Ukrainian media about Donbas: propaganda, manipulation and hate speech? Monitoring results


Stigmatization of Donbas resident, abuse of “hate speech”, lack of accurate information and deliberate concealment of certain themes are the main problems of Ukrainian media in covering the armed conflict in Donbas. Such results were revealed by the two-year media space monitoring. “Donbas Media Forum” participants discussed these difficulties in covering the events in both the occupied and non-occupied territories of Donbas.

Kyiv, September 1, 2016.  “Donbas Media Forum” in Mariupol was attended by 300 participants from 11 regions of Ukraine, representing 67 media outlets. “We tried to familiarize journalists with media literacy, professional literacy and ethics of journalism,” informed Svitlana Yeremenko, member of Donbas Media Forum organization committee, executive director of Pylyp Orlyk Democracy Institute.

Manipulation and propaganda

One of the key issues for the discussion was the problem of manipulation and propaganda in its various manifestations, extensive use of “hate speech” and stigmatization of Donbas residents in the media. “Many of the national channels use labels and myths. […] There are statements that humiliate those who remained in the occupied territories and create an enemy image,” noted Oleksiy Matsuka, head of the NGO “Donetsk Institute of Information.”

Concealment of problems

Another problem is concealment of problems of residents of the occupied territories, internally displaced persons, families of wounded and killed servicemen. Some media set the authorities and internally displaced persons against each other. “This war concerns all of us. Each of us, journalists, must do our best for citizens to understand this, and for the government to fulfill its obligations.” Concealment of information has its own specifics in Donbas. The “Donetsk News” media […] informs about the lack of food and medicines, shelling, destruction of infrastructure, but it does not call the occupation occupation and conceals that Russia provides separatists with weapons and that Russian mercenaries are fighting in the east,” explained Yeremenko.

Obstruction of journalist activities

Obstruction of journalist activities in the ​​ATO zone from both sides of the conflict remains an urgent problem. According to Oleksiy Matsuka, it is hard for his colleagues to work in Donetsk and Luhansk, because they are searched. “’DPR’ makes the image of an enemy of us and states that we are allegedly the “political alternative” to them. This situation is the same as in any authoritarian society. It is important that a similar attitude should not be shown by the authorities in the non-occupied territories,” he stressed. On the Ukrainian part, there are such difficulties in communicating with the military. Besides, now the media are short of funding, especially those that have left the occupied territories and the public media.

Russian influence

The lack of access to the Ukrainian mass media in the “gray zone” and in the occupied territories remains a serious problem. “Ukrainian channels do not broadcast in the occupied territories. They can broadcast only in some places, while 40 Russian channels as a whole including 10 news channels are broadcasting everywhere,” stressed Svitlana Yeremenko. Thus, the signal from Donetsk TV tower reaches even Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

Based on the “Donbas Media Forum” results, a strategy of supporting journalists in eastern Ukraine has been developed that offers tools for overcoming hate speech, establishing cooperation between the government and the media and preventing obstruction of journalist activities. It also provides for establishing the permanent communication and education platform based on “Donbas Media Forum.”