SWITCHING "FROM THE WAR DISCOURSE TO THE PEACE DISCOURSE”
The workshop "Tweeting the war - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine“, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany and co-organized by the Emmy Noether Group, Freie Universität Berlin's International Center for Journalism, and the Academy of Ukrainian Press, took place in Kiev, Ukraine on October 5-7, 2015. It brought together media scholars and young journalists researching and covering the Ukrainian conflict.
Prof. Klaus Beck, of Freie Universität Berlin, noted in his opening speech that the aim of the workshop was to talk about media and not about politics, which was to prove a challenging task both for journalists and scholars: when it comes to the Ukrainian conflict, media and politics seem to be intertwined.
“Journalists didn’t do their job in a decent way, they worked more as propagandists than as journalists,” Valery Ivanov, president of the Ukrainian Press Academy, said when speaking about the coverage of the war by Ukrainian journalists. “The reason for that is in our roots, in the wrong understanding of patriotism. For many journalists patriotism means authentication of their position with that of the state. But it contradicts the world standards of quality journalism”.
Diana Dutsyk, director of the NGO “Telekritika” (which monitors the Ukrainian media according to five major standards: balance, timeliness, accuracy, reliability, and separation of facts and opinions), said in her presentation that “Ukrainian journalists get involved in counterpropaganda”. She argued with Vladimir Ivanov saying that media experts should “not judge them, but discuss the reasons of that”. “A journalist makes his decisions under influence of many factors – the position of the media owner, his [the journalist's] private experience, his opinion as a citizen etc,” she said.
"SWIRL OF PROPAGANDA"
Anna Litvinenko from the Emmy Noether research group talked about a “swirl of propaganda”: if one side is producing propaganda, the other side can easily get involved in producing (counter)propaganda, so the swirl sucks both sides in, tension grows and it is hard to leave the process and stick back to the standards of quality journalism. “The major challenge is to switch from the war discourse to the peace discourse”, as Ivanov put it.
Diana Dutsyk was optimistic about the future development of Ukrainian media. Ukraine's media experts connect their hopes with the recent introduction of the public television in Ukraine. German journalists consulted the creators of the channel. “Our first monitoring shows that there is no so-called 'electoral paid journalism' on this channel any more”.
However, Valery Ivanov was less optimistic: “I don’t understand those who say that we are experiencing an improvement of the freedom of press: I don’t remember harder times”. He mentioned several cases where people got arrested for their postings on social networks. “Government doesn’t understand how to work with alternative information”. At the same time he considers today’s Ukraine to be a ‘light version of an authoritarian state, since there are several “centres of influence” [oligarchs] and a journalist can tack between them”.
Several journalists and scientists mentioned the economic dependence factor as being a key problem for the development of qualitative reporting. Thus, in Russia, the major national TV channels are controlled by the state. In Ukraine, the media landscape is more or less divided between six oligarchs. The advertising market is extremely underdeveloped, it can’t “feed” the approximately 6 000 newspapers and 2 500 TV channels that are registered in the country. The situation has become worse with the current crisis: now it is almost impossible to earn money with quality journalism. “As a result, we’ve got not a market, but a collection of projects of influence”, Ivanov said.
Social media seem to foster the trends that we observe in the conflict coverage by traditional media. Grigory Asmolov, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented his research on “Crowdsourcing and Participatory Warfare in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict”. His research is based on Schattschneider's theory of the socialization of conflict and Vygotsky's theory of the internalization of conflict. In the age of social media, “it is impossible to draw a line between front and homefront,” Asmolov said. That means that one cannot control the expansion (socialization) of the conflict. “On Facebook we already can’t differentiate our private news from national news, they are mixed,” he said. “That’s why the effect of the conflict socialization is much bigger”. It gets even worse if there is a common language between rival sides, as in the case of the war in Ukraine.
How to become immune to getting involved in a conflict? Asmolov says that the only way he sees is to develop critical thinking, to realize the danger of this new form of “identity theft” when a person is being unwillingly involved in a conflict. It is also important that “the tool for fighting the propaganda can’t be counterpropaganda”.
IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA EDUCATION
During these three days journalists and scientists discussed different aspects of the role of social media in conflict coverage, such as the phenomenon of hate speech, problems related to the verification of information, work with sources, but also the new chances and possibilities that social media have given to journalists. As Anastasia Magazova, the Ukrainian correspondent for Deutsche Welle, mentioned, “the majority of journalists were not prepared to work in a conflict zone, but we learned during the last year a lot, including new journalistic tools and genres”.
The most widespread answer to the discussed challenges for the profession from both scientists and journalists was the “improving of media education and media literacy”, which can be achieved, among others ways, with the help of international workshops.
The workshop in Kiev was the first part of the project „Tweeting the War - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine“. The second part will be a conference of the same title that will take place in Berlin on November 17-20, 2015. Application deadline is October 23. Please find the details here.