history".

The BBC has rejected the complaints, while the documentary's producer Norma Percy has claimed that the series is "truly objective" and "multi-sided", reports The Guardian.

In a damning review of the first episode of Putin, Russia and the West, the renowned Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky expressed concern that the documentary had appeared "unequivocally pro-Putin".

Bukovsky, who spent 12 years incarcerated in Soviet prisons but has lived in Britain since 1976, alleged that the narrative was "nothing less than a party political broadcast for Putin and his United Russia party".

Writing in a blog for the liberal Moscow radio station Echo Moskvy, he said: "The documentary makes no attempt to illuminate events critically. It turns out to be an utter apology for Putin and his regime.

"Putin appears as a solid public figure, who keeps all his promises (to his Western partners and to Russia's electorate) ...If Putin had asked his propagandists to come up with a film they couldn't have done better."

Bukovsky questioned why money from the BBC licence fee was spent on the film, and called for a parliamentary inquiry into the series.

Putin, Russia and the West includes interviews with many high-profile people, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Gerhard Schröder and Putin's defence secretary, Sergei Ivanov. But Putin himself refused to appear.

But Masha Karp, a former editor at the BBC's own Russian service, noted "glaring gaps" in the depiction of Putin's story, including a lack of focus on his savage approach to Chechnya. She also criticised the series for failing to feature people from Russia's opposition.

Karp, who left BBC Russian five years ago, said that the documentary was as though the BBC had made "Gaddafi, Libya and the West", but only interviewed the Colonel's most loyal associates.

However, Percy said that she was focused on Russia's international role during the Putin era, rather than trying to infiltrate the country's notoriously difficult internal politics.

She said: "It's like making a programme about Gaddafi but before the Arab spring. When the Russian spring happens you talk to the Russian opposition. We show the state in action. We don't use phrases like 'mafia state'."

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson added: "Putin, Russia and the West is a thorough and multisided account of Putin's time as President and Prime Minster of Russia. It investigates the historical and current state of relations between Russia and the West with all sides of the relationship represented.

"The series was made in complete accordance with the BBC's editorial guidelines. It is a series based on three years research in Russia, United States and Europe, under pinned by the highest journalistic standards."

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