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Ukraine’s Parliament asks BBC to stop using “civil war” for Russia’s aggression

Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary)
Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary)
Ukraine’s Parliament asks BBC to stop using “civil war” for Russia’s aggression

Ukraine’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs sent an official letter to British media giant BBC appealing to the broadcaster to stop using the term “civil war” to refer to the conflict in Ukraine, reports, citing Svitlana Zalishchuk of the Subcommittee on Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and European Integration Committee on Foreign Affairs. She posted a copy of the 3-page letter on Facebook.

The letter begins by linking the great tradition of freedom of speech promoted and enjoyed in the western media with the great responsibility the media has in keeping governments accountable through accurate and unbiased reporting. The Committee objects to the use of the phrase “civil war” in the recent BBC-2 documentary entitled “The Conspiracy Files: Who Shot Down MH17” and the accompanying article by Mike Rudin on the BBC website. The Committee describes why they find the term inaccurate, misleading and contrary to both the privileges and responsibilities of independent media.

In the letter, the deputies state that the situation in Ukraine and Crimea is occupation and aggression by Russia, statements that are universally recognized by democratic nations as well as some non-democratic ones. Continuing to use the term “civil war” by the BBC, they state, is biased and therefore misleading the public. They urge the channel to discontinue using this term and publish an explanation for consumers on the BBC’s Corrections and Clarifications Page.

Use of misleading and biased terms such as “civil war” are no longer justified, the letter states, given the overwhelming evidence of Russian aggression. Continuing to use such terms undermines the BBC’s integrity while promoting the very aggression that Russia continues to unleash on Ukraine, they state. In fact, they point out, the BBC‘s continuing use of misleading and biased language can lead to more aggression.

“Russian aggression in Donbas began over two years ago and the usage of incorrect terms to describe it can no longer be justified by the lack of evidence or understanding. We strongly believe that labeling this act of aggression ‘civil war’ serves no purpose in disseminating objective or accurate information to society, but, rather, is a repetition of Russian propaganda slogans….”

Deputy Zalishchuk explains that the letter is “our reaction to the May 3rd, 2016 broadcast of the documentary ‘Who shot down MH17‘ on the British TV channel BBC-2. The film shows Russia’s involvement in the disaster, yet the authors still resort to using Russian clichés about ‘civil war‘ in Ukraine,” says Zalishchuk.

She also states that their appeal to the BBC was joined by members of other parliamentary groups, including the Committee for European Integration and the Committee for Friendship between Ukraine and Great Britain.

MH17 crucial to Kremlin’s narrative of “civil war” in Ukraine

Flight MH17 was on it way from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over the Donbas region of East Ukraine, controlled and occupied by mixed Russian-backed and Russian militants. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed.

Ever since, the MH17 tragedy has been the subject of much research and investigation, most notably by the Dutch Safety Board and the open-source investigative team at Bellingcat. The evidence points overwhelmingly to the Russian-backed militants, who were at the time lead by members of the Russian military and security forces. Bellingcat has even identified the specific Russian brigade and its individual members who were seen with the BUK launcher before and after the disaster.

The Kremlin has presented its own theories, some wilder than others, but all of which have been discredited by Bellingcat and others. The BBC documentary, as well as the companion article by Rudin, is mostly a rehashing of all of those “versions” of the tragic events, including the most likely, supported by all the known evidence and eyewitness testimony.

The Kremlin finds itself in a peculiar position. It cannot take responsibility for the tragedy, because that would lead to the conclusion that Russia is fighting in Ukraine, something the Kremlin still vehemently denies. This too is well documented. Therefore, MH17, the tragedy that woke the world up to the seriousness of the Ukraine-Russia war, appears to be the proof positive that Russia is fighting in an undeclared war.

To keep up its denials as long as possible, including denials of responsibility, the Kremlin has engaged in often obvious and incredible attempts to discredit the evidence as well as discredit Bellingcat itself. (There’s even an amusing video claiming Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins’ body language shows he lies every 10 seconds.) Its own theories, which have changed over time, still implicate only Ukraine. The Kremlin’s zeal in its denials has led it to bizarre actions, such as using Google Earth photos for satellite photos, and a bizarre last-minute press conference called by Almaz Antey, the Russian state weapons manufacturer, on the same day that an official MH17 investigative report from the Dutch Safety Board was due, just so the Kremlin could distract from the inevitable devastating conclusion by capturing some media attention, and guaranteeing pro-Russian headlines in that important day’s news cycle.

So when the documentary “Who Shot Down MH17” was announced, it wasn’t surprising that the Kremlin seized the opportunity to hijack the narrative once again.

In Kremlin fashion, the mere headline asking the question “Who Shot Down MH17” and the rehashing of other theories, however unlikely and unsupported, by the BBC became an opportunity for pro-Kremlin (and anti-Ukraine) propaganda. Like vultures surrounding a carcass, stories immediately appeared that the BBC had new evidence. In other words, simply asking the question, in an appealing way for TV ratings, was an opportunity to twist the truth and detract from responsibility. If the BBC was asking the question, the thinking goes, then that must mean that the prevailing view that a Russian brigade fired a Russian BUK could be in question too. Forbes even published an article just about this obvious attempt to manipulate information by pro-Kremlin sources.

All this shows how easily well-documented and widely-accepted information still can be the subject of manipulation and distortion, even in highly regarded western media. As a result, supporters of Ukraine, and now members of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, are taking not only the propaganda stories seriously, but are also paying attention to the language of propaganda, often subtle but no less effective.

Read: How Russia’s Worst Propaganda Myths About Ukraine Seep Into Media Language 

Euromaidan Press has published a guide and video about the methods used in Russian propaganda. A recent Washington Post article by Anne Applebaum and Edward Lucas discusses efforts, mainly in Europe, such as, EU Mythbusters, and Kremlin Watch Monitor, that are devoted to monitoring, exposing and debunking Kremlin myths and disinformation. The authors advocate more resources to such efforts, particularly in the US, where RT (Russia Today) has found a comfortable home on virtually every cable TV in the country.


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