The separatist stand in Eastern Ukraine is said by some observers to have been fermented and fuelled by the overwhelming domination of news and views being broadcast from across the border in Russia. Czech foreign ministry officials are now examining an idea to create a television station broadcasting a very different programme of news and views.
As well as the fighting on the ground in eastern Ukraine, there is also a softer, but equally intense propaganda war, taking place. The propaganda war pits Ukraine’s authorities against the Russian language broadcasts from Moscow targeting the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and those parts of the country and population which are vacillating about their future.
Ukrainian authorities have sometimes succeeded in blocking the broadcasts, which they describe as brazen propaganda, but they have not come up with any real Russian-language alternative.
It’s in that context that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs is weighing up the idea of helping to found a television station which would broadcast in Russian to Eastern Ukraine. The venture could be a shared project with the other countries of the regional Visegrad Four grouping, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Officials insist at the moment that this is still an idea under discussion.
Former Czech foreign minister and leader of the Czech centre-right opposition party TOP 09, Karel Schwarzenberg, has already come out firmly in favour of the idea. So has the Czech charity People In Need which already has some experience on the ground trying to boost independent media in Ukraine.
People in Need’s Rostislav Valvoda talked about the charity’s experience in Ukraine and what he thinks about the foreign ministry idea: “The activities that we have in eastern Ukraine is to support for local media groups and media projects to help offer the alternative views to the eastern Ukraine population so that people have a real picture of events because what the Russian official television presents is a sort of virtual reality, it has no relation to what is really happening on the spot.
“There are instances, even reported in the western media, that, for instance, the Russian tv channels produced videos that were supposed to show atrocities produced by the Ukrainian army. At the same it turned out that these frames, this footage, was from the Caucasus two years ago etc. So, you have instances like this and there is even a special website run by Ukrainian journalists that uncovers these fakes. It is called StopFake.org and it produces every day lists of fakes, fake photos, fake videos, that appear on the Russian official media.
And what is your reaction to this idea of Czech foreign ministry – maybe even wider Višegrad Group support – for a broadcaster to be established which would broadcast in Russian to Eastern Ukraine?
“We support the idea of setting up the Russian speaking tv for Ukraine, but not just for Ukraine but also for Russia. Because we think that such a media project will be increasingly important in the whole post-Soviet space because the Russian official tv propaganda has started projecting this virtual reality that is effectively one arm of the war that is being waged. It will not stop and it will be ever more important to offer people the real picture. So setting up a project that would work by western journalistic standards of balanced coverage, of balanced reporting, would clearly be very important for the populations of the post-Soviet space.”