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19.11.2011 | Halya Coynash

Zero Tolerance for Taxpayer-funded TV Lies

   

Response to a letter from the State-run UTV-1 to its critics to mark International Tolerance Day”

The rules of etiquette demand reciprocity: you call me a good specialist and I praise your wonderful writing skills. The State-owned TV channel UTV-1 praises us for constructive criticism, and we need to reply in kind. Only that’s where the difficulties begin, since what they should be praised for is by no means clear. For nice-sounding words?  For the lack of dissonant notes? 

The letter to Telekritika whose monitoring regularly finds UTV-1 to be the worst or second to worst offender for distortion or muffling of information and lack of balance was timed to coincide with International Tolerance Day on 16 November.  Here too there is a problem with reciprocity. We should most certainly be tolerant of different views, traditions, way of life, but tolerance of lies and manipulation?  Forget it. Lies are precisely what the viewer gets fed on UTV-1 news and political talk shows, and for that toxic fare there can be no tolerance.  Of course one can find some successful programmes on UTV-1 however the “dark side of the coin” which the letter mentions will become no lighter as a result.

UTV-1 claims that it is all for “effective dialogue” and that their work has no point without Telekritika and public assessment in general.  Such assessment has, up till now, had no effect, but we must keep trying. After all, at the level of words there should be broad consensus that any channel needs to cover the most important events in the country and world objectively and from all sides. There might even be agreement – in words – that it is quite unacceptable to spend taxpayers’ money on a montage of words and interviews misleading those same taxpayers. And that it is equally inadmissible to conceal information of public importance.

On 15 November Viktor Yanukovych met the Presidents of Poland and Germany in Wroclaw. One can assume that he heard few nice-sounding words. It would have been stupid to totally ignore the reason for such discordant notes on the day that the ruling majority in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada effectively refused to release former Prime Minister and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. The President’s views were reported as follows on UTV-1.

“The President regrets that there are attempts being made to link the issue of Ukraine’s European integration with the Tymoshenko case.

Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine:  This issue is undoubtedly one of the issues which is at the present time obstructing the question probably of the ratification of these accords by several countries. We are working on this issue and I want to say that any interference in the judicial system by those in power is impossible”

The words about non-interference in the judicial system have a fine ring to them. What a shame indeed that there are some nasty people who can’t understand something so simple and are getting in the way of our European integration.

Are we to thank UTV-1 for explaining everything so well to their viewers?  The question is entirely rhetorical. The following is just some of what they forgot to tell the Ukrainian consumer who only pays for the low-grade fare which others prefer to feed them on.

As the BBC Ukrainian Service was told by Marcin Woicechowski, the regime in Ukraine do not understand that persecution of political opponents and members of the former government is incompatible with European values and they do, in his opinion, realize the danger that the signing of the Association Agreement will fall through. “

It is worth noting that the report on the BBC Ukrainian Service began with Viktor Yanukovych’s words, including his assertion that those in power do not interfere in the work of the courts. There were no value judgments, with the position of one side given, and then the other.

In the following interview we do in fact hear only one side to the dispute however the reason for this is directly linked with UTV-1. The Head of the European Commission in Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pintu Teisheira was refused permission to take part in Savik Shuster’s political talk show on UTV-1 in order to explain the EU position on difficulties in relations with Ukraine.  Mr Teisheira was forced to find another way of conveying this to Ukrainians.

“We are concerned that the former Prime Minister and other government officials have become the target of selective application of the law in order to prevent them taking part in the country’s political life. This is what the problem is”,

“If Ukraine wants to move on that path [towards European integration], you need to respect our values, among them being the rule of law and the right of citizens to a fair trial. We do not see that in Ukraine, particularly in the case of Ms Tymoshenko. She is being tried according to laws written in the time of Stalin and Khrushchev.  That does not comply with European values. Even the very court proceedings failed to meet our understanding of the justice system”.

One can cite any number of clear explanations as to why the issue of Ukraine’s moves closer to the EU now depends on the fate of Tymoshenko, Yury Lutsenko and others. As well as government and EU bodies, you’ll also find them in the world media and in some Ukrainian media outlets, as well as on the Internet. Not though on most Ukrainian TV channels, including UTV-1 who see fit to confine themselves to some vague phrases. The fog so to speak is left for the President to clear with his interpretation of the situation.

Are we perhaps expected to treat as the “light side of the coin” the fact that we probably receive full information about some event or other in the UK or Italy, and not a hotchpotch of half-lies from carefully selected snippets of information? 

That’s no small demand. If what President Yanukovych calls “attempts to link the issue of Ukraine’s European integration with the Tymoshenko case” are unwarranted, then why not present the accusations and provide grounds for refuting them? Why not give the Head of the European Commission in Ukraine the opportunity to put the European case and then demonstrate exactly why it is mistaken?

And at the end of the day, why is not possible to provide full and truthful coverage, establish and play by honest rules and compete with your opponents, not try to remove them from the playing field?

It would be senseless to expect answers to these questions, but just as futile for the regime and its propaganda machine to expect tolerance. 

 

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