Can a lobbyist for dictators work as a journalist?
Letter 01        19-Nov-2004

The Spectator editor, Boris Johnson, displaying his notorious indiscipline

The Spectator owners, the Barclay twins, displaying medallions of their knighthood
"But our job isn't made any easier by the work of another group which, rather than monitoring adherence to the Helsinki principles, seems to prefer the role of PR flack for a new breed of authoritarian rulers in Europe." — Greek Helsinki Monitor Spokesperson, Panayote Elias Dimitras

Note added 28-Nov-2004: Additional valuable clarification of the nature of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group is available on the Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia web site at  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Helsinki_Human_Rights_Group

             19 November 2004

Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay
Press Holdings International Limited Le Montaigne
7 Avenue de Grand Bretagne
98000 Monaco

Dear Barclay Brothers:

The Spectator fails to acknowledge the indispensability of editorial submission to truth

The Spectator, of which I understand you to be the owners, disclosing on its "about us" web page  www.spectator.co.uk/about_us.php   that editor Boris Johnson's "sole editorial constraints" are "originality of thought and elegance of expression" omits what some hold should be the paramount editorial constraint of "truth."  If truth is as neglected in editorial practice as it is in editorial statement of constraints, the inevitable result will be the publication of disinformation and defamation, as appears to have happened in John Laughland's 06-Nov-2004 The Spectator article Western Aggression www.antiwar.com/spectator2/spec506.html.

An explanation of why Spectator editor Boris Johnson should have doubted Laughland's article, and why he should have refused it publication, requires an understanding of two different Helsinki organizations currently coexisting in Britain.

Two British Helsinki organizations arrive at opposite conclusions

It appears that Britain hosts two Helsinki organizations whose evaluations of the 31-Oct-2004 presidential election in Ukraine are diametrically opposed.

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) says that the Ukrainian election was fair: "The Group's observers concluded that the election held on 31st October in Ukraine was conducted to a very high standard, making a refreshing change from previous Ukrainian polls which they had witnessed" www.bhhrg.org/CountryReport.asp?CountryID=22&ReportID=226 .

The other organization is the British Helsinki Subcommittee of the Parliamentarian Human Rights Group.  In order to clearly distinguish the two groups, the former will be referred to as the Bogus-BHHRG (for reasons that will be explained below), and the latter as the Parliamentary-BHHRG.  The Parliamentary-BHHRG does not have its own web site, but rather is represented on the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) web site, of which it is an offshoot, such that the positions taken by the Parliamentary-BHHRG and the IHF may be assumed to be identical.  The IHF has published two pre-election reports from which it is evident that the Parliamentary-BHHRG considered the Ukrainian election to have become compromised well before polling day:

  1. On 03-Aug-2004, after itemizing hair-raising instances of unfairness, the bottom line is that "The IHF is concerned by the numerous allegations of abuse in a campaign that has barely begun"  www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewhtml.php?doc_id=6055 .

  2. On 28-Oct-2004, after itemizing more hair-raising violations of election etiquette, the IHF states: "In spite of repeated appeals from governments, international organizations and Ukrainian and international human rights NGOs, Ukrainian authorities have chosen not to address the violations of law and international obligations.  The elections risk producing a result which will not have the necessary legitimacy and which will further delay the development of Ukraine towards a genuine democracy, and a society based on the rule of law"  www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewhtml.php?doc_id=6111 .

Do the two BHHRGs differ in credibility?

That the Parliamentary-BHHRG is genuine and the Bogus-BHHRG is fraudulent is signalled by at least the following half-dozen indicators:

  1. No founding date can readily be discovered on the Bogus-BHHRG web site.

    In contrast, the Parliamentary-BHHRG claims to have been founded in 1976  www.ihf-hr.org/members/com_details.php?sec_id=2&com_id=47 .

    The possibility arises, therefore, that the Bogus-BHHRG was founded later, and named itself so as to usurp the prestige of its elder.

  2. No address is readily found on the Bogus-BHHRG web site.

    In contrast, the IHF provides the address, Wickenburggasse 14/7, A-1080 Vienna, Austria (and even gives its Bank Account: Bank Austria Creditanstalt 0221-00283/00, BLZ 12 000)  www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewhtml.php?doc_id=6055 .  A photograph of the IHF offices is available at www.ihf-hr.org/galleries/images.php?prj_id=&sec_id=10&gal_id=12 .

    The Parliamentary-BHHRG, in turn, offers the prestigious address, House of Lords, Westminster, London SW1, United Kingdom  www.ihf-hr.org/members/com_details.php?sec_id=2&com_id=47 .

  3. No personnel listing can readily be discovered on the Bogus-BHHRG web site.

    In contrast, the IHF lists the following staff:

    ADVISORY BOARD CHAIR:  Karl von Schwarzenberg
    EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE:  Sonja Biserko, Holly Cartner, Bjørn Engesland, Krassimir Kanev, Andrzej Rzeplinski
    PRESIDENT:  Ludmilla Alexeyeva
    VICE PRESIDENT:  Ulrich Fischer
    TREASURER:  Stein-Ivar Aarsæther

    Photographs of three of the leading IHF executives can be found at www.ihf-hr.org/galleries/images.php?prj_id=&sec_id=10&gal_id=12

    And the Parliamentary-BHHRG lists the following board members:

    CHAIR:  Ann Clwyd
    VICE CHAIR:  Lord Erik Avebury
    VICE CHAIR:  Jeremy Corbyn
    VICE CHAIR:  Rt Hon Peter Lloyd
    SECRETARY:  Tess Kingham
    TREASURER:  John Austin

  4. No authorship is disclosed for the Bogus-BHHRG article on the Ukrainian election.

    In contrast, the IHF provides the following attribution in "For more information" sections at the ends of its two statements on the Ukrainian election, along with individual telephone numbers that are not reproduced below:

    IHF CONSULTANT:  Vladimir Weissman

    IHF PRESS OFFICER:  Henriette Schroeder

  5. No reference to its counterpart can readily be found on the Bogus-BHHRG web site, nor justification for adopting a title that invites confusion between the two.

    In contrast, the Parliamentary-BHHRG distinguishes itself from the Bogus-BHHRG with the statement "PLEASE NOTE that the so called British Helsinki Group is NOT affiliated with the IHF"  www.ihf-hr.org/members/com_details.php?sec_id=2&com_id=47.

    Beyond that, the IHF repudiates and condemns the Bogus-BHHRG with energy and in detail in a statement jointly authored by the Spokesperson for the Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Human Rights Group — Panayote Elias Dimitras — together with the Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation — Aaron Rhodes.  The IHF statement is reproduced in its entirely below because of its important allegation that the Bogus-BHHRG serves as a lobbyist for dictators:

    (Greek National Committee of the International Helsinki Federation)

    (Greek Affiliate of Minority Rights Group International)

    P.O. Box 51393, GR-14510 Kifisia, Greece Tel. 30-1-620.01.20; Fax: 30-1-807.57.67; E-mail: [email protected]




    By Panayote Elias Dimitras and Aaron Rhodes

    Since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act over 20 years ago, the name “Helsinki” has become emblematic of specific political principles and values.  The so-called “Human Dimension” commitments undertaken by the members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are “politically-binding” pledges to uphold the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; the freedom of expression and the principle that independent media should be permitted; the freedom of movement; and the obligation to hold free and fair elections.  The “Helsinki” commitments also obligate the participating countries to prevent torture and cruel and degrading treatment; to uphold international humanitarian law; to work toward the abolishment of capital punishment; to uphold the “rule of law”; to promote tolerance and protect the rights of national minorities.

    Following the lead of the first “Helsinki committees,” who in the 1970s stood up to the Soviet government by citing its failures to abide by its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and recommending how it could better comply, human rights groups that call themselves by the “Helsinki” label thereby associate themselves with these basic principles and values.  The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and its constituent 31 national Helsinki committees in Europe, North America and the former USSR, committed to the defense of human rights principles consistently and across the political and geographical spectrum, have by now established a long record of strong criticism of all OSCE governments for whatever human rights violations are recorded. We have done this in both the East and the West, and regardless of a government's political orientation.  In many cases, including the troublesome case of Greece, an EU member, the IHF has been the sole source for the international exposure of such problems.  But lately, the official defensive rhetoric of two of the Europe's most human rights-abusing governments is being supplied by an organization named the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.  This organization is not affiliated with the IHF, whose British member is the Parliamentary Human Rights Group.  But the IHF now finds itself dogged by reporters and angry members, especially in Belarus and Albania where the British human rights organization has staked out strongly political positions defending Presidents Lukashenko and Berisha against criticisms of their human rights records, and the group has also defended the policies of Slovakia's authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

    In Belarus, Hitler-admiring President Lukashenko has made much use of press releases, articles and statements by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group to defend his program of returning Belarus to totalitarianism.  Anyone believing in liberty, in freedom, in civil society, in the cherished democratic principle of checks and balances, in the need to constrain the absolute power of the state, and in free markets has to be horrified by the concentration of huge powers in the presidency; by a rubber-stamp parliament consisting of presidential appointees; by a program of “rule by decree;” by police violence and inhumane conditions in pre-trial detention for those having participate in opposition demonstration; and by the regime's economic re-nationalization program and it flaming attacks on civil society.  But in a 1 December 1996 article published in the Wall Street Journal, a representative of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group defended the rigged referendum, which massively violated the law and democratic principles, and by which Lukashenko destroyed the 1992 constitution; they claimed it proved that Lukashenko was “genuinely popular.”  How would anyone know that, in the absence of a free and fair poll? Of course, the red-brown Lukashenko regime has made maximum propaganda use of such political assertions by a “human rights group,” and as part of a program of degrading the IHF-affiliated Belarusan Helsinki Committee.

    In recent days the British Helsinki Human Rights Groups has taken to de-legitimating the results of the recent Albanian election, in which its apparently favored candidate Sali Berisha lost his shirt.  The story actually started a year ago, when virtually every international governmental and non-governmental organization monitoring the 1996 parliamentary elections concluded that Berisha's Democratic Party had improperly used the state apparatus, plus old-fashioned vote fraud, to win a landslide.  A report by the British group at that time was a long political harangue against the OSCE, including a ludicrous charge that Albanian socialists have manipulated the OSCE's election monitoring mission by packing it with left-wing fellow-travelers from countries like Norway. The charge was made again two months ago in the pro-Berisha newspaper “Albania”.

    The corruption of the 1996 elections was one of the factors feeding into the final collapse of confidence in the president and his party, whose undemocratic practices started soon after he first come in power in 1992.  Now we are hearing from the British Helsinki Human Rights Group that the OSCE has papered-over the problems in the May 1997 elections.  The group followed the official Berisha line that “the communists” are behind the armed gangs that made it impossible for Democratic Party candidates to campaign in some of the areas they control.  They have even used selected and distorted incidents of violence to back their arguments, such as claiming that a Democratic Party leader's relative's assassination was politically motivated, which even the victim's family denied.  They have also apparently deliberately ignored equally condemnable incidents of violence involving victims who are members of other parties, the result of the chaos into which the country had slid.

    It is hard to find any Albanian outside of the desperate inner circle of the Democratic Party who accepts this distortion of the facts.  The Democratic Party also has ties with many of the gangs, while some of them are political free-agents.  And, not every armed group is a criminal gang.  The Democratic Party, too, has been associated with many of the attempts to disrupt the elections by violence; indeed, the “Presidential Guards” under Berisha's direct control were responsible for several such actions.  The British Helsinki Group's Jonathan Sunley, in another Wall Street Journal article (2 July) quotes Vlore's “Public Salvation Committee statement that they well topple Berisha “dead or alive,” but forgets the oath of Berisha to his guard that he will prevent the socialists from coming to power.  Anyone who has spent a night in Tirana in the past months knows that the armed violence there is often highly coordinated and would be impossible without some level of approval or even cooperation with the police and other officials.

    All the Albanian parties agreed to accept the results of the elections, but in recent days, and using arguments like Sunley's, it seems that the Berisha clique has joined forces with the other big loser, viz. the would-be King, attempting once again to create chaos, which always serves to keep those who would have dictatorial powers.  The IHF published a well-documented statement about the recent Albanian elections.  Irregularities were mentioned, but overall, and especially under the circumstances, we considered the elections free and fair, like almost all other monitors.  This did not prevent us from including in our statement a warning that Albania's human rights record is a far cry from expected standards, and an appeal to the new government to work towards its improvement.

    To avoid confusion, our statement carried a note that the IHF is not associated with the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.  To retaliate, British Helsinki Human Rights Group published a denunciation of the IHF in — where else? — “Albania”, as full of distortions as anything ever published in the notoriously truth-trashing Albanian state media — a piece that sounds like denunciations the IHF receives from statists in the region who resent independent human rights monitors, decorated with prickly Oxford debating-club flourishes.  Our uncompromising 15-year record is a guarantee that we will be as vigilant in Albania as in Belarus, Croatia, Serbia, Kosova or Turkey.  But our job isn't made any easier by the work of another group which, rather than monitoring adherence to the Helsinki principles, seems to prefer the role of PR flack for a new breed of authoritarian rulers in Europe.

    Panayote Elias Dimitras is Spokesperson for Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Rights Group — Greece (Athens).  Aaron Rhodes is Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (Vienna).

    Greek Helsinki Monitor  www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/pressrelease/3-8-97.html

  6. The Bogus-BHHRG approval of the Ukrainian election is overwhelmingly contradicted by all credible sources, as for example by the OSCE: "The presidential elections held in Ukraine did not meet the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe and other European standards appropriate for free democratic elections, OSCE observers said in their preliminary statement after the first round of presidential elections"  www.russiajournal.com/news/cnewswire.shtml?nw=46175#n46175 .
Who is behind the Bogus-BHHRG?

Three names are associated with the Bogus-BHHRG:

  1. John Laughland produces 23 Google "results" in a search of the Bogus-BHHRG web site, which is accomplished by entering

    "John Laughland" site:www.bhhrg.org

    in the Google search window, exactly as shown above, quotation marks included.  At one of the Google results appears the statement that "John Laughland is a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group"  www.bhhrg.org/pressDetails.asp?ArticleID=25 .

  2. Mark Almond produces 34 "results" on the Bogus-BHHRG web site using the same Google methodology as above.  An examination of the head and foot of each page shows no acknowledgment that Mark Almond is also a Bogus-BHHRG "trustee," or unearths any other Almond affiliation with the Bogus-BHHRG.

  3. Christine Stone produces 10 Google "results" using the same methodology as above.  Ms Stone is most often mentioned as a member of a travelling Bogus-BHHRG "delegation," but does author the single article A New Croatian Spring  www.bhhrg.org/pressDetails.asp?ArticleID=3 .

Google credits four other names with two "results" each on the Bogus-BHHRG web site: Alastair Macleod, Norman Stone, Mary Walsh, and David Westover.  These appear to each have taken part once as observers in a Bogus-BHHRG travelling delegation.

From what can be gathered about the Bogus-BHHRG, it would appear that it in fact consists of primarily two individuals — John Laughland and Mark Almond — and with Christine Stone making briefer appearances mainly in the role of travelling delegate.  Relying on the number of Google results, Mark Almond appears to be the dominant member of the group.  Relying on John Laughland being identified as a "trustee" gives him the appearance of dominance.

What is the motivation behind the Bogus-BHHRG?

If the IHF conclusion that the Bogus-BHHRG plays the "role of PR flack for a new breed of authoritarian rulers in Europe" is credited, then we may hypothesize that the "new breed of authoritarian rulers" — "dictators" for short — may well be willing to trade what they are long of (dollars) for what they short of (favorable publicity).  In short, a viable hypothesis is that the Bogus-BHHRG amounts to little more than a couple of guys working as lobbyists for dictators.

What integrity is required of a journalist?

Although lobbyist for dictators may be an honorable profession, it creates a conflict of interest when combined with the role of journalist.  Thus, John Laughland writes on the pages of his Bogus-BHHRG that the Ukrainian election was fair with the exception of some Yushchenko impropriety, and if he does so without compensation, then he gives away gratis what he could easily sell, as Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yanukovych are willing to pay good money for exactly this sort of whitewash of their manipulation and chicanery.  John Laughland's conflict of interest arises when he doffs his lobbyist cap, and dons his journalist cap, and writes from the same point of view on the pages of The Spectator, essentially offering there a synopsis of the Putin-Kuchma-Yanukovych platform: Western Ukraine, where Yushchenko support is strongest, is anti-Semitic; Yushchenko supporters are "druggy skinheads"; Yushchenko could not have been poisoned; the Kuchma administration committed no electoral fraud, but the Yushchenko opposition did; Yushchenko cannot be a free marketeer because Western Ukraine is "an economic wasteland"; Yanukovych can be credited with economic growth and with a clean and prosperous Kyiv; Yushchenko is a tool of Nato which wants to sell Ukraine expensive weaponry; Ukraine is split between people who prefer to speak Ukrainian and people who prefer to speak Russian.

But if John Laughland wishes to place his Bogus-BHHRG at the service of dictators Putin-Kuchma-Yanukovych, then he cannot expect to be credited when he echoes the identical message in the guise of journalist on the pages of The Spectator.

At the same time, it seem inconceivable that editor Boris Johnson is unaware either of the fraudulent nature of the Bogus-BHHRG, or that it serves as a front for John Laughland's lobbying for dictators, or of the implausibility of much that John Laughland wrote concerning Ukraine in his Spectator article.  Thus, Boris Johnson appears to be implicated in what seems to be a pocket of corruption at The Spectator.

It might be in the interests of bolstering the integrity of The Spectator, and defending the interests of truth, if you were to extirpate this pocket of corruption.

Lubomyr Prytulak