Reporting Ukraine

sheepish - Version 2They strut about speaking in outraged tones about the Russian aggressor. They have a strange glint in their eyes as they talk gravely of “costs and consequences” if Moscow continues on its way. They use loaded phrases like ‘new cold war’, ‘Russian Bear’ and ‘Ukraine freedom fighters’ and compare Putin to Hitler. And these are just the journalists.

The mainstream media have become the advance troops in the war of words over Ukraine, not only dutifully echoing the sentiments of our political masters, but apparently believing in them too. They appear to lack the essential ingredient of any news gatherer – curiosity. So when there are claims made at the very highest level that Ukraine snipers killed both protesters and policemen during the February demonstrations these are not deemed worthy of a report let alone an investigation.

And what about those men in black with balaclavas and skinhead hair cuts now forming part of the self-appointed government in Ukraine? They are either not talked about or dismissed as nationalists reasonably mobilising against the Russian dictatorship.

As for the “international community”, this turns out to just the US and the EU, though not all of the EU. Germany, its most powerful member, is the most restrained in its response, while others like Spain and Italy are prevaricating. What the rest of the world thinks, including economic powerhouse and Russia ally, China, is anyone’s guess.

These journalists’ grasp of recent history is also found wanting. They bleat about Russia’s breach of Ukraine sovereignty (hardly an invasion anyway, Russian troops have long been stationed in the Crimea as part of an agreement with Ukraine), forgetting about America’s long list of illegal wars and occupations stretching back decades, including one of the most egregious, Iraq. As ever, everything is focused on the character of one man, Putin, and his apparent desire to reinstate the Russia to its Soviet glory days.

They are happy to ramp up the anti-Russian hysteria, as if personally defending the honour of a west that suddenly appears impotent in the face of Putin refusing to blink. The “first shots fired in the Crimea crisis” turned out to be a couple of warning shots fired in the air as a contingent of 200 Ukrainian troops from an aircraft base advanced towards three Russian soldiers singing the Ukrainian anthem. As the international press were in attendance to film the event, ‘stage-managed’ immediately springs to mind.

For them, claims become facts and facts become claims depending which side makes them. Nothing whatever must be allowed to alter the narrative of Ukraine and west good Russia bad, even as unhinged political voices seem eager to drag the world into a dangerous new conflict with talk of “all options” on the table.

In this propaganda war, the resignation of one news anchor from Russia’s English speaking news channel Russia Today in protest at the channel’s editorial stance (it’s pro-Russian, surprise, surprise), and the criticism of another of Russia’s presence in the Crimea live on air, has been seized upon with glee. Last time I looked Abby Martin was still broadcasting her show and sticking by what she said. Quite unlike what happened when the BBC’s defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan talked of Downing Street “sexing up” the dossier into Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction back in 2003. He was sacked, so was his news editor and both the BBC’s chairman and director general eventually resigned. No wonder, mainstream journalists never dare to go off script these days.

The press as an institution is considered critical to a healthy democracy, creating access to information so that people can make up their own minds about issues and events, and acting as a check to abuses of governmental power. That is not the case at the moment. Make no mistake, the US is still smarting from being held back from bombing Syria last year, while its military interventions thus far in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have proved abject failures. That’s why the stakes are so high over Ukraine. That’s why the mainstream media has in effect become a branch of the government.

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