The Cost of Words


The adverse consequences of the recent sensation manufactured around a Hitler doll / model cannot, unfortunately, be eradicated by apologies alone. We do, nonetheless, welcome the BBC’s readiness to acknowledge that mistakes were made and hope that important lessons have been learned.

We are posting our correspondence with Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News, with her permission.

These letters were preceded by one on 25 April in which we expressed concern about grave inaccuracies in the report, lack of objectivity and balanced presentation, and reminded the BBC of the right to information and of fundamental principles of good journalism.  When no response was forthcoming, we expressed our concerns in material which we sent to the BBC on 30 April and circulated through the Internet and media outlets*.  Not wishing to watch this untruthful information roam the Internet with reference being made to the BBC, we wrote a further letter on 5 May, then another the next day. We explained that merely taking the report off their site was insufficient, and asked for a public apology. We sent similar letters to the other media outlets asking that they remove the distorted information and issue a public retraction. 

Ms Boaden also provided a press statement, however without her answer to two questions we feel unable to post it here. The statement includes, we imagine accidentally, a mistaken description of the doll/model in question, which one way or another misled people two weeks ago. We would stress that in Andriy Kapustin’s original article which some media outlets distorted beyond recognition, the subject was a Hitler doll or model which was absolutely not intended for children. The word “toy” therefore cannot be applied. We have asked the BBC to take this into account and are inviting the Service which has always enjoyed the trust of Ukrainians to themselves publish their press statement.

At present we are awaiting the result of an investigation which, as we are informed, the Daily Mail is carrying out. Unfortunately we have still not received any response to our letters to the Daily Telegraph. It is hard to believe that the letters were not received since the articles which aroused such well-deserved criticism disappeared from the sites of both newspapers mentioned here after we sent another letter, this time speaking of our intention to complain to the Press Complaints Commission.

We find the stubborn refusal by Deutsche Welle to follow their British colleagues in removing false information baffling. One can present different value judgments for the sake of pluralism and to stimulate discussion, however when the actual information to which their anonymous author refers is incorrect and unbalanced, then this is simply a violation of the audience’s right to information.

In the letters we wrote to both Deutsche Welle and Daily Mail, we asked for an explanation as to why we were not permitted to present an alternative opinion among their reactions to the articles in question. This is more akin to censorship than free exchange of views.

We hope for a wise decision from the media outlets involved, but would publicly state that should a public apology not be forthcoming by 20 May, we will be forced to make a complaint to the British and German media watchdogs. We will also publish all correspondence (in one case entirely one-sided) on sites and in publications available to us.

Over the last three years Ukraine has received relatively good ratings on freedom of speech, in contrast to many of its post-Soviet neighbours.

It is also cheering that a lot of Ukrainian media outlets have created their own sections dedicated to human rights subjects, or regularly cover such issues.

All of this gives us the opportunity to develop civic society and unite our efforts in combating existing problems.

It is quite unacceptable that this freedom should be used in order to circulate false information and discredit our country.

We intend to continue obstructing any attempts to mislead people or stir up antagonism. We will be delighted to cooperate closely with media outlets and all concerned parties.

Let us demonstrate together that in any case involving fabricated sensations, unchecked information, or failure to present object and balanced reports, rather than repeated imposed stereotypes, it will by no means be our reputation which suffers.

Halya Coynash  Yevhen Zakharov 

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group


This is not a C19 novel, so we are first giving the relevant correspondence. For the record, our first letters which were not answered are provided at the end.

7 May

Dear Halya Coynash

Thank you for your emails and for bringing this issue to our attention.

I have taken your complaint very seriously and spoken to those involved in broadcasting the report on the morning of April 23.

I agree that the content of this piece of work did not live up to the high editorial standards required by BBC News.  The journalist whose comments were included in the item should not have been used without his words being balanced and put into context.  The facts of the story should have been checked: it has turned out that the toy was not manufactured in Ukraine, but in Taiwan. Also, the origin of the story should have been a factor taken into consideration. At the very least, the source of the story should have been shared with the audience so that they could make up their own minds about its veracity.

By way of explanation, though not as an excuse, it is important to stress that the report was put together during a busy overnight shift in London and compiled in good faith. The  source was EVN – the system of exchanging news between broadcasters. This is part of the European Broadcasting Union, of which the Moscow-based Channel One is a member.

It is also worth noting that as soon as our news editors became aware of the concerns about the broadcast they withdrew it from the website and from further transmission.

Your comments have been fed back to the team involved and a reminder about the need to question all sources of information has been sent to colleagues. Please be assured that lessons have been learned from this incident and we are sorry for the offence that it has caused.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Boaden

Director, BBC News

(7 May)  Dear Ms Boaden,

Thank you for your letter.

I am glad that there is agreement that the report was unacceptable, and certainly hope that lessons will be learned.

I had already written the texts enclosed today (the article in Ukrainian as well, the press release in three languages), however adapted them slightly because of your letter.

I am afraid I cannot feel that a private letter is appropriate under the circumstances, given the very serious damage and distress caused. .As you will see from the material enclosed, we will be seeking this public statement.  I would also suggest that from the BBC’s point of view, a public statement in English, Ukrainian and Russian would go some way towards restoring people’s confidence in your Service.  Please forgive me if that sounds harsh, however I am aware for seriously undermined my trust has been, and I suspect I am not alone..

Yours sincerely,

Halya Coynash

8 May

Dear Halya Coynash

Thank you for your further email. I should like to reassure you that we have already taken steps to try to prevent a similar problem recurring and I have drawn this matter to the attention of senior colleagues. I am happy for you to publish our private correspondence and also to supply you with our press statement, translated into Ukrainian and into Russian:

(8 May)  Dear Ms Boaden,

Thank you and I will in that case do as you suggest.

I tried to avoid sounding paranoid, but for your reference, I would reiterate, this time more strongly, that the stories I mention in the texts you received, for example, about Tymchyna, are almost certainly being manufactured deliberately. Looking at how the story here was trasnsported, and changed, so very rapidly, I have no doubt that there was deliberate intent (not on the journalists’ part) to spread misinformation of the worst kind..  This is of great concern and I do hope you will all keep it in mind.  If any of your investigative journalists would like to look into this, I would be more than happy to provide them with information (which I would encourage them to check thoroughly!).

Thank you for this response.  I will send you a copy of anything I place on our sites regarding this incident.

Yours sincerely,

Halya Coynash

9 May

Dear Ms Boaden,

I am trying to put together material to issue here in all languages, and wonder if I could clarify a couple of points.

1) When you use the word press statement, what exactly do you mean?  Has this statement been released to the press, and if not, are you planning to do so, and when?

2)  I am a little concerned that the word "toy" (in all languages) is in fact misleading. To me the term implies something for children.  Nothing about this Hitler model or figurine (including the exorbitant price, incidentally) suggests that it was intended for children.

I am sorry to hurry you, but if there is any chance of a response this afternoon, I would be grateful.

Yours sincerely,

Halya Coynash

25 April  (no response)

Dear Ms Hadden,

Among the rights and objectives which my colleagues and I in the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group devote our attention to are fighting xenophobia and incitement to all kinds of enmity, access to information and freedom of speech.

I am afraid I was extremely disturbed to see a BBC news report about dolls on sale in Kyiv and feel that the feature was seriously flawed. 

I was aware that such dolls, made in Taiwan, are available in Kyiv in at least one shop.  The price is prohibitively high, and they are most clearly not for the average Ukrainian child.  The article which, as far as I can see, triggered off all the reports this week, was a reflective article by Kapustin in last Friday’s issue of "Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" (I give the reference here to the Russian version:  I would be more than happy to translate the article, should you require). The author is offered a doll, with one change of clothes and a head with a "kinder" face.  He ascertains that the doll was made in Taiwan. Mr Kapustin reflects on the grotesque nature of this find and is clearly appalled that anybody could want to buy such a doll.

This article, I believe, prompted a feature on the Russian State-owned television channel ORT which would appear to have provided the entire feature shown on BBC.

None of my Kyiv colleagues are aware of any "rush on such dolls", and indeed find the idea absurd for many reasons, as well as the fact that 1200 UAH is more than a very large number of people earn in a month. 

We are all aware of cases of racism, and that there has been an increase in skinhead activity.  The numbers are still relatively low, although we are by no means inclined to minimize the problem (you will find plenty of coverage of all such cases at in English as well as Ukrainian).  I would be most grateful for clarification of the remark about cases of "extreme racism like those seen in Nazi Germany".  This is especially important given the immediate interview, the only one, with a person who is known in Ukraine as having an extremely strong anti-Orange, anti-Yushchenko point of view.  I would stress that I have no problem with asking his opinion, however this opinion was given to apparently corroborate a vague but serious allegation, and there was no alternative opinion offered.

The opinion Mr Buzina expressed in the programme on ORT which the BBC clearly used is one pushed very strongly in Russia at present.  Opinions vary widely in Ukraine over the figure of Roman Shukhevych and the posthumous naming of him as Hero of Ukraine.  The entirely twisted description of Shukhevych, however, and suggestion that Nazi dolls should now be expected in any Ukrainian home, was thoroughly typical for a Russian State-run television channel which has earned a very dubious reputation. Without an alternative view, it is a presentation I would not have expected to see on the BBC.

I would be most grateful if you could explain any other sources of information you have if you believe my comments to be unfair.

Alternatively, I would be more than happy to provide different point of view, including should you wish, a translation of the article in this case, or a review of the situation as far as racial enmity is concerned.

We are making efforts to rectify major problems in the country.  It is very frustrating when a lot of time is spent trying to counter accusations and suggestions which, like all inaccurate and imbalanced information, mislead the public.

Yours sincerely,

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Email from 30 April: Subject Hitler dolls from Taiwan courtesy of Russia’s ORT and the BBC

Good evening!

I am enclosing an appeal and article which I very much wish I had not been compelled to write. You may also be interested to know that this is by no means the first occasion when highly dubious "stories" have been passed to the press.  The URLs here are to a story which is worth bearing in mind.

Yours sincerely,

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

The material sent is available at:  and

  5 May 2008

Good Evening!

I am writing in connection with the unfortunate use by the BBC of a report erroneously entitled: "A toymaker in Ukraine has sparked outrage". The report contained serious omissions (the doll was made in Taiwan), inaccuracies and extraordinary lack of balance. There was also no reference to the source of the entire report (Russian ORT).

The news clip was removed from your site after what I assume was a large number of complaints (I enclose both my letters). There has been no apology, nor any attempt to correct the misleading information.

Given the fact that the entirely wrong title and picture are saved in the Google cache, and the "story" with many of the BBC features is now spread through the media in different countries and different languages, we are convinced that an apology and clear acknowledgement that the material was flawed are vital. You may be aware that one Internet site has already made a public statement which we welcomed here and reiterating our call for other media outlets, including the BBC, to do the same.

We are convinced that the material was not presented to mislead the public. In fact, there are grounds for suspecting that all of the media outlets which originally featured this "story" may have been fed false information. Be that as it may, the incident has yet again disseminated offensive, biased and quite simply incorrect information about Ukraine, and has also seriously damaged very many Ukrainians’ confidence in the impartiality and reliability of the BBC.

We would be grateful for a reply at your earliest convenience since if a refutation is not forthcoming, we will be forced to approach the Press Complaints Commission and Broadcasting Standards Commission. We will also feel compelled to use our own websites, and all other information means at our disposal, to ensure that people are aware that the information for which your renowned service is one of the sources is biased and misleading.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

 6 May 2008

Good evening!

I am writing this last letter since the BBC removed highly misleading reports about Hitler dolls.  I have no need to explain why the material was wrong since you yourself removed it, but did in fact go into considerable detail in the material I sent you yesterday..  The material in question was:

I wrote last night asking for an apology and retraction given the amount of damage your report caused and the fact that it has spread widely, with references to the BBC.

I received a letter from the complaints section this evening, suggesting that I follow this procedure. In fact, however, given that my first complaint was sent to the author of the report and other BBC addresses on 25 April, I am afraid trying to grapple with your procedure at this late stage simply allows the misinformation to gather force. I believe it is quite clear from all the material which I sent why we are complaining about the above report.

I am therefore forced to ask for some kind of response, not simply an invitation to complain, which I have already done clearly and unambiguously three times by tomorrow, Tuesday 6 May.  If this is not forthcoming, we will assume that we should take further measures. These include making formal complaints to UK media standards watchdogs (for example, the Press Complaints Commission and Broadcasting and Standards Commission).  We will also be obliged to use our websites and those of media outlets to explain clearly why this shameful misinformation has not been stemmed.

Below I give references to some of the sites which have published our material. I expect the number to grow.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

In English -  (also and

In Ukrainian



Recommend this post

forgot the password




send me a new password

on top