Mediating a Murder: An analysis of Russian and British newspaper reportage and its subsequent socio-political ramifications following the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.


This text identifies, critiques and evaluates a selection of Russian and British newspaper articles following the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London. It discusses the dichotomising ways in which the story of Litvinenko’s death was conveyed by the British and Russian media, and attempts to identify both the reasons why their narratives were so radically different and the subsequent socio-political effects of their disparate reportage.

Whilst there is some academic literature which discusses the Litvinenko story from the perspective of criminality and politics, the journalistic and communicative implications of the case have been scarcely identified – this paper will focus, solely, on the way in which the techniques of the mass media were used to create the spectacle of Litvinenko’s death. Using a combination of lexicographical, rhetorical and critical discourse analysis, this text identifies key themes which are perpetuated in the mediation of the Litvinenko story from both sides of the globe.

Through the aforementioned research methods, this text identifies two central, inter- continental conflicts, ‘reinforced by the curiously elusive figure of Alexander Litvinenko, and his capacity to transgress categories’ (Hutchings & Miazhevich, 2009, p. 225). A war on terror and brutality is debated, whilst also discussing a metaphorical feud; that of the disparate national identities between the east and west, deliberating Russia as an archetypal and transcending enemy. Further areas which are considered in this text include: news values, the concept of ‘fake news’ and moral panics – specifically discussing how these models can contribute to the creation and perpetuation of banal and injurious national identity stereotypes.

This text concludes that, for a diffusion of reasons, including spectacle and state influence, the way in which Alexander Litvinenko’s death was communicated by Russia and the United Kingdom are in stark contrast. Semantic and rhetorical techniques, harnessed by the institutions which design and disseminate news, led to the application of radically different frames by the two countries. This dissertation aims to expose how mainstream media can construct a narrative based on conjecture and recriminations – a story which, eventually, would have much wider contextual implications.

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