TV channel TRK Ukrayina, owned by Ukrainian oligarch #1 Rinat Akhmetov, was coordinating its materials with the “Ministry of Information of DNR,” according to a dump of e-mails of its representative. Photo:www.technosotnya.com
An email dump of a “DNR Ministry of information” employee, Tatyana Egorova, reveals that Ukrainian leading TV channels collaborated with the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”), one of the two Russian-backed unrecognized statelets waging war against Ukraine since 2014.
According to the letters, TV channels Inter and TRK Ukrayina coordinated their materials about the occupied territories with the representatives of the “DNR Ministry of information.”
This isn’t the first such leak. Recently this year, the site Myrotvorets revealed a list of Ukrainian media outlets which were accredited in the republics considered terrorist organizations in Ukraine, labeling them “collaborators with terrorists.” The case raised a scandal related to ethical aspects of revealing journalists’ personal data and whether a journalist can be called a “terrorist collaborator” (which led to labeling of the journalists as “betrayers”) for receiving accreditation from a terrorist organization.
However, the new leak with the e-mails of Egorova is not about betrayal but about the danger to Ukraine’s national security.
Inter and TRK Ukrayina – Ukraine’s largest TV channels
Why is this important? Inter and TRK Ukrayina are two of the largest Ukrainian national channels. A recent TV rating measures TRK Ukrayina as having the largest audience. Inter is third. They are most popular in the East, places where the Russian language prevails and which Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to chip away from Ukraine as a so-called “Novorossiya” (New Russia) – unsuccessfully.
As a result of Ukraine’s media reform efforts, all TV and radio companies were obligated to make public their ownership structure. Until recently, Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch, and Serhiy Lyovochkin, an MP and ex-head of the administration of the disgraced president Viktor Yanukovych, were believed to be the owners of Inter. However, now it was also revealed that Valeriy Horoshkovskyi, an oligarch who now lives in London, formerly the head of Ukraine’s Security Service and the Customs Service, is another owner. Their ownership was traced through multiple offshore companies located in the tax heavens of Cyprus, Belize and the Virgin Islands.
The structure of TRK Ukrayina is simpler. There is only one ultimate beneficiary – the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, which was already no secret. Akhmetov is #1 on the list of the richest Ukrainians, he used to be the most influential figure in Donetsk Oblast, nearly half of which is now occupied by the “DNR,” a Moscow puppet regime. Nevertheless, Akhmetov continues to be influential there, as his enterprises continue working in these areas not controlled by the Ukrainian government.
Before the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014, Inter and TRK Ukrayina were considered to be the main podiums for the ousted President Yanukovych and his Party of Regions [Note: Paul Manafort, the head of Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, was the top political and US public relations consultant to all three entities – the richest Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the escaped former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions — Ed.]. During the Euromaidan revolution, these channels either deliberately ignored the mass protests in Kyiv’s main square or presented them in a negative light. After the revolution won and Yanukovych fled the country, these channels’ coverage policies appeared to become less biased (e.g. Euromaidan was recognized). The channels attempted to present themselves as neutral outlets, which covered the situation from both sides. However, this “neutrality” often takes the side of a stiff opposition to the current government, featuring it as “the main enemy” of the Ukrainian populace. Starting from the Presidential election in 2014, when President Poroshenko was overwhelmingly elected by Ukrainians of all regions and until now, the two channels have been the main media platforms for the Opposition Bloc party, the successor to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
The latest scandal over the channels’ links to the Russian occupation administration in the Donbas is not the first one. For example, in the spring of 2016, TRK Ukrayina was broadcasting the TV series called Do Not Promise. It presented the pro-Russian militants of the so-called “republics” in a positive light. In one episode, an anti-Ukrainian militant took a soldier of the “Kyiv junta” captive (“junta” being a term out of the Kremlin’s propaganda playbook, which insists that the ousting of a pro-Russian dictator Yanukovych in the Euromaidan protests could not possibly be the result of a popular uprising). Later, the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council issued a warning to the channel based on an unscheduled inspection.
In winter of 2015, the Council issued a warning to Inter because of the dubious New Year’s program. Deputy of the Russian Parliament from the ruling United Russia party and singer Iosif Kobzon, who is a persona non grata in Ukraine due to his support for Vladimir Putin’s anti-Ukrainian policies, performed in Inter‘s program among other singers known for their support of Russia’s intentions for dismembering Ukraine.
These incidents show that a channel does not have to broadcast direct lies or fakes to promote the ideology of a foreign power. It just needs to adopt a so-called “neutral position” while saying “we are just standing for peace” and then to spin outrageous information as just being “ordinary.”
These two channels were the ones who concealed the fact of the birth of civil society in Kyiv during Euromaidan from Ukrainian viewers in the East, and who presented Russia as an “older brother” whom Ukraine should obey.
Even though now they do not express their pro-Russian position directly, it can still be read between the lines.
Ukrainian TV materials OK’d by the “DNR Ministry of Information”
Inter. The dump of Egorova’s e-mails contains letters which show the collaboration of a Russian propagandist Leonid Muravyov and one of Inter’s editors Mariya Stoliarova. According to it, Muravyov sent the materials he filmed in the “DNR” for approval by the “Ministry of Information” of the Russian puppet “republic.” According to Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Zolotukhin writing for the media monitoring website Detector Media, the collaboration followed the following pattern:
- Stoliarova and Muravyov discussed a future topic of coverage in the Russia-occupied territories.
- Then Muravyov worked on the chosen topic with an Inter journalist accredited in the “DNR”.
- When the draft work was ready, Muravyov sent it to the “Ministry of Information of the DNR” to Egorova in the occupied Donetsk for her review and approval.
- If she did not have any changes to the draft, he sent the material to Stoliarova in Kyiv. Otherwise, he edited it according to Egorova’s requirements first.
Up to November 2015, it seems all of the reports from the occupied territories for Inter‘s leading evening news service Podrobnosti Nedeli were vetted by the propaganda apparatus of the Russian puppet regime. All materials that the rest of Ukraine watched about the territory controlled by the Russian proxies, from reports about fishing to combating the contraband, were “approved” this way. In one case, Egorova even helped Myravyov with information for his reports by providing a file titled “War Crimes of Ukrainian Soldiers.”
The jewel in the crown of this effective collaboration could have been a story about the “valiant foreigners supporting the ‘DNR’ army,” but it seems that Podrobnosti Nedeli got cold feet before releasing it.
Interestingly, the cooperation of the Russian propagandist Muravyov with Inter‘s chief editor Stoliarova didn’t end with reports praising life in the “DNR.” The Egorova dump also contains plans for a smear campaign against Ukrainian politicians, including a material against former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, in which he was to be pictured as one of the “horsemen of the Apocalypse leading Ukraine into an abyss.” Another project was the creation of promotional TV coverage for Opposition Bloc members.
Another interesting fact is that Muravyov was even employed by Inter in winter 2015, but later he was deported from by Ukraine’s Security Service and officially stopped working for the company. Chief editor Stoliarova herself was deported from Ukraine in February 2016 because of the obscenities she used on air towards relatives of the heroes shot to death by Yanukovych’s special police force at Euromaidan. The Security Service then expressed their suspicions about her visits to the Russia-occupied territories and her collaboration with the “DNR” and “LNR” (“Luhansk People’s Republic”).
One letter where Stoliarova “punished” an Inter journalist caused the greatest outrage in Ukraine after the dump of Egorova’s e-mails was made public. In it, Muravyov wrote an apology letter to Egorova because Inter journalist Roman Bochkala used the word “terrorists” towards Russian mercenaries in his material – something that the “DNR” explicitly prohibited. Muravyov wrote to Egorova that the journalist was already severely punished for that and tried to pacify her by informing that the ratings of Podrobnosti Nedeli are on the rise. After the scandal, Bochkala said that nobody ever punished him and that the Russian propagandist likely made it up to curry favor with Egorova. After this incident, the journalist left the channel.
TV channels TRK Ukrayina and Donbas had also systematically coordinated their materials with Egorova. The channel’s owner Rinat Akhmetov has a humanitarian fund which provides aid to the occupied territories. The task of the journalists there is often to cover the activities of the fund of their channel’s owner.
But another task, as seen from their materials, is to present the life under the occupation in a so-called “neutral way” which ignores the cases of pressure, torture, killings, lawlessness and political prisoners in the “DNR.” To get accreditation from the self-proclaimed republics, one has to cover the situation there from the “right angle” and use approved terminology. Otherwise, a journalist will not be accredited. That is why many international and Ukrainian journalists are denied accreditation.
Journalists of the channel had asked Egorova for contacts of people to use as sources to cover the topics they thought will be interesting. For example this one:
“Hi! Tanya, what do you know about this? Can you give the contacts of the head to cover the topic one day. Thank you!
The first Youth Journalism School in the DNR opened in the Republican Palace for Children and Teenagers.
Practical classes are to begin next week and will last for the whole summer, training will be for free… The ultimate goal of the project is to unite young correspondents and to prepare future authors. After the end of the studying, the guys will receive an opportunity to get an internship in media and to be employed later.”
So while the words “professional standards” and “journalism” are used together only in jokes when talking about journalism in Russia (and Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine), this Ukrainian channel was not only ignoring the issue, on the contrary, it wanted to present a false image of the situation with journalism in the occupied territories.
Writing balanced materials from the “LNR”and “DNR” is impossible, says famous Ukrainian blogger from Donetsk Denis Kazanskyi:
“The choice there [on the occupied territories – Ed.] is very simple – either to collaborate with separatists, or to be sent to a basement [improvised prison – ed.]. Any calls to Ukrainian journalists to ‘come and film balanced materials’ which were heard from Russian colleagues were provocations. One can not shoot any objective materials in Donetsk and Luhansk. Only secretly, risking your life… All the journalists who openly work in ORDLO [Separate Regions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts – a legal term for the ‘LNR’ and ‘DNR’] are working under the militants’ censorship and present biased information. The only exception can be foreigners from far-away countries, the reports of which will be never read in ‘DNR.’”
After the Egorova dump, the Ukrainian Security Service stated they are going to check the email messages of the “Ministry of Information of DNR” and the Ukrainian channels and that until they do so, it is too early to give any comments.
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