For the past two weeks, the story of the poisoning of retired Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, has led news bulletins in Britain and around the world. Much of the coverage of this story has been low on facts, high on conjecture and speculation.

British headline writers have had a field day. Moscow, meanwhile, has denied any involvement and has accused the British press of churning out what they call "hysterical propaganda" to whip up anti-Russian sentiment.

"The rush to judgement on the part of the UK establishment press has been overwhelming. And this has obviously had the effect of making it impossible for the investigation to proceed in a way that meets all the standards of that you would require in an investigation of this magnitude," explains John Wight of Sputnik International.

"At this time of speaking, there is still no concrete evidence that Russia was responsible for this. It may well have been responsible, I don't say they were not responsible, but we need evidence because it's such a serious issue."

British media have both an old script and a new geopolitical climate in which to report this story. In 2006, a Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned in London with a dose of radioactive polonium. He died, and Russia-UK relations took a hit.

Twelve years on, Russia has become the designated suspect when it comes to political interference and media meddling - with allegations against them in the United States through to Germany and Italy. Tensions are high, and for tabloids in Britain, the go-to Cold War narrative has been hard to resist. Reporting may be more restrained in the broadsheets and broadcasters, but the tone of that coverage has an air of establishment groupthink.

"The British media, for the most part, does buy into this of its own volition, and I think it, it is suspicious of some of the motives of Russia - internationally and indeed domestically. So I don't think there is a sense among most media commentators that they are failing sufficiently to examine what they're being told by law enforcement agencies and so on," says Will Gore, deputy managing editor of The Independent.

Tune in to Russian media and the same thing could be said for their coverage. From the outset, the Kremlin has issued unequivocal denials of its involvement. On the Russian airwaves, those denials have provided a segue into stories hinting at all sorts of theories - including that the British intelligence was behind the attack.

"This is exactly what they do every time Russia is under scrutiny. It's this kind of mockery and scepticism. Mockery of the West and of the way that the West is dealing with the problem, and scepticism about the West," says Natalia Antelava, editor-in-chief of Coda Story.

"I think the Russian media is poisoning the debate by devaluing the truth, by making facts questionable, and by saying that everything can be questioned," she adds.

Speculation, spin and increasing suspicion on both sides: that's the climate in which this diplomatic standoff is being reported. And as the consensus solidifies, the space, the time for questions and alternative perspectives, get pushed to the margins.

Contributors:


Natalia Antelava, editor-in-chief, Coda Story
John Wight, contributor, Sputnik International
Will Gore, deputy managing editor, The Independent
Polly Boiko, reporter, RT

Source: Al Jazeera