Monday, December 8, 2014
Needless Ministry Sends Wrong Message
The establishment of the Ukrainian Ministry of Information is akin to President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk shooting themselves in their feet.
Without exaggerating, Ukraine has enjoyed the support and sympathy of most of the world for decades. Today, thanks to Russia’s merciless invasion and war, Ukraine has been experiencing unprecedented support and sympathy among powerful global leaders, national legislatures and everyday citizens. The world has accepted that Russia is the imperial aggressor and invader and Ukraine the victim.
Consequently, there was no reason to establish a Ministry of Information which harkens to dictatorships’ desire to control everything that is written, broadcast and imagined about them. This plan doesn’t work the way it was intended to – never has and never will. Ministries of information quickly deteriorate to misinformation and mind control.
I am a press and journalist purist – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Exceptions can be made in times of national security but they must be adequately discussed, precisely explained, boundaries specified, duration established and termination indicated.
Ukraine’s ministry was adopted quickly, reportedly without details and debate, on December 2 as the government’s response to the avalanche of Russian propaganda that attempts to portray Ukraine as the perpetrator of the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014. I daresay that everyone around the world – except Russians and their diehard supporters who are in the miniscule minority of public opinion – know that Russia invaded Ukraine.
Press perfectionists immediately compared the ministry with George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, which in the novel was a misnomer since in reality it served the opposite of its purported namesake: it was responsible for all necessary falsifications of historical events – into which ultimately evolve all similar ministries.
Yuriy Stets, 38, a former lawmaker of the Poroshenko Bloc, who worked as chief producer at Channel 5, owned by Poroshenko, was named minister of information. According to articles in Ukrainian media, he is considered to be the president’s close ally. The fast promotion of Stets as a new minister signaled that the president strongly pushed this idea and his selection sadly confirms that cronyism still exists at the highest echelons of government.
Stets assured that the new ministry is no threat, clarifying that it will only respond to foreign information attacks by creating country’s information strategy and assist communication among state bodies. Does that mean that it will form news outlets beyond the existing “official” newspapers and the National State Radio and Television Co.?
According to Oksana Grytsenko of the Kyiv Post, Stets said the ministry was going to use budget funds only for salaries of its staff and hopes to rely on foreign donors or grant money for other expenses, which he already did working as a chief of the information department of the National Guard. I don’t think that foreign donors, especially democratic ones, would consider contributing to such a ministry.
Stets claimed he needed the new ministry because while serving in the National Guard he didn’t have enough authority to resist Russian information aggression. “Every day at schools in newly liberated territories (of eastern Ukraine) we are being called junta at schools,” he said. Why not just explain to the children? If a guardsman can’t, then a ministry in Kyiv won’t be able to do so as well.
Stets said he was ready to review the ministry’s regulations, but he couldn’t delay creation of this ministry as loss of time would mean more losses in the information war. The final approval of regulations of new ministry should be complete in the next few days, he said.
Stets said every ministry could potentially pose risks for journalists’ ability to disseminate public information. “This ministry will no way try to impose censorship or restrict freedom of speech,” he assured. Don’t promise what may be difficult to deliver.
Grytsenko’s article also pointed out that the ministry is going to “develop and implement professional standards in media sphere,” “ensure freedom of speech” and it should also prevent harm caused to people by “incomplete, outdated or unreal information.”
Ukrainian media and civil society joined the uproar against the ministry. An appeal signed by 10 Ukrainian journalists and distributed by “Civil Portal” – civic.org stated:
“We, the representatives of institutions involved in communication with the international audience, express our protest against the idea of creating a Ministry of Information, which was announced last week.
“Our experience with international (particularly Western) journalists, diplomats, politicians, intellectuals and officials, decision makers, shows great suspicion that our foreign partners have about Ukraine’s attempts to conduct its own ‘counter-propaganda.’ Any attempt to centrally sway public information sphere is seen by our Western partners as competing with Russia in the field of propaganda by spreading false or one-sided information. And because such attempts immediately undermine confidence in the Ukrainian information sources and to Ukraine in general. This, in turn, impairs attempts to build a new image of Ukraine as a democratic and investment favorable country where the government creates an environment for free players, rather than seeking to control these players.
“We believe that the creation of the Ministry of Information is contrary to the ideals of the Revolution of Dignity. If the Dignity Revolution sought people’s oversight of state institutions, the idea of creating a Ministry Information bears the risk of state control over society in the information sector.”
The Independent Media Trade Union criticized the establishment of the ministry saying that it is undemocratic to establish a ministry first and afterward discuss the reasoning for it.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the creation of the ministry saying that it would be a major setback for freedom of information.
“We urge parliamentarians to reject this bill on second reading, as it is incompatible with the government’s obligations to protect freedoms. International conventions ratified by Ukraine stress that any restrictions on media activity must, under all circumstances, be necessary and proportionate,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
The only truth in the desire to establish a Ministry of Information in Ukraine is the massive mendacious Russian propaganda machine that has been spewing lies and fabrications about Ukraine (and other Russia detractors) since before the start of the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014. But the untruths have only fallen on the minds of complacent Russians, who blindly endorse everything that Putin is doing.
Putin is attempting to have media portray him in favorable colors. To do that, he has been destroying media freedom in Russia. The Kremlin has enacted numerous media laws under Putin that criminalize libel (which has been used as a pretext to silence opposition journalists and civil society), restrict access, and otherwise curtail media freedoms. The remaining Russian journalists with integrity have been targeted with violence and even murder.
Russian journalists, newspapers and broadcasters have discredited themselves by obeying Putin’s instructions. With journalist badges on their shoulders, they have been known to pick up automatic weapons and shoot at Ukrainian soldiers and civilians rather than take notes for their so-called stories.
And the world is well aware of this.
“As part of its drive to undo the post-Cold War settlement, Russia has launched a global media campaign to vindicate its actions in Ukraine. It is based on the Kremlin’s narrative of victimhood, in which the West takes advantage of Russia’s weakness following the implosion of the Soviet Union. These arguments, however, are deeply flawed. Moreover, Russian international media do not abide by Western journalistic ethics and standards. The West, therefore, has to systematically refute this storyline and hold Russian media accountable when they transgress the prevailing norms of due accuracy and due impartiality, or give undue prominence to certain standpoints,” observed Patrick Nopens in an Edgemont Institute series on current events.
Two more examples:
“Disseminating propaganda and misinformation through media is a crucial component of Russia’s integration of soft power and hard power tools, enabling Russia to apply greater force against its adversaries. The U.S. should take robust steps to counter Russian propaganda and to safeguard Western security and the transatlantic alliance,” opined
Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt observed this past October: “Our best weapon in dealing with this, in answering this campaign of misdirection, of course, is the truth.”
Indeed. We, in the United States, have a concept called the “sunshine laws,” which means that no lie can live forever, causing harm, destruction and death with impunity. Lies will wither when confronted with truth and free media is the sunshine that wilts lies.
Ukrainian news media together with reliable journalists from around the world have been doing a fantastic job reporting about the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014, the Russian invasion Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the Russian destruction of Indonesian flight MH-17 killing nearly 300 civilians, the Russian murder by starvation of millions of Ukrainians, and so on.
The war has been going on for some nine months and throughout that period, as I have written, there has been a resolute shining light of truthfulness, facts and integrity in explaining and reporting the war: Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council Information Center. He is professional and credible right down to the dispassionate tone of his voice. Does he toe the government’s line, yes. That’s his job. But he doesn’t embellish or lie. His evenhanded glare could vaporize Russian lies in a second. Give him more exposure rather than create a dubious bureaucratic machine whose historic mission has been to mislead.
As in all cases related to press and news media, but especially now, when Russian lies are rampant and the world’s eyes are upon Russia and Ukraine, the best weapons to fight Russian pernicious propaganda and falsehoods are truth, honesty and transparency, not by trying to beat Russia at its own game.