On questionable news coverage by the Ukrainian version of Euronews
To the management of Euronews (sent by email on 16 February)
Philippe Cayla, Chief Executive Officer
Michael Peters, Managing Director
Dear Mr Cayla and Mr Peters,
I am writing to express grave concern over continuing discrepancies in coverage of events in Ukraine in the Ukrainian and English language versions of Euronews. The following is in no way an attempt to encroach on the editorial policy of any local office. My concern and that of colleagues is solely over differences which arouse well-founded doubts as to whether coverage of events being followed throughout the world is thorough and balanced.
Any suggestion of selective news coverage aimed at softening or concealing facts or criticism of embarrassment to those in power must have serious impact on an information channel’s reputation. We would ask you to have the allegations here checked and to comment upon them. This letter is open since the concern that Ukrainian viewers are being misled is not voiced for the first time.
The Stop Censorship Movement addressed an appeal to the Euronews management back in October 2010 after the agreement between your channel and the State-owned National Television Company of Ukraine [NTCU] was made public. All of the warnings in that appeal remain highly relevant with respect to the questionable role of NTCU / the First National TV Channel [UTV-1] and the possible use of the Ukrainian office of Euronews by the authorities for propaganda purposes. It remains difficult to understand why the Coordination Council for Ukrainian Euronews was made up of Yegor Benkendorf, NTCU General Director and author of a hagiographic film about President Yanukovych and his Deputy, Valid Arfush. The latter had in recent months publicly stated that “UTV-1 must definitely be pro-government” and “should always cover the work of the government, provide only positive information to the viewers”.
Concerns were in no way allayed by differences in coverage in the English and Ukrainian reports about the protests on Independence Day in Kyiv, the day the Ukrainian version of Euronews was launched. Details can be found in Euronews: The Adapted Version.
The lack of response to widespread criticism then was surprising given so many “mistakes” in one news report. As of February 2012 the number of reports which arouse at very least doubts has risen sharply.
Judging from reports in four languages (English, Ukrainian, Russian and Polish), news items themselves are repeated in all versions. They differ mainly in their length, this being entirely logical. Obviously a report from Ukraine may be of greater interest to Ukrainians than French viewers, and the likely level of knowledge about the subject matter will also need to be taken into consideration.
In fact, however, there are cases where it is precisely the Ukrainian language version which seems suspiciously succinct.
Reports from 11 November 2011
[My translation: New charges against Yulia Tymoshenko. While supporters of the former Prime Minister protest against the court ruling sentencing her to 7 years imprisonment for abuse of office, and her defence lawyers have lodged an appeal, the State Tax Service is charging the politician with tax evasion and concealing foreign currency revenue from the UESU corporation.
KIEV, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, already sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office, has been charged with tax evasion, theft and concealing foreign currency revenues, the State Tax Administration said on Friday.
The charges are linked to her activities as the head of gas trading firm, United Energy Systems of Ukraine, it said in a statement, a post she held in the 1990s. Tymoshenko has denied all earlier charges against her and said her trial reflected a political vendetta waged by President Viktor Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in a presidential vote last year. Echoing her position, the European Union has warned Ukraine it may not sign planned bilateral deals on political association and free trade if Tymoshenko remains in jail.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
It is not especially clear why the English version of Euronews cites a Reuters source however the excessively, shall we say, concise nature of the Ukrainian version is unquestionable inadequate. We would note that both the first trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the additional criminal prosecutions have elicited unequivocal accusations of political motivation by representatives of all European bodies and democratic states. Are we supposed to regard the lack of even a mention of the fact that it is by no means only “supporters” of Tymoshenko who are protesting over her sentence and expressing doubts about the new prosecutions as just another regrettable “mistake”? Or is the information supposed to be all too obvious to the Ukrainian audience? How should it be obvious if UTV-1, together with other pro-government channels, assiduously mentions as little as possible about such unpleasant allegations?
Reports from 16 November
Here it is not only the differences in content which are of concern, but one place in the Ukrainian which viewers could quite simply not understand. If something is unclear from the words, as reported, spoken by the MP in question, then they need to be explained. This is, in fact, what the English does very adequately. The Ukrainian report, unfortunately, is reminiscent of many such reports on UTV-1 where the “opposition” are given a purely formal opportunity to have their say. The English version reports and explains what the conflict is about, the Ukrainian – the President’s position and why he is in Wrocław.
[My translation: VR rejects decriminalization of the “Tymoshenko article”
The Verkhovna Rada has rejected at the initiative of deputies from the ruling Party of the Regions amendments on decriminalizing the article of the Criminal Code under which one of the leaders of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko was imprisoned. The amendments would have made it possible to release Tymoshenko from prison.
Leader of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko in the Verkhovna Rada, Ivan Kyrylenko
“We wrote out verbatim this article from the text of the convention, not changing one comma, full stop or hyphen. We consider this implementation. Yet they didn’t vote for it. We are outraged”.
Meanwhile in Wrocław where President Yanukovych was on a visit taking part in the ceremony marking the bicentenary of the local university, he again had to explain the Tymoshenko case.
“Things move on and today we cannot predict how it will end. Therefore the answer to this question can only be given by courts”.
Polish and German colleagues also spoke about that with Ukraine’s President in Wrocław.
Experts predict that the latest development in the Tymoshenko case could be a serious impediment for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which was planned for December.
There were protests in the Ukrainian parliament after it voted against changing a law which could have led to the freeing of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Her supporters were angry at the refusal to decriminalise the abuse-of-power offence under which Tymoshenko has been jailed.
They had attempted to use precepts accepted in international law.
Ivan Kyrylenko, leader of Tymoshenko’s BYuT parliamentary party was outraged: “We rewrote word for word the article from the UN convention’s text, without changing any comma, any dash or any full stop. We consider it applicable. But it was not voted for.”
The EU sees Tymoshenko’s prosecution as politically motivated by her arch rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, and they want to see her jail term quashed. Yanukovych said it was not up to him. “Things move on and today we cannot predict how it will end. Therefore the answer to this question can only be given by courts, ” said the president.
Tymoshenko and her supporters outside the jail where she is due to spend the next seven years say they will apply to the European Court of Human rights to get her conviction thrown out.
Assessment of the EU-Ukraine Summit on 19 December 2011 on leading Ukrainian TV channels largely reflected the upbeat tone by those in power. Less positive assessments were either not mentioned, or given extremely briefly. Here is a typical report from UTV-1.
Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine:
- Our negotiation teams have reached an understanding over the full text of the Association Agreement. I want to confirm the intention of both parties on accelerated preparation of the text of the Agreement for initialling. I view the Association Agreement not only as a document which will transform our relations with the EU into a qualitatively new format of political association and economic integration, but also as a key instrument for achieving the strategic aim of our relations with Europe – membership in this association”.
These were the Ukrainian and English reports of the Summit on Euronews
[My translation: Barroso: . “Rule of Law is the condition for Association between Ukraine and the EU”
A friendly handshake, but without signatures to the agreement on association – that was how the EU-Ukraine Summit ended in Kyiv.”
The negotiations regarding the text of the agreement have ended, however its implementation will depend on Kyiv’s respect for the rule of law and other fundamental values, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso has stated.
Asked whether Ukraine is a law-based democracy, Mr Barroso said that “Ukraine is making progress on this. And we are working to consolidate the reforms. That’s why we’re here today, to offer encouragement, so Ukraine can consolidate the rule of law.”
In the Ukrainian MFA they say that preparation for the initialling of the agreement will take several weeks. Kyiv considers the summit to have been a success in that the EU leaders recognized “Ukraine’s European identity”. In the MFA they view this as “the prospect for membership of the EU”
“The interest of Ukraine is in finding a certain balance in the relationships with the European Union and Russia. However, the priority is given to the European integration. As for the gas issue, it rather pushes Ukraine towards Europe. Ukraine hopes that Europe will be its ally in gas relations with Russia.”, political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko says.
The Ukraine-EU Summit was marred by the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko which, according to the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, is “politically motivated”.
They have finished negotiations but not enough progress has been made for a deal.
A Ukraine-EU summit in Kiev has focused on a possible political and trade agreement.
But the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has become a spoke in the wheel.
“Do we have the rule of law in Ukraine?” our correspondent asked the European Commission President.
“It’s a state that’s making progress on this, ” said José Manuel Barroso. “And we are working to consolidate the reforms. That’s why we’re here today, to offer encouragement, so Ukraine can consolidate the rule of law.”
The European Council President says the signing of any deal depends on what he calls “political circumstances”.
Experts say Ukraine has a difficult balancing act to perform.
Volodymyr Fesenko at the Centre for Applied Political Studies told euronews: “The interest of Ukraine is in finding a certain balance in the relationships with the European Union and Russia. However, the priority is given to the European integration. As for the gas issue, it rather pushes Ukraine towards Europe. Ukraine hopes that Europe will be its ally in gas relations with Russia.”
Supporters of Yulia Tymoshenko protested near the summit, as EU officials voiced concern about what they called “politically-motivated justice”.
Our correspondent in Kiev, Sergio Cantone, says energy-related interests are dictating Ukraine’s political and legal agenda, which puts Kiev on a collision course with Brussels.
As we see, the English version clearly names the imprisonment of the former Prime Minister as the reason for the Summit’s failure, as the impediment to European integration. In the Ukrainian version the trial of Tymoshenko is mentioned once at the end. And that after optimistic words from the Foreign Ministry regarding the “Summit’s success” and “the prospect for membership of the EU”.
Yes, of course, one can “read between the lines” and point to fairly obviously hints about Kyiv’s respect for the rule of law, etc. However we are talking about a TV report where the viewers are hardly likely to even notice such points.
The English language version takes the specific nature of TV news reporting into account and helps viewers by examining an event from different angles. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the Ukrainian team are also well-aware of the specific nature of the genre, but are in no hurry to explain the meaning of the diplomatic phrases, give background, etc. As a result you could almost believe there were two summits – one a failure, the other more or less successful. This coincides to a suspiciously large extent with the position of the present regime on the one hand (reflected in the Ukrainian version), and reports in the world media on the other (in the English Euronews).
There is, however, one Euronews, or at least that is what its viewers believe. They understand very well that softening, muffling or distorting news to please the government of any country does not fall within the scope of an authoritative and reliable information agency or media outlet.
The examples above have all been about the prosecution and imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko. This letter, however, is in defence not of any one individual but of our right to coverage of information of public importance without bias and manipulation. Ukrainians have the right to full, balanced and truthful information from any channel, but especially one whose launch was financed at their expense. All Euronews viewers are equally entitled to expect observance of journalist standards or a public explanation as to the criteria by which news reports are selected and prepared.