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Russian state propaganda Rossiya 24 to hold joint TV show with Medvedchuk channel in Ukraine

Halya Coynash

“We need to talk” is the title of a joint TV show announced on 7 July by chief Russian propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov. On 12 July, nine days before Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, a supposed ‘TV-bridge’ [‘telemost’] is to be held between the Russian state propaganda channel Rossiya 24 and one of the three Ukrainian channels linked with Viktor Medvedchuk, the highly contentious Ukrainian politician, parliamentary candidate and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In announcing the planned show, Kiselyov drew a parallel with the original ‘telemost’ between audiences in the Soviet Union and the United States, first staged in 1982.  Moscow still has its state propaganda channels, but other differences in 2019 are all too bitterly clear.  Russia is an aggressor state which is occupying Ukrainian territory, persecuting and imprisoning its citizens, as well as directly killing or facilitating the killing of thousands of soldiers and civilians in Donbas.

"The time is definitely ripe for open conversation between ordinary people”, Kiselyov asserted, without elaborating on what this “open” chat was supposed to be about.

While Russia continues its occupation of Crimea and flagrant human rights violations; while it is illegally imprisoning well over 100 Ukrainian political prisoners in occupied Crimea and Russia; and while it wages, controls and arms the war in occupied Donbas, what is there to talk about?  How Russians “yearn for peace”, like in the Soviet propaganda song?   

It seems safe to assume that nobody will discuss why Russians are now supposed to want to talk with Ukrainians on one of the Russian state channels most notorious for its warmongering propaganda and toxic lies about Ukraine.  Some subjects, including the fact that Russia invaded and is illegally occupying Crimea, could lead to criminal prosecution in Russia or occupied Crimea. 

News of the planned broadcast on 12 July has still only been publicized by Kiselyov, who has been aptly described by the BBC as Putin’s chief spin doctor.  This may be a deliberate tactic, but it is most unlikely that it is inaccurate.  Kiselyov’s announcement is accompanied by what appears to be images from the show of the named presenters.  From NewsOne, these are Vasyl Holovanov, presenter and NewsOne General Producer and Olena Kyryk.  The Rossiya 24 presenters will be Andrei Malakhov and Maria Sittel, with the show scheduled to last two hours from 18.00, Moscow time.

There is nothing at all unusual about Ukraine being ‘discussed’ on Russian state television.  Talking about the so-called “crisis in Ukraine” is, in fact, a favourite since it conveniently distracts from the multiple problems at home.  There are even a number of Ukrainians who appear on such programs.  Some parrot Russia’s narrative about the war in Donbas, about the situation in Ukraine generally, however others, such as UNIAN Moscow correspondent Roman Tsymbalyuk have, on occasion, succeeded in forcing inconvenient truths to be heard on Russian state-controlled television.

This new stunt is very different since it involves a Ukrainian television channel, and entirely ignores the fact that one side’s channel is controlled by the state, and in this case, a state which is waging undeclared war against Ukraine.

NewsOne was earlier owned by MP from the ‘Opposition Bloc’, Yevhen Muraev under the management of former head of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Administration, Andriy Portnov.  It was noticeable that coverage of Muraev’s scandalous attempt to discredit the Kremlin’s most famous Ukrainian political prisoner, Oleg Sentsov seemed to be fully coordinated between NewsOne and Channel 112-Ukraine.

NewsOne was bought out by MP and close Medvedchuk associate, Taras Kozak in August 2018, with 112-Ukraine coming under Kozak’s control in December that year. On 14 June 2019, Kozak announced that he had also purchased ZIK.  This resulted in a large number of journalists leaving and well-known figures announcing that they were ceasing any cooperation with the channel.  It became clear that their fears were justified when attempts were made under the new management to muffle news about protests outside the Verkhovna Rada against moves that looked set to allow a close Yanukovych ally and Maidan crime suspect, Andriy Klyuyev and anti-Ukrainian propagandist Anatoly Shariy to stand for election.

It is widely assumed that these three channels are now effectively linked with Medvedchuk.  The planned collaboration with one of the Kremlin’s most subservient propaganda channels can only exacerbate concern about so many media being under the control by a man with close ties to the Russian President.  There are, however, other concerns as well, since Medvedchuk’s original party ‘Ukrainian Choice’ is fairly notorious for its anti-Semitic and homophobic views.

Update:  After a day of protests, NewsOne announced that it was cancelling the planned ‘TV-bridge’, which it claimed to be an attempt to organize apolitical discussions between ordinary people who never placed in doubt Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  It also asserted that the cancellation was due to direct threats of physical reprisals.

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