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14.05.2008 | Halya Coynash

Battle notes

   

  On 13 May Deutsche Welle finally removed a scandalous article about the “Hitler doll” from their site. In her letter to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the Editor of the English Page of DW-World Kristin Zeier writes;

“I take your concerns very seriously and have also exchanged emails with the editor in chief of the Ukrainian media publication Telekritika. We will shortly conduct an interview with Yevgeny Minko explaining the background of the story and the way it was reported in the English media. We feel it is best to explain to our readers how such an inaccurate and misleading story came about and we feel an interview with a Ukrainian journalist specializing in freedom of press and the ethics of journalism is an appropriate way to deal with this. In the meantime we have removed the article from our site.”

  Ms Zeier then explains that the English Website of Deutsche Welle used English and German wire reports from Deutsche Presse Agentur and Reuters, as well as a BBC video and several stories in the English press. “If these sources were inaccurate, we could not have known that at the time, as none of them referred back to an original Ukrainian report and none of the wires retracted their original report.”

We are delighted that this shameful article should have finally been removed, however must note one or two inaccuracies.  Deutsche Presse Agentur (DAP) did in fact refer to an article in “Dzerkalo tyzhnya”, albeit mangling the Ukrainian name.  One of the original stories published in the Daily Telegraph also refers to this Ukrainian newspaper, and it is equally clear that the “author” of the article has not only not read the Ukrainian source, but not even come close to it, since s/he joins in on distorting the name. They thus were aware of the (purported) source of the information from the outset. It remains, of course, unclear, why none of the five original media outlets (DAP, BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph) which infected the world media on such a wide scale with lies read the original source.

On 6 May Ms Zeier exchanged emails with the Editor of “Telekritika” Yevhen Minko who pointed out the source and a number of discrepancies between the original and the article in DW – World. Ms Zeier’s response was that DPA, the Daily Telegraph and BBC speak of a Ukrainian toy manufacturer. Presumably it was of little interest that the author of the “Dzerkalo tyzhnya” article clearly states that the doll was made in Taiwan!

  Ms Zeier also said that the English website of DW did not plan to remove the article. “Instead it would be much better to publish a retraction and to explain how the story was spread as a result of a twisted translation and how misinformation contributed to inaccurate reporting.”

  We can agree with Ms Zeier and can only regret that none of this happened.  The article remained in place and no interview with the Editor of “Telekritika” at the time materialized. All my letters, and those of very many other disgusted readers, remained unanswered until 13 May when I began not only writing, but telephoning.

  Lest anybody think I am singling out Deutsche Welle, I would add some balance by saying that I have no less criticism for any of the five media outlets who began this dreadful epidemic of lies. All of them took material from an unchecked source. They all demonstrated some difficulty in understanding that information about Ukraine is better checked in Ukraine, and not in Russia, or by consulting the English and German media.

  Furthermore, almost all of them showed a strange reluctance to react to the situation. We do not think that they set out to mislead people, but that was what eventuated. They could have reduced the damage by removing the inaccurate information as soon as they received the first dozen or so complaints. They preferred not to. At least, it is in theory possible that these media outlets provide emails for comments, complaints and news, but nobody in fact actually reads them. Although then, of course, it’s hard to understand, why the articles disappeared from the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail last week, after I mentioned in yet another letter that we were planning to approach the Press Complaints Commission. The Assistant Editor of the Daily Mail even wrote a letter apologizing. Only the letter was to an individual and apologized for the distress caused, not for spreading misleading information. However at least he didn’t deny that the article had been removed following our complaints. The Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, wrote that they had not seen any of my letters (although I had received automatic confirmations of receipt for all of them) and had removed the article because they often do that (?!).  They wrote that after those magic words about the Press Complaints Commission were repeated, and now again one has the impression that my letters are suspended near some black hole. Let them hang there until they’re asked for by that selfsame media watchdog.

  We have demonstrated that we don’t plan to remain silent when mud is unfairly slung at us. If some people are only prepared to believe this with the assistance of the Press Complaints Commissions in England or other countries, than so be it.

  We have asked for a retraction and apology for misleading information since the latter is roaming the media and leaving its poison. It is unacceptable to circulate unchecked and biased information, however it is even worse to not answer for the damage caused. There is no such thing as collective responsibility.

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