Photo-Journalist Sues Russian TV Channel Over Deceptive Documentary

Channel one logo.  Source: nettv.ruThe bombs are no longer falling, but the spin campaign rages on. Just over a year after Russia waged war with Georgia over the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Russian television continues a scare-tactic campaign intent on criticizing the West and discrediting Western coverage of the war. The latest effort, a documentary airing on the state-run Channel One, is coming under fire for using the same deceptive tactics it claims to be uncovering.

The film, titled “The War of 08.08.08 — The Art of Deception” aired on the one year anniversary of the war, and alleged that Georgian propaganda efforts falsified and staged photographs of bloodshed during the conflict. Comparing photos taken in South Ossetia with images from Iraq, the film concluded that many of the images from the former were too “clean,” a sign that they were faked. There was only one problem: a photo supposedly taken in Iraq was actually the work of a Russian photographer, Arkadiy Babchenko, and was taken in South Ossetia. The image depicts a wounded Russian soldier.

Babchenko, who works for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was furious that his work was taken out of context, and has filed suit against Channel One. Calling those who produced the film liars in his LiveJournal blog, he has requested 100,000 rubles ($3200 or €2200) for psychological damages. Babchenko believes the misuse was deliberate, as the TV station did not want to acknowledge that the critical Novaya Gazeta reported the truth. The error raises questions about the rest of the film as well, Babchenko said.

“Now I personally have serious doubts about everything else shown in this film,” he wrote.

David Axe, the journalist interviewed as a photo-expert by the documentary, says his words were twisted out of context. In describing Babchenko’s photo, Axe said it showed a seriously injured man, which would be difficult to fake. The documentary translated his words as “Here is an injured person. I shot his photo in Iraq. It would be hard to call this a fake.”

For their part, the film’s creators claim that the error was caused by a technical mistake that happened during the editing process. Sergei Nadezhdin, one of the producers, said the audio went out of synch and connected two different parts that should not have been side by side. The audience, Nadezhdin says, was not misled, since the intention of the clip was to provide an example of an undoctored photo.

Irina Laptiva, a media analyst working for, told Russia Profile that journalists are only human and make mistakes, but that they must be quickly corrected.

“If mistakes are made,” she said, “there must be a public apology within the mass media, which would state what was incorrect and when. If they do not do this, then I believe that it is a breach of human rights and copyright.”

Channel One, well known for its other over-the-top documentaries, has yet to issue a formal apology.

For further details on the story, read an account by journalist David Axe.