A Cold War skirmish in a cosy venue

A big spasiba to our two expert speakers, Neil Clark and Mike Taylor, for leading a discussion about the quality of coverage of the conflict in the Ukraine at our June meeting. This was a pilot for a more informal, discussion-led style of branch meeting, and we were delighted to see a record turnout with many familiar faces as well as first-time attenders, some of whom may not even have been born at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall.

We asked our speakers to address the question: Are we seeing a return to Cold War journalism?

Mike Taylor, a senior analyst at Oxford Analytica argued that UK reporting had been largely balanced, using measured language to describe the anti-Kiev activity in the east of the country. He gave the example of a report for the Daily Mail online headlined “New president of Ukraine is sworn in as pro-Russian rebels launch latest assault in beleaguered country’s east”, arguing that the article didn’t overstate the severity of the fighting, it quoted a Ukrainian paratrooper who said the aim had been to destroy a building housing the powersupply at Luhansk airport and there were no injuries, and reported that a spokesman for the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ would not even confirm that the attack took place at all. Mike argued that the article used measured language, “referring to the militants in eastern Ukraine as ‘separatist’ or – perhaps more controversially – ‘fighters of mostly Russian nationality’”.

He accused the Russian media, however, of systematic negativity in its reporting of the West as decadent and debauched, reminiscent in its hostile tone of the Soviet media of the 1980s. “If there is a new Cold War in journalism,” Mike concluded, “it is coming from Moscow.” The core arguments of Mike’s presentation can be found here.

Neil Clark (NeilClark66.blogspot.co.uk), a prolific freelance journalist argued, in contrast, that Western coverage of the conflict in the Ukraine has systematically employed double standards in its reporting of the Maidan demonstrations and the toppling of the Yanokovych government on the one hand, and the subsequent demonstrations and referendums in the east of the country on the other. Neil, who contributes regularly to a very broad spectrum of publications including The Guardian, The Week/First Post, the Morning Star, the Daily and Sunday Express, the Mail on Sunday, the Spectator and Russia Today’s OpEdge column, questioned how measured or balanced the language used to describe protestors on different sides of the conflict really is. Why were the Maidan square demonstrators referred to as “pro-democracy protestors”, despite the important role played by fascist groups, who now hold five positions in the government, while people in the east of the country, protesting against what they see as the undemocratic overthrow of their elected government, are described as “militants” or “pro-Russian separatists”. And why are referendums held in the east of Ukraine derided as meaningless by many commentators who are simultaneously cheering the return of democracy to Afghanistan when elections are held there under foreign military occupation? Part of the problem, he suggested, is the extent to which coverage has tilted towards comment at the expense a straight reporting of events. The core of Neil’s presentation was based on an OpEdge piece for the Russia Today website, ‘I’m Confused, Can Anyone Help Me?

As part of a lively discussion, Jim Boumelha, who is the NEC member covering the Oxford area, talked about the many meetings that had taken place, under the auspices of the International Federation of Journalists, between representatives of its member unions, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine on the one hand, and the Russian Union of Journalists on the other. They were brought together by the IFJ last March at a roundtable in Brussels, where they agreed co-operative measures to provide support for journalists and to uphold professional ethical standards and journalist safety, in a co-ordinated plan of action to help journalists covering events in Crimea, Kiev’s Maidan Square and across Ukraine. The three unions came together again on 19th May under the aegis of OSCE in Vienna to agree a detailed memorandum including opposition to violence against journalists and their detention, call for ease of procedure for freedom of movement, and rejection of manipulation and propaganda.


July branch meeting 

The July branch meeting will focus on Making Journalism Pay in the Digital Age. It will be a networking event, with introductions from two experienced freelance journalists, an contributions from many branch members who have experiences, good or bad, in finding diverse ways to use the opportunities offered by digital media to build up an income from the work they do. It will be a week earlier than usual, on Thursday July 3rd, and will be held upstairs in St Aldates Tavern, opposite the Oxford Town Hall.



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