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Russian TV crew clashes with German reporter who exposed doping

June 10, 2016

A crew from Russian state television has been thrown out of an interview by the German reporter behind films alleging state-sanctioned athletics doping, after a heated argument about the role of journalists.

Employees of state-owned television channel Rossiya went to Germany for a planned interview with Hajo Seppelt, a journalist behind a series of documentaries exposing doping in Russian athletics on German public broadcaster ARD.

But their report, shown repeatedly on state TV Friday and titled “Exposing the exposer”, instead tried to paint Seppelt as a man basking in limelight and luxury, and ends with the crew being shoved out into the street.

Seppelt was behind a documentary film in 2014 that sparked an official investigation into doping in Russian athletics that saw its athletics federation banned and track and field team in danger of missing the Rio Olympic Games.

A follow-up film broadcast Wednesday said that despite promises to reform its anti-doping system and clean up its act, Russian authorities are still covering up for coaches disgraced by doping allegations.

Faced by Rossiya journalist Olga Skabeyeva in the report, Seppelt has to field questions of why he is attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin and whether he is being paid to make his films, and grows visibly flustered.

The report zooms in on scattered personal items in the rented hotel room and comments on its luxuriousness.

“I’m not an agent, I’m a journalist,” he says, later going into a heated debate about how journalists should work, and declaring after a while that “this interview is over.”

When Skabeyeva says she is simply worried that her country won’t go to the Olympic Games, Seppelt attempts to explain his view of journalism.

“You don’t have to be the friend of your country. Because you are a journalist, you have to be independent. You don’t understand the role of journalism,” he tells her.

Russian television, most of which is controlled by the government, is routinely accused of airing reports and films that are untrue or skewed and banning political criticism from the air.

– ‘I blew a fuse’ –

In the report, filmed in Cologne, Seppelt is shown abruptly ending the interview, taking the crew’s equipment out of the apartment and shoving out Skabeyeva, who asks if the goal of his films is to discredit Putin.

“I won’t answer stupid questions,” he says, following the crew down the stairs, shouting and slamming the camera, and threatening to call the police as he walks after them in the street.

Reached by AFP for a comment, Seppelt said that the incident seemed like a “provocation,” and that he lost his temper after the crew ignored his request to leave.

“After 30 minutes of trying to make them leave the hotel room and stop filming, I blew a fuse,” he said. “They fled when they realised that I’m calling the police.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova defended the Russian journalists, saying Seppelt “not only attacked a journalist, but moreover a representative of the weaker sex,” referring to Skabeyeva.

“I was in complete shock,” she said. “I think a reaction should follow from the professional community.”

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.