BU-Based Journalist Detained in Russia Plans Early Return to US

By Nikita Sampath and Pankaj Khadka
BU News Service


Joe Bergantino, executive director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR), based at Boston University, will leave Russia ahead of schedule after being detained and released by authorities over a visa issue on Thursday.

Bergantino, who was in the country teaching a journalism workshop, is planning to leave for the US on Friday morning, according to one of his colleagues. He had been scheduled to leave on Saturday, but has chosen to depart earlier.

“He’s supposed to be leaving in the morning to get to Paris, and he should be home by Saturday,” said Beth Daley, an investigative reporter for NECIR, which was co-founded by Bergantino.

The Boston-based veteran investigative reporter was detained for five hours by immigration service agents in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Bergantino, who is also a clinical professor of journalism at BU, and Randy Covington, a University of South Carolina journalism professor who accompanied him on the trip, were interrupted while teaching a class to Russian journalists about reporting techniques, according to media accounts.

Joe Bergantino 3 (2)

He and Covington were then escorted to a Russian courthouse where a judge reprimanded them for not having the visa necessary to conduct a workshop in the country. They were there on a “targeted tourist visa,”which they had been advised by the State Department would be fine for the work they planned to do in Russia.

In response to an email, Bergantino’s wife, Candy Altman, a vice president of news for Hearst Television, said he left Boston for Moscow last Friday and arrived there on Saturday. “He did two days of workshops Monday and Tuesday in Moscow and then flew to St. Petersburg Wednesday for workshops on in-depth reporting there as well,” she said.

Bergantino and Covington were in Russia on a trip sponsored in part by the U.S. State Department to train Russian journalists.

BU students Rebecca Deluca and Jan Gregorio, react while reading the news of Joe Bergantino's arrest in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Ann Wang/BU News Service)
BU students Rebecca Deluca and Jan Gregorio, react while reading the news of Joe Bergantino’s arrest in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Ann Wang/BU News Service)

BU journalism faculty were alerted about the detention in an e-mail forwarded by Journalism Department Chair William McKeen on Thursday afternoon.

In his investigative work, Bergantino is known for his tough questioning, but in the journalism department he’s known as soft-spoken and collegial. He is a former investigative reporter for WBZ-TV, WPLG-TV, Miami, and has won many of the broadcast industry’s top awards including a duPont-Columbia Award and Citation, and local Emmys. Bergantino and his wife, who live in Brookline, have a daughter, a music teacher who lives in New York City.

A U.S. State Department official said that Bergantino and Covington were detained for several hours and brought before the judge to answer questions about potential violations of their visas.
They were issued warnings, then released, according to Drew Bailey, a State Department spokesman.

At a daily press briefing in Washington on Thursday, a State Department spokesperson downplayed the incident.

Psaki stated that the State Department’s “preference would have been for them not to be detained.” The fact that they have been released means it is no longer an issue, according to officials.

“We’re ready to move forward,” said Psaki, possibly indicating that there will be no followup.For privacy reasons, State Department officials declined to comment further.

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington, The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders could not be reached for comment.

In January, Russia expelled U.S. journalist David Satter, the first such expulsion since the end of the Cold War.

Shershah Atif, Simeng Dai, Xuedong Wang, Helen Jiang and Yanshu Li contributed to this report.

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