Latvia: An afternoon's blogging
A hornets' nest indeed, Max. I seem to have upset a number of you by putting the case of some Russians in Latvia. First, a correction.Yevgeni Drobot is not banned from Latvian politics because he was a member of the 1991 Latvian Soviet, as he told me, but because he was a member of the Communist Party and represented them in that Soviet. I don't think this merits Peteris' description of a lie.
Another point of fact: Yes, there are now Latvian sprats in Moscow supermarkets, as Dmitry points out. They were all banned for a while but the ban is now only on the two top exporters of the fish: the company I visited was the largest exporter.
But what about accusations of bias? It's true that all the quotes were from one side of the argument, but the reasons for Latvian position have been, I think, set out clearly, and are pretty obvious. I am not a great fan of the sort of "stopwatch" balance that would have one believe that there are only two sides to every argument and that having a representative of each speak for the same length of time achieves fairness. Like all my work, I hope this blog meets the BBC's highest standards and values, but those who are unhappy do raise an interesting series of questions about the nature of blogging.
At the risk of being boring I'll go into the nuts and bolts in some detail. But before I go on, those interested in journalistic ethics generally might enjoy this expose by the Economist blog... reflecting a story in the Beatroot blog.
Anyhow, my postings don't run, I hope, to a format. Sometimes they are little more than a random thought, on occasions an expanded version of a TV or radio piece, others will be reflections on a news item that won't make it elsewhere, and yet others will be an odd incident on my travels. I'm keen to make then even more varied, using pictures I have taken and audio I have recorded.
In this particular instance, this post and a previous one from Latvia were spin-offs from a series of radio and TV reports I am preparing. They should be broadcast in the week beginning 22 October, in the run-up to the EU-Russia summit. I'll be writing at least threee articles based on them, that will be published here. This gives me a slight problem. I can either not blog at all when I am preparing such future reports, or try to find slightly different angles.
Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to interview these Russian-speakers was in the interests of balance. I was encountering a very negative view of Russia and wanted to put this in context. Before the final pieces are out there, in whatever form, I will be interviewing the Russian ambassador to the EU, to get his side of the story.
These Russian Latvians will probably feature in one report for a minute or less, as a brief illustration of why Russia feels it should have some say in the Baltic States. I had a lot more material than that at my disposal, which I found rather interesting.
Had I being doing a radio or TV piece solely on the Latvian citizenship test, I would, as a matter of routine, have interviewed a Latvian minister or pundit defending the tests and a Russian who was glad to take the test, or something along those lines.
But that is not the purpose of these interviews. In an incredibly hectic schedule, I didn't have the time to find such voices for just one posting. I am much happier putting out this selection of voices I have heard than ignoring them. As I see it, by its very nature, a blog is sometimes a fragment, a report of one afternoon's encounter, rather than a completely rounded product.
Conversation with you
But there is another way that a blog is different. It is a conversation. Nobody putting the Latvian view? Well, only scores of your voices, more varied than I could have collected in a week of interviews. And many putting the opposite point of view with far more vehemence than anyone in my original article. This is certainly not to argue that a blog exists outside the BBC's basic rules. But I think it is obvious that more dissenting voices can go into a five-part documentary series than a 30-second voice-piece, and the same goes for written articles.
As for it being "intellectually dishonest" to compare the citizenship test with that in other countries, I couldn't disagree more. It was intended to be intellectually provocative, to make people in other parts of the world think what the tests are really about. Indeed, I found the among the most interesting contributions those that compared the situation to whites in post colonial Africa and, introducing a very different perspective, American soldiers in Iraq. Another very perceptive point that a number of people made was to compare the situation to Ukraine, arguing that without the test Latvia too would be constantly torn in two directions.
As a long-term BBC journalist, I hope fairness and balance are in my blood, and inherent in that is reflecting a whole range of opinions and giving you an insight into how other people think, however infuriating some of you will find that.