07.05.2008 | Halya Coynash

Lies leave toxic waste


Over two weeks a near non-existent story has mutated and spread throughout the world’s media.  We have seen most graphically how a lie once printed or broadcast can spread and leave hazardous toxic waste. For some of us, this was nothing new, and I will endeavour to explain why below.

There are, unfortunately, unexpected features like the willingness by reputable media sources to participate in the pollution and their reluctance to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

There is, it must be said, a certain Soviet odour about the whole story. The particular view of Ukraine obediently transmitted to the world by the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, together with Russia’s ORT television and other media outlets, as a hotbed of fascism and / or anti-Semitism is the stuff that Soviet propaganda (or should we say, hate speech) about Ukraine was made of.  Other interesting similarities arose during forum discussions after it became clear that this time Ukrainians were fighting back.  Assiduous attempts were made by certain participants to divert attention from the issue, that being our right to truthful information, to “safer” fighting ground – accusations about a War none of us personally lived through. They tried equally hard to convince others that the major Western media were full of “agents”, and – a classic Soviet refrain – “what did you expect?” – “they all lie”.  

The latter is a purely rhetorical question, however let me answer once and for all: I expected and expect a great deal more and I believe we all have the right to demand more.  Nor, in fact, do I believe that this argument is more than a tactic aimed at getting us to accept a filthy information environment, teeming with toxic waste and thoroughly hazardous to our health.

We have a chance of living in a safe natural environment only when we impose stringent measures to control those inclined to act irresponsibly and pollute our world. The principle is clear: the pollutant answers for their actions.  Where those who pass on inaccurate, unverified and misleading information spread lies, they must also take measures to eliminate the damage.

We would recommend that the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph check out their information sources and consider in future the acceptability of stories, taken from biased sources, or goodness knows where, which twist their source or are based from the outset more on stereotypes than on fact. We can give them helpful examples of other cases where stories were manufactured and have continued to be flogged, regardless of official statements demonstrating their fictitious nature. 

We will mention here only one – a crime which never happened. In November 2007, the website MIGnews produced a sensational story about how a certain Mr Tymchyna had made a horrific remark at a ceremony to unveil a monument to the Victims of Holodomor. MIGnews claimed, and then repeated, with embellishments, the next day that this elderly man had declared that “our time” had come and that the Dnipro River would become red with the blood of Jews and Russians (with offensive terms being used for both).  Supposedly all public officials present had looked at the ground and said nothing. Presumably this was not deemed sufficient and by the next day the silence was suggested to be due to a directive from above. Neither the absence of the suspect at the place of the alleged crime, nor the lack of the said crime during a more or less similar event attended by Tymchyna (after all the Security Service and the prosecutor’s office checked everything) has not deterred a certain contingent of media outlets, in Russia and Ukraine, from continuing to refer to a non-existent fact. Note also that they do so in “proof” of Ukrainians’ alleged xenophobia, anti-Semitism and so on and so forth.   

The lessons are well worth learning. 

The BBC reacted swiftly to criticism by quietly removing the offensive material.  The English newspapers totally ignored our first letters. However notification on Sunday that we were planning to take the matter up with the Press Complaints Commission would seem to have been of some concern to at least one of the newspapers (the Daily Mail) - and now both newspapers’ articles are not available. At present Deutsche Welle either ignores complaints or gives, to put it mildly, unconvincing explanations as to why they published the material, and why they’re not removing it.

The fact that three of the outlets have removed their material demonstrates that the public can have an influence, and that they themselves know that they published false information. We hope that Deusche Welle will also recognize that it has no right to deceive its readers.

We must, however, remind the said media outlets that we can no longer be talking of silent withdrawal of material. We suggest that they type a couple of keywords from their own texts in Google. They will immediately see the toxic residue from irresponsible and unprofessional reports.

We will mention only two examples. The title for the BBC report has been saved in Google. It is worth noting that the erroneous statement about a Ukrainian toymaker was effectively all that distinguished the BBC report from the ORT (longer) original.  Even the biased, not objective and unnamed source copied by the BBC does not claim that the dolls were made in Ukraine. Whether the BBC decided that this small, albeit crucial, detail entitled them to not cite their source is not clear, the damage however from this accuracy was huge.  It is worth pointing out that bias, unwarranted allegations and the lack of alternative points of view on ORT surprise few. It was however these things that disturbed people accustomed to thinking they could trust the BBC.

The article from Daily Mail can be found on various sites and even in different languages. You’ll find references to the original source there, but not the name of the author which was not on the original. Nor was there a reference to the original article that the anonymous author so shamelessly twisted when he wrote about possible “model concentration camps with operating models of gas chambers and crematoriums”.  Both in that text, removed under pressure only after almost two weeks, and on the Deutsche Welle site, there are a great deal of lies which create a terrible impression of the country.

It is galling that you can buy the doll in one shop in Kyiv, as well as in England, the USA and other countries. I don’t think I will ever fathom how people can buy figures of Hitler and Stalin. However something else remains quite incomprehensible. How can you manufacture a sensation based on lies at the expense of a nation which suffered from fascists and butchers of all breeds? The Nazis committed atrocities throughout Ukraine during World War II, they murdered most Ukrainian Jews and large numbers of others living in Ukraine. The inaccurate estimates of Ukraine’s War dead pale before the scale and toxicity of the other lies and distortions in all texts presently rife in the Internet, but they are no less profoundly offensive to Ukrainians whose own families suffered so terribly.

9 May is Victory Day in Ukraine. People will be remembering all victims of the Nazi scourge with flowers, and candles.  It would be a fitting act of remembrance if we can all work together to ensure that the lies and poison spread in recent days throughout the Internet are removed.

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