Who and why invites us to defend the right to create "crucified boys" in Ukrainian way?
At the very beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine, one of the Russian TV channels showed a story in which they told that the Ukrainian military in the liberated Slovyansk, a city in the Donbass, had crucified a little boy. It was an obvious fake, which became a symbol of the notorious deceitful Russian propaganda. It triggered condemnation from journalists of Ukraine.
The paradox is that the worst traditions of this propaganda are now being transferred to Ukraine. Such methods are used in favor of the same Russia. In other words, Moscow creates a whole system of lies inside Ukraine, against which its aggression is directed. Unfortunately, some international organizations support this practice, considering propaganda as a different opinion.
There was a time when the support of the West – by politicians, diplomats and international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – was the only thing which saved Ukrainian journalism from the final political and physical cleanup. However, now, organizers and implementers of fake journalism use international observers, in particular, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir, as ceremonial bystanders to repeat politically charged messages which distort the reality. Their goal is to protect the powerful disinformation and propaganda system which is developing in Ukraine, acting primarily in favor of Russia and the former members of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, once headed by exiled to Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, during whose rule eight dozen people were killed.
The brightest case happened in Kyiv during the recent OSCE conference on the security of journalists. Upon its completion, the Human Rights Information Center held a side event in support of the Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov, the documentary filmmaker who was accused by the Russian occupation authority in the Crimea of terrorism and sentenced to 20 years in jail and who went on a hunger strike in Russian prison. Campaigns in his support have been held around the world.
Entrance to the event in Kyiv was open to everyone. There was an unidentified man wearing military uniform who spoke vaguely and hinted that he had brought Sentsov something that he could not talk about. Journalist of Strana.UA who was present at the event wrote on the grounds of the man's cryptic words a news material, which already on the following day was quoted by many Russian mass media. They told that a Ukrainian military brought Sentsov explosives to the Crimea. They mentioned that the story was told at the OSCE conference.
The simplest searches in Google show that this speaker has nothing to do with the army and has been caught on lies and provocations. This alone had to cast doubt on the authenticity of his words. But the task of the media Strana.UA is not to search for truth, but to produce fake news that would misinform the reader about what is happening in Ukraine. In this case, they aimed to create an image of Sentsov as a terrorist. And at the same time they harmed the reputation of the OSCE.
What was the reaction of the office of the media commissioner to this shameful act, which does not stay within the framework of professional ethics? No reaction. Dead silence. Thanks that at least they did not protect the right of Strana.UA to lie and to manipulate, as it was in other cases.
I want to emphasize that, since 2001, the entire struggle of journalists for their rights in Ukraine meant a struggle for compliance with professional standards. As a result of it, the Commission on Journalistic Ethics and the media trade union were created and the journalistic revolution of 2004 – when journalists massively opposed censorship – happened; and in 2010, after the coming to power of Yanukovych, an even bigger mass movement "Stop censorship!" was created.
Of course, one must recognize that the battle was fought and supported by an active minority. The passive majority silently, hiding their eyes, followed the instructions of both the authorities and the owners of their media, tolerated the practice of biased materials, did not observe professional standards, and some characters engaged in black PR and media assassination.
Nevertheless, it was the active minority (in 2010-2015 – the movement "Stop censorship!") which created the public discourse about the freedom of speech and independence of the media in the country and abroad. And although the passive majority continued to execute orders and serve the needs of media owners, but doing it was SHAMEFUL. They tried not to admit this, did not sign the ordered materials by their own names.
And it is certain that no one would get the idea to defend the right to "freedom of speech" and "pluralism of opinions" for such assassinating, totally manipulative projects as "Ukrainian Kryvda", which were anonymously published at that time to discredit political opponents. Or media outlets Vesti and Capital which were frankly promoting the interests of the Yanukovych's "family." They stayed on the margins of the media community.
What has changed since then?
Starting in 2014, the confidants of ex-President Yanukovych – both those on the run and those remaining in Ukraine – began in social networks and on media sites controlled by them, including television channels, radio and online publications, to actively promote the topic of suppressing freedom of speech in Ukraine, infringing rights of journalists. At the same time, they used real errors and/or illegal actions of the current authorities (first of all, of the law enforcement agencies) regarding the media, but more often they frankly manipulated.
In the outlets of the Vesti holding, on the website Strana.ua, on TV channels NewsOne, 112 and Inter, and for some time on 1+1 and ZIK, the truth about the state of press freedom has been densely mixed with half-truths and outright lies.
And for some reason this speculative, distorted picture is first of all perceived by many domestic and international observers, human rights organizations and professional associations.
They did not react when last year seven journalists of the TV channel ZIK resigned from the channel, claiming pressure from the owner. This did not concern these organizations. As well as the dismissal in 2016 of the staff of the Department of Special Projects which told about censorship by top management of the TV channel ICTV. There is reason to believe that censorship was actually practiced on these channels.
But any conflict around manipulative Vesti, Strana.ua, NewsOne, Inter or Channel 112 immediately attracts attention and becomes the subject of loud statements.
Since spring of 2014, Ukraine has been de facto in a state of war, part of its territory has been occupied, and the aggressor – Russia – has made great efforts to prove the inconsistency of the Ukrainian state. However, many Western observers tend to perceive the situation in a simplistic way, ignoring the factor of the information war which Russia is leading against Ukraine.
As a member of the Council of Europe, Ukraine is obliged to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1994, our state signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both documents focus on freedom of expression and freedom of information. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that states are obliged not only to adhere to the standards of these documents, but also to be capable of the protection of rights and freedoms. And also they are obliged to prevent the violation of the fundamental rights of citizens by private groups or individuals.
These obligations remain in effect even during the war. However, there is one significant "but".
Holding hundreds of activities aimed at countering Russian propaganda and misinformation, some Western partners and observers seem not to notice (by accident?) the open disinformation and manipulative editorial policy that some media which are "put under pressure by the Ukrainian authorities" adhere to. They do not notice how often the messages of these media are consonant with the narratives of Russian propaganda.
Moreover, some organizations, for example, the Committee to Protect Journalists, characterize the narratives of Russian propaganda as "alternative facts" and "alternative news" and demand from Ukraine to ensure the unhindered operation of the media organizations that disseminate them.
I would like to remind that the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out that “Article 10 protects journalists’ rights to divulge information on issues of general interest provided that they are acting in good faith and on an accurate factual basis and provide reliable and precise information in accordance with the ethics of journalism”. I emphasize that journalists must comply with the principles of the ethics of journalism. Whether lies and manipulations comply with them is a rhetorical question.
Let me also quote the IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists: "Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist. In pursuance of this duty, the journalist shall at all times defend the principles of freedom in the honest collection and publication of news, and of the right of fair comment and criticism. (…) The journalist shall regard as grave professional offences the following: plagiarism; malicious misrepresentation; calumny, slander, libel, unfounded accusations; acceptance of a bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression. Journalists worthy of the name shall deem it their duty to observe faithfully the principles stated above."
Meanwhile, speaking in defense of the "oppressed" media and journalists in present-day Ukraine, international organizations are not interested in WHAT content they are serving their audience, how many manipulations and outright misinformation they are disseminating.
The TV channel NewsOne, owned by ex-member of the Party of Regions Yevhen Murayev, showed a report about alleged hearings in the US Congress about corruption in the National Bank of Ukraine. It was a fake, exposed by the American media. Is it worth defending this, with permission to say, journalism? There are many such manipulations on this channel.
The media outlet Strana.ua, founded by Ihor Huzhva, surpasses, perhaps, all media legally registered in Ukraine in terms of the number of cynical manipulations. For example, here is a typical article on foreign policy in this media: “Compulsion to obedience. Why does the EU want to cut funding for Eastern European countries and what has Ukraine to do with it”. It tells about how Brussels allegedly wants to "to ax funds for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States," by reducing their financial assistance. The article alleges that the EU "punishes" these states for excessive independence and calls them "smaller brothers." And Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are called "poor relatives". It's not just a matter of choosing words: in this material, there is no reference to the official justification of the Cohesion Policy program, which the European Commission is now considering.
At the same time, we are well aware that the official Russian media are also constantly spreading horror stories about the crisis and the imminent downfall of the European Union. Is this an accidental coincidence? The question is rhetorical.
Without tire of replicating fakes and spreading messages consistent with Russian propaganda, Strana.ua successfully speculates with the status of an opposition media outlet, calling any criticism as "defense of the authorities". In the "revealing" article "Advocates of lawlessness. Who and how helps the authorities to put pressure on the Ukrainian media" on the basis of a lot of insinuations (for brevity I will provide here only one: IMI are accused for some reason that the fact of journalist's detention in ITALY is not included in the summary of violations of the rights of journalists in Ukraine), it is concluded that Detector Media and the Institute of Mass Information allegedly help the authorities to oppress independent media.
There are lots of similar materials in Strana.ua and in belonging to Oleksandr Klymenko – the runaway intimate of Viktor Yanukovych – Vesti. In them, information is submitted in a biased way or is left untold in order to create a totally negative attitude to everything that is happening in Ukraine, including the international context.
Speaking in defense of the nationwide channel 112, international organizations do not understand the extent to which its creation was lawful in the days of Yanukovych. One-day companies received a license for regional television broadcasting at the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, bypassing the applications of real local channels which were working for many years. The case is now at the European Court of Justice. And when the state regulator undertakes to review the legality of issuing these licenses, the authorities are accused of pressure on an independent channel, information about the actual owners of which is still a secret.
The international observers also do not pay attention to the lack of balance of opinions and a record number of paid-for materials in the news on the TV channel Inter, which are documented by the monitoring. At the same time, the channel openly provokes right-wing radical groups with some controversial statements. They begin to put pressure on the channel. No doubt, violent actions against the channel are unacceptable and must be strictly suppressed by law enforcement agencies. However, when responding to them, international organizations should also note that it is inadmissible to use hate speech and to enkindle national, ideological or any other discord on the air; and that particularly during the military aggression which our country is going through.
And the situation with the protection of the rights of journalists and of the press in Ukraine by international organizations reached the point of absolute absurdity especially at the moment when the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, headed by Serhiy Tomilenko, who was elected at the end of 2016, joined it.
Ironically, Detector Media supported the election of Tomilenko. Not least of all because his main competitor was Oleksandr Bukhtatyi, a representative of the Presidential Administration. We believe that the Union of Journalists cannot be dependent on the authorities.
But after the election of Tomilenko as the head of the NUJU amazing transformations began in his behavior. With his coming to the position of the head of the NUJU, the organization began to publish the Physical Security Index of Journalists of Ukraine, which contained many manipulative facts that had no connection to the professional activities of journalists. It presented a distorted picture. It was surprising that the experience of the Institute of Mass Information which had been effectively dealing with this problem for many years was not needed by the NUJU. I emphasize: this is not a competition among the defenders of journalists' rights. The point is that a transparent, years-long study, trusted by the world community, was artificially contrasted with the figures that were taken from who knows where. All non-public attempts during the whole year, including those under the facilitation of the OSCE Coordinator's Office in Kyiv, to meet and somehow discuss the incomprehensible origin and methodology of the computed figures of violations of journalists' rights, voiced by Serhiy Tomilenko, were unsuccessful. When the situation reached a dead end, our organizations issued a public substantiated statement about mistrust to the new leadership of the NUJU.
In response, we faced unfounded accusations of ... pressure on the NUJU. And all the same manipulators began to claim that the authoritative media organizations of Ukraine are corrupt and act ... in the interests of the authorities.
I would like to remind that it was a public, transparent criticism of the organization receiving STATE BUDGET funding, from several independent from authorities public organizations funded exclusively by Western donors! What kind of pressure can it be when this is an example of a real attempt of self-regulation within the industry itself, without government intervention?
In March 2018, the new OSCE media representative, Harlem Désir, met with the NUJU secretariat. Except for Tomilenko himself, other representatives of the NUJU, including those who spoke about the situation in the Crimea and the occupied Donbas, only representatives of the above-mentioned manipulative media reported on the situation with the rights of journalists in Ukraine. Mr. Désir did not deem it necessary to meet with representatives of other media or public organizations, the Commission on Journalistic Ethics and the Independent Media Council.
The bookend to all this was the conference held by Vienna office of the OSCE on June 26 in Kyiv. At the conference, I tried to reach out to colleagues and Western observers, stressing that the media community should not allow the monopolization of the discourse around the freedom of speech and journalists' rights by quasi-journalists engaged in misinformation, propaganda and spreading fakes. I called for the creation of a new solidarity movement among Ukrainian journalists, based on the mandatory observance of journalistic standards and the principles of professional ethics.
However, Mr. Tomilenko, twisting my speech, created a myth, that I supposedly called for dividing journalists into classes! (rather than separating journalists from misinformers, the media from quasi-media and proxy media). The head of the NUJU stated that although it is necessary to talk about standards, but in a narrow expert circle, and this topic is not as timely and relevant as attacks on the representatives of the profession. Speech by Serhiy Tomilenko caused a storm of ovation in the hall.
Summary. What did really happen?
For the first time during the years of Ukraine's independence, the most passive majority of media people who are ready to comply with any instructions given by media owners in their political and business interests have received public support. The leader of the largest Ukrainian trade union openly stated that the rights of journalists are not associated with their responsibility to the society for delivering reliable, complete and balanced information and representation of all points of view.
Under the convenient but absolutely manipulative slogan "one is not allowed to divide journalists into classes," he de facto proclaims all-permissiveness. No need to be ashamed of "advertorials" and manipulation! Any disinformation is recognized as a journalistic activity, and the difference between propaganda and journalism is denied. Serhiy Tomilenko proposes to make the discussion on journalistic standards closed from society, and, what is more, to postpone to more "quiet times".
Under the fundamental principle of democracy which is pluralism of opinions and a free market of ideas the policy of post-truth is disguised – when not only opinions and ideas, but also facts can be "alternative", and one can safely ignore or distort those of them which do not fit into the given picture of reality.
And – consciously or not – a number of international organizations agree with this. In other words, for many years, the West has invested the money of its taxpayers in reducing the dependence of journalism in Ukraine on the interests of politicians and oligarchs, in combating biased advertorial materials in the media and in developing a system of self-regulation. And suddenly the same West now sends a message that "everything is allowed" – to lie, to manipulate facts – we will all call it "pluralism of opinions", "alternative news" and we will defend it as journalistic activity.
The above-mentioned OSCE conference on June 26 showed clearly that in reality, the domestic newly-appeared fighters for the rights of journalists are not at all concerned about the safety of their colleagues. Political conjuncture stands behind all this what is happening. According to the director of the Institute of Mass Information Oksana Romanyuk, Ruslan Kotsaba in a private conversation gave her the following advice: "Be friends with us, otherwise when we come to power, it will be bad for you."
The pro-Russian "fighters for the freedom of speech," whose connection with the Kremlin can be proved or at least followed by the coincidences in the rhetoric, were recently joined by "pro-Ukrainian" media owners, making the stakes on the opposition ahead of the elections. It would be normal if their criticism of the authorities was fair, but often the media they own resort to manipulation and informational assassination.
This situation, in turn, unleashes the hands of the Ukrainian authorities which, alas, also did not abandon the use of dirty media technologies. In addition to positive coverage of official events without real information reasons and of any actions by the authorities in central and regional media, the monitoring by Detector Media and the Institute of Mass Information show a recent increase in the number of biased advertorial materials and black PR, directed against the rivals of the President and of the ruling parties.
This is the main danger that threatens, in fact, to kill professional, responsible journalism in Ukraine, to return Ukraine to a state of moral decay and decline, in which media – instead of serving the public and protecting its interests – fool it and fulfill political and business orders; to the state in which we were from 2007 and to the victory of the Revolution of Dignity.
What international organizations can primarily do in order to protect freedom of speech and journalists' rights in Ukraine is to hinder this process by demanding – just before the start of the election campaign – non-interference in the media's editorial policy, refusal of bribing journalists, refusal of covert advertising and black PR from ALL participants in the political struggle.
What exactly can international organizations, diplomats and politicians who are monitoring the situation in the country help Ukrainian media today with?
They should publicly remind about the need to comply with media and journalistic standards and criticize politicians and parties that use "black" and "gray" media technologies. A number of public organizations – the Institute of Mass Information, Detector Media, the Academy of the Ukrainian Press and others – possess over transparent tools for assessing the quality of compliance with professional standards, so their research can be considered as an adequate indicator of the severity of the problems.
Foreign partners should press on the authorities, demanding to fully finance the Public Broadcasting system, and further to take steps to increase the independence of financing of UA:PBC from the will of the state, at the expense of rent for the use of radio frequency resources. Just before the elections, public broadcasting can become an alternative platform for the dissemination of high-quality content, including such content that will allow voters to make a responsible decision during the voting. Particularly important such an alternative source is in the regions where the absolute majority of private media are not above advertorials during the election campaign.
Also, the Ukrainian authorities should be demanded to complete the process of denationalization of print media, in particular, by adopting the necessary legislation. By the time of the official start of the election campaign in Ukraine, there should be as little media as possible which dependent on the authorities.
Law enforcement agencies and the legislative authorities should be required to fight the misinformation and Russian propaganda only by lawful means – through the court and the adoption of relevant laws that will not allow the authorities to close or block the media (including Internet resources) at their own discretion. A string of statements on this issue has already been made by a number of Ukrainian organizations. The authorities must form and declare a clear and transparent policy regulating its actions in this sphere.
We also count on the help of international organizations in pressure on the authorities by demanding proper investigation of the case of the murder of Pavlo Sheremet and other high profile cases, since the authorities do not react to pressure from media and journalistic organizations from within Ukraine. Of course, we also need help in preventing an increase in the violation of the rights of journalists, especially now, just before the upcoming elections. And here, indeed, it is really essential to unite efforts of all organizations – both in Ukraine and abroad – the consistency of their positions and readiness for a real, rather than ostentatious dialogue with the authorities and law enforcement agencies. In order our efforts are aimed at the result but not PR.
An important requirement for the current authorities (and also the future that will come as a result of the 2019 elections) is the depoliticization of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. Now, the regulator is torn apart by the conflicts caused by the lobbying of interests of not only the authorities, but also oligarchs-media owners. A transparent procedure for electing members of the National Council with distinct criteria for the requirements for candidates should be an alternative to the unhealthy situation in the state regulation of the media, about which media experts have been talking for many years. And also the self-regulation and co-regulation of the branch. At the same time, the National Council should receive real powers in order to guarantee the observance of laws by broadcasters. This, in turn, largely depends on judicial reform, as now, as I have already noted, many decisions of the regulator are challenged and revoked by the court.
Finally, we need to pass a law on audiovisual services, which would harmonize Ukrainian practices with the legislative framework of the European Union and will enable the market to develop in modern conditions.
The thesis that the best form of opposition to propaganda content is high-quality and truthful content was heard from all possible stakeholders and commentators. So, should the OSCE and other international organizations not support those who adhere to professional standards and call on other colleagues with their statements and reports? And not vice versa?
And also to oppose the practice of accepting people to the journalistic community who are not in the profession in any way, and to develop a system for identifying journalists. Formal acceptance in the profession of politicians and of media owners, equating a provocateur with a YouTube channel to a journalist creates a real danger of blurring the term "journalist". Against the backdrop of year-by-year decreasing level of confidence in the media as a social institution, it calls into question the very survival of our profession.
In conclusion, I would like to ask Harlem Désir – who, I hope, will read this text – some questions.
- We know that many representatives of the Ukrainian authorities refused to attend the conference on June 26, which we consider incorrect; we criticized them and continue to do so for such a decision. At the same time, having interviewed the heads of more than a dozen authoritative Ukrainian media NGOs, I learned that they were not invited to participate in the conference. There were no invitations to both the Independent Media Council and to the Commission of Journalistic Ethics. Do not you think that narrowing the active dialogue to communication only, in fact, with the NUJU and just a few of its partners, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the Vienna office of the OSCE is thus deprived of the opportunity to more broadly see the context of the media situation in Ukraine?
- On the importance of self-regulation in the media during the June 26 conference, apart from me, spoke also Marius Lukosiunas from UNESCO stating that "international standards are the greatest protection in the work of a journalist", and the representative of Moldova, Ludmila Andronic (Network of Media Self-Regulation Organizations) and Johann Bier, head of Reporters Without Borders for Eastern Europe and Asia. Andrei Richter, Senior Adviser to the OSCE Office, also said that "Journalists should not be the authors of disinformation. This undermines the credibility of journalists in general. Respect for truth is one of the main principles of the Code of Journalistic Ethics".
It will not be excessive to remind that even during the Revolution of Dignity, when journalists also were literally shot on Maidan, the Movement "Stop Censorship!" released a statement about responsibility of media for censorship, lying and inciting hatred; and that the OSCE Office in Kyiv has been devoting considerable attention to strengthening the self-regulation system in Ukraine for the last two years; and that the Council of Europe is preparing to conduct large-scale monitoring of compliance with journalistic standards by media for the time of elections in our country.
In this connection, I would like to clarify with you, Mr. Désir, whether the media, in defense of which the OSCE Office is acting, correctly communicate your position? Do you really agree that the protection of journalists can be separated from their responsibility and conscientiousness in the performance of their professional duties?
Do you see the difference between, let us say, the TV channel Russia Today and Radio Liberty?
And, of course, I was surprised, like many of my colleagues, by the OSCE's lack of reaction to the apparent provocation against Oleg Sentsov, which was staged during the June 26 conference, and was immediately replicated by the same Strana.ua, and then the Russian media. It seemed to us that it was a matter of honor for the OSCE to separate itself from this, to put it mildly, unpleasant incident, as Ukrainian non-governmental organizations did immediately.
Ні, не користуюсь!
Не знаю що таке push-сповіщення
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