How can Deutsche Welle take part in a Russian propaganda trip to Crimea?
The German public broadcaster’s commitment to rule of law and to impartial reporting is placed in question by the participation of at least one journalist in a propaganda trip to Crimea organized by the Russian Foreign Ministry, as well as by reports omitting crucial information and words that might offend Russia.
Attempts to get comments from Deutsche Welle before writing this text failed. Objections have now been received, and are given at the bottom, together with my response. The text has been adapted only to stress that a specific visit and specific reports are criticized, not Deutsche Welle as a whole.
Russia does not conceal its reasons for inviting politicians, journalists and others to visit Crimea. They are there to give the impression that Crimea is no longer isolated and that Russia’s annexation has been accepted. The pro-Russian views of most of the politicians who have thus far taken part in propaganda visits are known. The motives of the journalists who went on a recent visit organized by Russia’s Justice Ministry are much less clear, unlike the uses made of their acquiescence, such as in headlines like ‘It is now a fact’: Western journalists visit Crimea, say it’s now ‘Russian territory’ (cached version here) .
A number of media refused to take part, and for very good reason. The trip was organized by an occupying state, and the journalists were not crossing into Crimea via a Ukrainian checkpoint, as required. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution of March 27, 2014 asking countries to do nothing that might indicate acceptance of Russia’s land-grab remains in force. There were no grounds for believing that a tour organized by the Foreign Ministry would ensure that journalists met with those who regard Russian occupation as a tragedy, those who are in prison on politically motivated changes or even with their Crimean colleague Mykola Semena who faces a 5-year sentence for writing an article in which he expressed support for the Crimean Blockade. Even if they did try to deviate from the official line, there was little chance of this being reported, and every likelihood that the visit would be used for propaganda, regardless of what they actually said or wrote.
This, of course, is not how ministry spokesperson Marina Zakharova explained the refusals. She asserted that the media simply didn’t want their audience to know how things really are in Crimea, and they wouldn’t be able to publish “reports about ghettos and reservations, the beating of people and total violation of human rights”.
Those who did go on the trip certainly did not get the opportunity to speak with many people who would certainly have informed them of such rights violations. Unfortunately, however, there is little to indicate that they tried.
If one judges by the media reports, the main focal point of the trip was the Kerch bridge which Russia is trying to build between Russia and Crimea. As well as its illegality, there are also major environmental concerns about this bridge. That was not what the journalists were there to report, and certainly Corey Flintoff from the US National Public Radio (NPR); Liviu Iurea, from TV Romania and Khalid Abdalrahman from the Iraqi broadcaster Rudaw were only effusive in their praise.
There were two journalists whose services went far beyond this: Juri Rescheto, head of the Moscow office of Deutsche Welle and Zhong Su Ha, the head of the Moscow Korean Broadcasting System office. The latter can be heard here telling the Kremlin-funded RT that, when he asked people if they had voted to ‘join Russia’, many had answered yes. Asked if they regretted this, they had said no. “Joining Russia was the will of the people”, we are told.
Rescheto is heard stating that this is not his first time in Crimea. As a correspondent in Moscow, he asserts, he can come here to report various events, etc. He adds, without elaborating, that coming at the information of the Foreign Ministry has enabled him to see things he otherwise could not, and states that they report on the good and bad things.
The Russian government-financed RT reports Rescheto as having said much more. He allegedly asserted that “Crimea has now become a Russian territory regardless of whether we [the West] want it or not” and added that “it is now a fact, a reality.”
There is no evidence of Rescheto or Deutsche Welle having denied that he said this, nor, unfortunately, any reason for surprise given that he has seen fit to use a hashtag claiming that ’CrimeaisRussia’. The journalist was not there in an individual capacity but as a representative of “Germany’s international broadcaster” Deutsche Welle which describes itself further as conveying “Germany as a nation rooted in European culture and as a liberal, democratic state based on the rule of law”.
The rule of law does not allow countries to send armed forces in to seize control of another country’s territory, to change the government at gunpoint and then try to justify annexation through a flawed and fraudulent ‘referendum’. Who more than Germany should know this?
Rescheto had on May 22, 2016 written a piece entitled “Tatars remain resolute in Kremlin-controlled Crimea”. The text certainly indicates that some Crimean Tatars are unhappy about “Russian control”. There is no mention of the military force used to establish that control. Nor are there any specific cases of political persecution, and there were many to choose from. Less than a month earlier Russia had prohibited as ‘extremist’ the internationally recognized Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative body of the main indigenous people of Crimea. The Head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov was banned from Crimea soon after Russia’s invasion, together with veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev. The Deputy Head of the Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz has been in custody now for 18 months on trumped-up charges over a pre-annexation demonstration which Russia has no jurisdiction over, while another Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov had just been formally charged with ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’. This is how an occupying regime qualifies Umerov’s statement that Russia must be forced to leave Crimea and Donbas. Nor was there any mention of the armed searches just 10 days earlier and arrests of four Crimean Tatars, charged with alleged involvement in an organization which is legal in Ukraine.
There was, in short, much that needed to be said, and that was omitted. This was even more dramatic in the news item produced by Rescheto after his Russian state-sponsored visit to Crimea. This is entitled “Times are changing for Crimea’s hotels”, and the site gives the following explanation of what the video report is about.
“Tourism is booming in expensive all-inclusive hotspots but smaller hotel owners are having difficulties filling vacancies. Crimea lost its Ukrainian tourists after the border was closed”.
Despite all Russia’s efforts, Crimean tourism has, in fact, fallen very dramatically, although you might not notice from Rescheto’s footage. What is much more important, however, is what the Deutsche Welle report saw no need to mention. The fall in tourism is not simply linked with Ukrainians having stopped coming. Russia is in breach of international law by occupying Ukrainian Crimea and is under sanctions for doing so. Any tour company or individual visiting Crimea without Ukrainian permission is breaching those sanctions and Ukrainian law.
It will not win you any favours in Moscow to comment on this. In June 2015, the Russian NGO ‘Public Control’ got into a lot of trouble and was threatened with prosecution for issuing a leaflet in which it accurately described Crimea as occupied territory and warned about the legal ramifications of any trips undertaken without Ukrainian permission. A highly questionable criminal investigationwas initiated against the head of Public Control, Mikhail Anshakov just months later.
Winning favours with regimes breaking international law should not be the aim of any journalists, let alone a journalist from a public broadcaster representing Germany.
As mentioned, DW has objected to the above article. The letter states:
I am asking you for an immediate correction, as you have clearly not adhered to the facts. In our coverage, DW has always maintained that the annexation of Crimia by Russia is illegitimate. There are numerous reports by the correspondents in our Kyiv bureau as well as reports from Moscow and DW editors in Germany stating this.
Our correspondent Yuri Rescheto has reported about the annexation of Crimea repeatedly, starting with reports from Crimea in the immediate follow-up to the annexation. His recent trip to Crimea was organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association in Moscow and not by the Foreign Ministry, as you claim. DW has paid for all expenses in connection with this journey.
The Kerch bridge was certainly not the main focal point, as you go on alleging. Mr. Rescheto went to Crimea on this particular occasion was to report on reaction to a NATO-meeting on Russia as well as to work on human rights stories.
The quotes by Mr. Rescheto in his interview with RT are taken out of context and therefore appear misleading.
The text is about a specific visit by one journalist and his team. It is based on freely available material in either English or Russian. There were no apparent attempts to rectify the mistakes in that material which is now a month old. It is unclear what the Foreign Correspondents Association’s status is, however Rescheto himself appears to state that he is in Crimea “at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry” and all reports reiterate this. It would therefore be helpful to see confirmation of this Association’s organization of the trip, and its credentials for doing so. There is nothing to indicate that an attempt to agree the visit with the Ukrainian authorities was made.
The visit resulted in reports mainly for the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, and similar, about the bridge and from Artek. Searches came up with no material on the NATO meeting, nor on human rights stories, and the quotes given were clearly not out of context for the Russian media. If the Russian media reports were inaccurate, they should have been rectified. I consider that the objections I expressed to the article about tourism are legitimate, especially given that this is all that has emerged, despite the obvious need for reports on major human rights concerns.
Whether Deutsche Welle itself condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea, there is no evidence of this visit having been used for anything other than propaganda for Russia. That use was predictable and therefore preventable.