Cynical propaganda mileage from journalist’s death
Journalist Igor Kornelyuk and sound engineer Anton Voloshin from the Russian state-owned TV channel Rossiya 24 are reported to have been killed on June 17, after being caught in mortar fire not far from Luhansk. In sadness and sympathy for their families all are united. In little else, unfortunately, and the uses already being made by Moscow and the Russian media to present Russian journalists as heroic defenders of the truth make clarification necessary.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has, at the request of OSCE, instructed that an investigation be made into the deaths. The Russian Foreign Ministry and media have clearly decided that they know who the ’culprits’ are without investigation.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry claims that the journalists came under fire in a place where there were no military targets although what this means in the present conflict against heavily armed militants is less than apparent. The channel itself states that they were near a militant checkpoint and that the ‘self-defence’ [otherwise known as Kremlin-backed insurgents] were trying to get a group of civilians out of the danger zone. The Ukrainian anti-terrorist operation and SBU assert that the military came under attack from militants. They also refute the channel’s claim, and say that the journalists were in camouflage gear without any way of distinguishing them from the militants.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is categorical in asserting that the tragedy is yet more proof of “the whole criminal nature of the forces who have unleashed a punitive operation in the east of Ukraine as a result of which civilians are continuing to die”. “We are proud of all journalists who …. are courageously bringing the truth about the real events in Ukraine. It is precisely this truth that is feared by the Kyiv authorities and the various paramilitary formations which have imposed real terror against journalists from Russia.”
Rossiya 24 takes the same line, blaming the Ukrainian authorities and army. It clearly suggests, both in its main report and in an article on the site that “Russian journalists in Ukraine have become the target which the Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainian authorities are hunting”. It is the Ukrainian authorities, the channel’s correspondent claims, who are seeking escalation of the conflict in the east of the country. Through Tuesday evening, various pro-Kremlin TV channels repeated allegations that the military must have known that they were "shooting unarmed journalists". With the unrelenting barrage of such claims, as well as similar hype from many Russian politicians, Russian viewers could easily come to see Russian intervention – in defence of the truth, of course – as the country’s sacred duty.
A particularly disturbing note comes from Aram Gabrelyanov, head of the MediaNews publishing holding. “We need to understand that all of us journalists are at war with the fascists. The fascists are carrying out genocide of their own people, and are trying to kill us journalists so that we don’t tell the truth, that they are killing ordinary people and civilians. “
“We Russian journalists”, he says, will not be cowered, and will continue telling the truth about what these fascists, real scum, are doing. Russia’s President, he hopes, will use his power and force to influence these same ‘fascists’.
“I don’t believe that western media will show any solidarity. I believe that we here must unite – both journalists and the Russian public and show that we are a strong country and strong society who will try to not let anybody be badly treated.”
On this stirring but rather chilling note given Russia’s claimed right to ’protect’ its own citizens, including with military force, in any country, it would be well to consider the ‘truth’ that Rossiya 24 and other Russian media are supposedly telling.
Kornelyuk’s last report on Monday claimed that “in the village of Shchastya the punitive forces have killed almost the entire local population”. The most charitable assessment of the news item would be that the journalist ignored the principles of balanced and objective reporting. Only the militants, described in positive terms, as fighters of a people’s militia army, and representatives of a ’people’s republic’, are heard, meaning that the claims that a mass purge by Ukraine’s military is underway, that “the civilian population is being killed, women and children, everybody – from 16 to 50” will be received by the viewers as undisputed fact.”
The head of the Information Resistance group, Dmitry Tymchuk is more forthright. He asserts that both Kornelyuk and Voloshin were in Ukraine illegally and that they were there to provide information backing, effectively propaganda for the pro-Russian militants.
Whatever the truth about the two men killed, the role of truth-bearer attributed Rossiya 24, LifeNews, Zvezda and other channels is less than plausible. On May 16, for example, Rossiya 24 used footage from the North Caucuses in 2012 as supposed evidence of atrocities by the Ukrainian military in 2014. On June 9 LifeNews claimed, without any justification, that the village of Semenivka had been razed to the ground by the Ukrainian forces. Three days later Rossiya 24 and LifeNews used video footage from Iraq in 2004, claiming it to show Ukrainian use of illegal phosphorous bombs in Semenivka. The list of such examples based on fake ’evidence’ or claims by one party to the conflict is long. Such deliberate attempts to mislead the viewer are regularly exposed by the NGO Stopfake and western media, although Russia’s Foreign Ministry continues undeterred to present them as further evidence of Kyiv’s ’crimes’.
The close coordination evident between the Kremlin and most Russian media, the same supposed villains and heroes and general narrative have very little to do with real journalism. Even less do they have in common with the truth.