"Loyalty journalism is a particular kind of propaganda"

Interview by Kira kirschbach with Valery Ivanov, Professor and President oft he Academy of Ukrainian Press
ECPMF: In your evaluations of Ukrainian journalism in the war you use the term “loyalty journalism”, which you portray as main problem of the current journalism. What is this form of journalism and why does it exist?

Valery Ivanov, President of the Academy of Ukrainian Press, Ukraine

Valery Ivanov: Loyalty journalism has many supporters. Its supporters think that they do not have a right to criticise their country and government during war or allow publications which can weaken the fighting spirit. In contrast to such a propagandistic direction, a number of journalists continue to consider it obligatory to fulfill professional standards, including the reliability of information, its balance, completeness and factual accuracy. From my point of view, loyalty journalism is a particular kind of propaganda. In this case, the audience does not receive any reliable and complete information about what is happening in the physical reality, and its understanding about the reality is distorted.

But the war came unexpectedly to Ukraine and the journalists were not prepared. They are not prepared to work under fire and a journalist is often not easily able to check military statements.

War naturally introduces changes to journalistic activity. There are some objective difficulties here: first, special accreditation for visiting the martial conflict zone (so-called ‘anti-terrorist operation’ zone in the official interpretation of Ukrainian government); second, a great amount of unreliable information reported by officials (concerning the number of people who are dead, the activities of Ukrainian army, and its problems); third, the unpreparedness of the most Ukrainian journalists to work under fire. The war began in Ukraine unexpectedly and practically all journalists lack experience of working under these conditions. A lot of special training courses conducted with the support of Western organisations can help to solve this problem. The main subjective difficulty is, once again, loyalty journalism.  

What, in your opinion, undermines the trust in the Ukrainian mass media? Are there up-to-date opinion polls which show the current level of trust of the people in their media?

In 2014, the confidence of Ukrainian people in national media suddenly declined. According to the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Science of Ukraine (annual monitoring “Ukrainian society”), the level of those who do not trust Ukrainian media, for the first time in the whole period of independent Ukraine history, exceeded the level of those who do believe it - 45 % vs 25 %. Аnd precisely in the conflict zone, Donbas, the statistics are 68.3% vs 5.7%.

As it is clear, the closer one gets to the conflict zone, the higher is the level of mistrust in Ukrainian media. That is to say, those who can verify information reported by Ukrainian media by means of direct observation (‘look out of the window’) or using personal contacts trust the media reports less than those who have limited opportunities to check them.

In 2015, the data of monitoring ‘Ukrainian society’ produced even worse results. Now, every fifth Ukrainian trusts it, and every second does not trust it. An improvement of the situation is only possible through strictly following journalistic standards, and reporting reliable and relevant information to the audience, including information about war.

But if the society does not trust the Ukrainian media, how strong is the influence of Russian propaganda on the people? And is there a way to work effectively against the propaganda?

According to the results of numerous surveys (including the surveys conducted by Internews), the level of confidence in Russian media is low (in average 4% in all Ukraine, about 9% in Donbas). Thus, the influence is not significant. The reason for it consists not in the prohibition of practically all Russian channels, but in the propagandistic activity of most Russian media. Unfortunately, Ukrainian journalism replies to Russian propaganda with the same propaganda, but pro-Ukrainian. This is an extremely inefficient form of reply. The fundamental truth that propaganda should be answered by the true and reliable information does not still influence the activity of Ukrainian media.

Can or should Ukrainian journalists refer to European standards of journalism for orientation, given the fact that Europe has not faced such a war for more than 70 years?

I do not completely agree with the phrase ‘standards of European journalism’. These are rather world journalism standards that have been worked out by professional journalists over the centuries of  the profession’s existence. These are reliability of information (the necessity in its thorough verification, clear reference to the sources), balance, completeness of reporting, accuracy and some others. Following these standards is just as obligatory in peace as under the conditions of war. The audience is turning to the media not for a portion of propaganda, but for information that appropriately reflects the reality.

There are some severe conflicts in Europe as well (Northern Ireland is only one example) and their coverage in the activity of our Western colleagues should be a model for Ukrainian journalists. For example, the BBC followed the journalists' standards when they were doing reports of the events not only in Northern Ireland, but also the Falklands War. They were sort of "above the battles". Their work could be an example for Ukrainian mass media when they report on the situation in Donbas. Their audience should always receive full, unbiased, verified and balanced information. But it goes against what many Ukrainian journalists consider patriotism. I believe, honest work is the true journalist's patriotism, not producing propaganda.

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