The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is wooing Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for a splashy TV interview, despite his record of bizarre anti-Ukraine hate speech.
The EBU in Geneva, the same organisation which put on the Eurovision song contest in the UK in May, is now aiming for the Lavrov extravaganza to air in June.
It’s to involve “three international correspondents” and be filmed by a “multi-camera TV news crew” at the St Petersburg International Forum, an EBU invitation letter said.
“The interview would focus on Moscow’s view of the conflict in Ukraine,” it said.
And it named Europe’s leading public broadcasters — the ARD, BBC, France Télévisions, ITV, RAI, TRT, TVE, and ZDF — as those likely to put it online and on TV, despite what Lavrov might come out with.
“German chancellor Olaf Scholz and foreign minister Annalena Baerbock say proudly that Ukraine is fighting and shedding its blood for European values. By saying this, they have made a connection between themselves and the [Ukrainian] neo-Nazi regime,” Lavrov told Russia’s Tsargrad TV on 17 May, for instance.
“When we look at the actions of the current German leaders, who are the children of WWII German officers and members of the SS, we have to say … many people in the current German administration have inherited Nazi genes. It is a fact,” Lavrov said.
The 73-year old diplomat is under an EU visa-ban and asset-freeze.
The EU has also muzzled Russian propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, for what it calls the Kremlin’s “systematic, international campaign of media manipulation and distortion of facts”.
But the EBU press office told EUobserver on Tuesday (30 May): “Eurovision News (a department of the EBU) has sent a request for an interview with the Russian foreign minister as part of our normal journalistic activities as independent public service media”.
When asked if ARD, BBC, ITV or any other EBU members had been consulted on the Lavrov invitation, an EBU spokeswoman said: “The Eurovision News Exchange provides content to EBU members who then each decide whether to broadcast or publish it”.
Meanwhile, the EBU invitation letter pitched the Lavrov show in more gushing terms.
“I am writing on behalf of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and all our public broadcaster members … to request an unprecedented international interview,” an EBU executive told Lavrov’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (who is also on an EU blacklist) on 6 April.
The EBU’s two-page letter proposed a softball approach, saying: “The interview would focus on Moscow’s view of the conflict in Ukraine, the effect of sanctions, the role of the EU and Nato”.
Questions would also cover “Russia’s efforts to forge alliances in a ‘multi-polar world’.”
The EBU declined to comment on the letter.
But it was leaked to EUobserver by a Western government official, highlighting the heightened tension inside Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Kremlin agitprop also pasted last month’s Eurovision Song Contest with homophobic hate-speech about Western “perverts” in a clash with the EBU’s genteel values.
And the government official wasn’t the only one who thought the Lavrov invitation was bad form.
“The tone of the letter [to Zakharova] was embarrassing and distasteful, a pure act of kowtowing,” said an anonymous complaint sent to selected “Dear Friends!” in the EBU’s media network two weeks ago.
“Not a word about Russia’s war crimes. Instead EBU is willingly offering Russia a podium for its war propaganda,” said the whistleblowers, who signed their memo “Members of the EBU Staff”.
“No EBU staff have contacted us regarding this matter,” its Geneva-based press office told EUobserver.
“We are aware of an anonymous email from a non-EBU address which has been circulated only to third parties and which contained significant factual inaccuracies which lead us to doubt its authenticity,” it added.
The EBU declined to say what the inaccuracies were or to put us in touch with staff representatives.
EUobserver emailed several EBU personnel, including in Brussels, Geneva, Jerusalem, and Zurich, to ask how they felt about inviting Lavrov on TV.
Nobody wrote back.