Unite for the propaganda fight: experts discus information warfare, Ukraine and Europe  



European journalism faced a number of challenges which drew its attention away from the events in Ukraine. This includes inadequate funding which results in editors’ inability to assign their reporters, Brexit and Syria which supersede the war in Donbas, as well as the world of social media where false information is spread beyond any control, said Andrea Rizzi, El Pais International News Editor at a discussion at Ukraine Crisis Media Center which took place as a part of VI Spanish-Ukrainian Forum of Journalism “Public opinion and civil society in times of crisis: media narrative”.

“We don’t expect it can be filtered, we need to learn to live with it. We need to make changes, invent new journalism able to communicate with the XXI century audience producing content it requires. We need to learn to attract bigger audiences. We can’t neglect our principles, though, referring to unverified information to reach bigger amount of people,” believes Rizzi. “This huge propaganda machine owned by Putin – absolutely nothing stands against it. There is not a single institution or agency making its own propaganda – for we believe our values are so nice and self-explanatory that they don’t need being propagated; nevertheless, we would have to do it,” added Gerardo Bugallo Ottone, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Kingdom of Spain to Ukraine.

How Ukraine is losing information warfare
Stanislav Yasynskyi, journalist of 1+1 TV Channel, believes Ukraine is losing Donbas because of information and propaganda absence there. “Russia was getting ready to the war with Ukraine in advance. They united all their state media in a mighty consortium “Russia Today”, which includes not only journalists, but analysts, information psychological operation experts and NLP specialists. It is an extremely powerful network able to deliver any necessary information all over the world in seconds for huge money. What can we put up against it? Unfortunately, almost nothing,” stated the journalist. He said that Russian was systemically bringing up its audience, promoting its content. This is relevant now as well. “Audience in Donbas does not want to see “treason” and what is happening in Kyiv. They want to compare the prices on the occupied territories with their prices. They watch Russian TV because their propaganda offers stability and hope for better future, so they trust Putin,” said Yasynskyi.

According to him, radio faces the same problems. “Army FM radio” should broadcast on all frequency, but they cannot get a license due to bureaucracy. This means they broadcast only on frequencies where they reached agreements with commercial radio stations.  They treat it as treason in the east,” he emphasized. It would be even possible to cover certain areas in the Russian Federation on short frequencies and broadcast in Russian there. Moreover, there are enough journalists who serve in Ukrainian Armed Forces. They can publish their own newspapers, but they even have no printers to publish materials.

Public communications
Mustafa Nayyem, member of Ukrainian parliament, believes that Ukrainian officials still have not learned to communicate with the society in proper manner. “Communication is an official’s duty to explain his steps, anything he is doing. A subordinate must report on his work, his successes and failures, otherwise he will be dismissed. Somehow it doesn’t work this way in the authorities-society relations. This treatment of people as trash does not start with beating at Maidan; it starts with unwillingness to explain people what we are doing,” believes Mustafa Nayyem.

Dmytro Zolotukhin, advisor at the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine, said that the state must have a system of strategic communications to address required narrative to its citizens. “What I hear is that we can’t make heroes too heroic, for we have corruption and problems in the army, and it doesn’t help reforms. But everyone should be responsible for their job: the state should take care of strategic communications and introduce its information policy, while media must protect civic society against propaganda,” explained Zolotukhin.

Journalists’ safety
Andriy Zhygulin, Head of the Main Department of Information Policy of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine believes that protection of professional journalism in Ukraine starts returning to life. Council of Europe project on journalist protection is to start next year. “It envisages cooperation between journalists and law enforcement agencies that should adequately respond to offences. Regardless of the National Police reform, investigators still lack understanding of proper response to crimes against journalists,” he explained. According to Zhyhulin, 172 criminal proceedings were registered with courts this year with journalists as an affected party, compared to 1.5 million of overall proceedings. At the same time, only 8 percent of such crimes are solved. Nevertheless, Zhyhulin mentioned some positive changes: state censorship was liquidated, liability for impeding journalist activity was increased, public TV and radio broadcasting was launched and the process of denationalization of local printed media started.