Marjorie Farquharson: Recruitment for the Moscow Information officer

This piece from March 1992 by Marjorie Farquharson was originally published on the website Marjorie and is republished here by kind permission.

Press work is a natural and important part of the Moscow job, as are contacts with the press department in the IS. I think this is inevitable wherever an AI representative finds themself in a country which is waking up to human rights. 

It is a great pity in my view, that no one from the press department was invited to the meeting in November 1991, which discussed the future description of the Moscow job. For the same reason I think that someone from that department should be included on the interview panel.

I would also recommend that the selection procedure also include a test of the candidates` ability to convey AI`s message to the media, and a test of their spoken/written Russian.

I wonder therefore if it might be worth re-thinking the balance of the interview panel a little? At present it has two interviewers, neither of whom has a background in Soviet affairs, has seen the work of the Moscow office, nor as far as I am aware, has worked as an outpost.

This combination seems likely to produce a particular kind of appointment – but not necessarily to probe how well candidates could cope with work in Moscow, or promote AI`s interests there. Having another outpost on the panel, or a member of the press department, would give a better balance to the selection process, I believe.

I very much hope that this recruitment is genuine and fair. Somebody asked me why the interview panel should be any different from the one which, say, appointed me.

The main reason is that the first appointment was 21 months ago. Time has passed, a tremendous lot has happened and we now know a great deal more about the job that we did then. As a job changes, it seems to me that it would be imaginative and professional to change the interview procedures too.

One of the things I now know is that there are two parts to outpost work. One is the job at hand, and the other is trying to get IS reaction to it. The second part is often the more difficult, and I know I am not the only outpost to think so.

The present interview panel represents only the London view of the work, since neither of these people has ever worked as an outpost. 

I attach questions which I hope will be helpful. They have all happened to me and so may be relevant for the new person.


  1. Your phone is bugged. A respected local human rights activist rings to invite you to the trial of a conscientious objector in Moscow the following day. Bearing in mind the purpose of your job, what do you do and why?
  1. Your phone is bugged. The sister of a political prisoner on hunger strike phones every morning in tears, urging AI to intercede and make him break off his hunger strike. The prisoner has advocated violence and you do not know what AI`s official position on his case is. How do you handle this and why?
  1. The Press Department of the Foreign Ministry invites you to a human rights day celebration ay which there will be a photo display of Iraqi casualties during the Gulf War. What do you say and why?
  1. You are faced with an insoluble legal problem. Someone you strongly suspect is from KGB is recommended to you as a likely help and they later phone you up. How do you handle it and why?
  1. You receive a death threat by post. How do you handle it?
  1. Imagine that your support structure is very shaky. Your memos are not acknowledged and your questions are not answered. What steps do you take to cope with this?
  1. You are hungry. What do you do?
  1. A local human rights activist you know asks for your contact list so that he/she can invite them to join his/her fund. What do you do and why?
  1. You learn on Friday that a prisoner on death row for whom AI is working faces imminent execution. What do you do and why?
  1. Imagine that people in your department in London do not cooperate very well with each other. You feel you have legitimate complaints to raise about your own post but are reluctant to give one person ammunition against another. What steps do you take to cope?
  1. One day the government is overthrown. What do you think your first reaction should be? And your second?
  1. The value of hard currency plummets and the money exchange points are suddenly closed. You need roubles to pay AI bills. What would you do and why?
  1. You are working for AI and your job is to promote awareness of human rights. Do you envisage a time when these things may conflict? If so, to which would you give priority and why?
  1. Imagine that remarks you have made in confidence about local AI members are more than once relayed back to them by some IS staff. How would you deal with this situation?
  1. Your job is to disseminate Russian language-information on human rights. You do not have your own budget and there is no defined procedure for approving your translation proposals. How do you reconcile this conflict?
  1. A journalist says that governments have the obligation to satisfy the social and economic rights of their citizens. If every citizen is able to leave the country, they will not be able to do so. How would you answer?
  1. A journalist says that abolition of the death penalty presupposes a certain level of culture. Russia and the other republics are not ready for it. What do you say?
  1. The audience at your talk on the death penalty asks “isn`t death preferable to loss of freedom?” How would you answer?

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