John McLellan comment: Sputnik UK’s membership of Chamber called into question

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor. Picture: Contributed
John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor. Picture: Contributed
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Even if you are the most ardent news junkie, here are two stories which might have escaped your attention yesterday: “The violent reality of ‘Western propaganda construct’ the White Helmets” and “Twitter ablaze as Trump Jr mocks CNN over POTUS photo with ‘Russian spy’ Connery”.

These were main stories on the home page of a government-run international news agency, and there are no prizes for guessing which country from these stories given similar prominence: “Soviet-backed plan could have prevented Afghan tragedy” or “Watch President Putin’s first hockey training”.

This is the news as seen by Sputnik UK, the multi-media arm of Rossiya Segodnya, or Russia Today, which has been operating out of the Exchange Tower in Edinburgh’s West End for two years and now employs around 14 people under bureau chief Egor Piskunov.

By lunchtime there was no mention on the home page of the big UK story, the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, although as befitting the service’s motto “Tell the untold” a deeper look revealed a very different take on the events in Salisbury.

Under the heading “Analyst sheds some light on mysterious ex-Russian spy story” the site ran an interview with a Yorkshire-based writer Tom Secker, who apparently believes the 7/7 London bombers were set up by British secret service handlers. About the Salisbury poisonings, Secker told Sputnik, “This guy was found only a few miles from Porton Down. That is the British ministry of Defenses (sic) lab for developing exotic weaponry – bio and chemical weapons. Why has no one drawn attention to this? It’s certainly a lot more worth exploring than waving a big flag saying ‘Russia did it’.”

Sputnik is not a news agency in the sense we understand it, in the same way as the UK’s Press Association which is privately funded by member subscription and the sale of its services. It relies entirely on its independent credibility which the entirely state-funded Sputnik does not.

Sputnik exists entirely to advance the interests of the Putin regime, yet has just been admitted as a corporate member of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce which presents its connections with Edinburgh institutions as a major member benefit. The Chamber’s head of corporate and international development Alexia Haramis, said: “As an international news agency which is relatively new to Edinburgh, we look forward to supporting Sputnik to grow and raise its profile in Edinburgh, connecting them with fellow members and key city stakeholders.”

The Chamber is therefore helping the propaganda arm of a state which is increasingly hostile to the interests of this country and when the news broke last month attempted to kick the issue into the long grass by saying the membership was under review

I lodged a motion for this week’s Edinburgh council meeting calling for the association to be ended and for the council to review its membership of the Chamber if it is not. All this was before the Salisbury incident and if the Chamber’s chief executive Liz McAreavey know what’s good for her organisation’s reputation, she’ll politely tell Sputnik that the Chamber’s aims are not in line with theirs.

- John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor