Ukrainian Press Freedom Under Attack?
The recent election of non-Western puppet, President Viktor Yanukovych, this past February as a replacement for the failed Orange Revolution hero, Viktor Yushchenko, has caused great consternation in the West. Since most ideologues in the American Empire like democracy in so far as it provides propitious developments for America and the West and when it doesn’t they’re happy to drop it like a bad habit, when things like the recent Ukrainian election (a more pro-Russia president is elected in a democratic vote) happen they are often beside themselves with frustration. Their reactions and tantrums to the election have been well documented elsewhere.
The next phase after cryptically (or sometimes emphatically) denouncing the elections and questioning the real functionality of democracy in a place like Ukraine is to paint everything that happens under the new President as “anti-freedom” and “anti-democracy” and “anti-small adorable children” – pretty much anything is fair game to paint the new administration as the rebirth of Stalinism ne plus ultra in Ukraine.
A wonderful example of this trend can be seen in a new alert from the France based Reporters Without Borders titled, “Disturbing deterioration in press freedom situation since new president took over.” The hyperbolic article notes a number of episodes in which journalists have been harassed or attacked in recent months. The incidents range from local police questioning a reporter, a teenager attacking a journalist, to the termination of a rental contract for an independent TV station. I don’t doubt at all these episodes actually occurred, but what I do have problem with is how these incidents are framed and the implications inherent in everything in the article starting with the title itself.
First, if you’re going to decry government suppression of press freedom emanating from the President’s office you need to do a little more work than simply insinuate it by providing a few miscellaneous details of the cases you’re citing as evidence. Some of these examples could merely represent local squabbles that have nothing to do with the new administration at all. The most obvious example is one in involving a youth beating up a journalist, which could have occurred for an innumerable amount of reasons (debt, love, etc.). Why immediately jump to more conspiratorial motive for the incident? Even the incidences of local police intimidating journalists, which I don’t doubt at all should be considered a suppression of press freedom, may only represent local machinations between authorities and journalists – not direct orders from the new government in Kyiv.
This brings me to my next point about framing techniques. If many of the incidences are, in fact, real intimidation of journalists, but locally contained events not connected to some great government conspiracy to the suppress the Truth – what are the chances this has been going in Ukraine, say before Feb. 2010? Perhaps, gasp, during the Yushchenko regime itself – which of course was a regime that had moved “towards greater media freedom,” according to the Reporters Without Borders organization (you’ll also note it was the Yushchenko regime that made the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a national hero)?
Why don’t we just take a look: Funny, it seems the editor-in-chief of the eastern Ukrainian Rodnoe Priazovye newspaper, Sergey Shvedko, was recently put on trial for questioning the government’s interpretation of the famine of the 1930s – an event that began during Yushchenko’s reign. Odd, it turns out the political analyst, Viktor Pirozhenko, was also investigated by the SBU for doubting the famine was genocide during the Yushchenko regime as well. Nothing says “freedom of press” like suppressing those who don’t ascribe to the government’s version of a controversial historical event.
Or how about this comment from Ambeyi Ligabo, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 2007:
…the current political situation, marked by a strong polarization of opinions, does not contribute to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, especially for foreigners residing in the country, ethnic groups and migrants, who are often victims of discrimination.
Wait, so the Yushchenko regime didn’t represent the paragon of freedom of press? The article on Ligabo’s comments continued:
…he [Ligabo] was told that many journalists, especially from the regions outside the capital, are under severe pressure and intimidation from local authorities while others are frequently harassed, arrested and framed on hollow court charges. He also noted that there is undue delay in the determination of cases of violence against journalists and many of the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
So it turns out that journalists were intimidated and harassed by “local officials” under Yushchenko as well, yet it’s quite difficult to find any alerts or articles in English about government suppression of freedom from 2005 to 2010. There are no articles titled, “A disturbing trend of continuing journalist intimidation under Yushchenko” or “Journalists are intimidated – the long arm of Yushchenko?” Why? Because the West liked Yushchenko and it was willing to delineate between what is a deep seated structural problem of law and order and the role of press in society (prevalent not only in Ukraine, but many places in Eastern Europe at the current moment) from government conspiracies.
Ironically, in another craftily titled piece, “Media Crackdown Under Way?,” a voice of reason is quoted about the recent developments. Valeriy Ivanov, who has been analzying Ukrainian press freedom for years, remarked:
The latest shenanigans are nothing out of the ordinary. But what’s important is whether journalists, their owners and the new authorities can find a way to settle their differences amicably. If that happens, then we’re making progress. [italics mine]
That they’re nothing out of the ordinary is not only the real news item here, but also the problem. What Yanukovych does to correct this problem is how he should be judged, not solely based on ideologically driven hysteria from the West.