Quid pro quo?
Wednesday 17 November 2021
In 1975 Reuters had a run-in with the Russians over my assignment to Moscow as deputy bureau chief. The Soviets turned down my visa application and asked Reuters to propose another candidate. It was part of a Soviet campaign of harassment of Reuters staff at the time: Julian Nundy and Dickie Wallace both had been blackballed by the Russian authorities and forced to leave the country the previous year. The Russians never specified what I’d done, but I had been bureau chief in Belgrade and written a lot about Russian involvement in activities against the Tito government. I never got my visa, but Bob Evans, the very gutsy Moscow bureau chief, kept the slot open for nearly a year while Reuters protested.
I recall at the time that Reuters relationship with the British government was so arm’s length that I had to talk the editor into going to the Foreign Office to ask for their information and support. They provided little of either, but Reuters at my urging went public about the Soviet abuses of Reuters staff and blatant violation of the new Helsinki Final Act just as it was coming into effect. Reuters did the right thing throughout.
Did the relationship with the government shift 180 degrees? Why? It makes me wonder: is there a quid pro quo for signing the Armed Forces Covenant? Better access? Confidential briefings? Or more likely manipulation?
I also think of Anthony Grey, the Reuters Peking bureau chief jailed during the Cultural Revolution, and more recently the Reuters correspondents in Myanmar, jailed for doing great reporting of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing. They all suffered for doing their job; how much tougher it might have been had their interrogators the additional ammunition that this agreement gives them. ■