Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 03.09.2017
This past week the Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU, expelled a TV reporter for Russia’s Channel One, Anna Kurbatova, saying her “actions harmed Ukraine’s national interests.” The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union refused three requests for accreditation for reporters from Russian state owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). Estonia said Russian platforms such as Rossiya Segodnya “frequently and consistently disseminate information that is inaccurate, distorted or false.” Ukraine and Estonia argue that these Russian reporters are information warriors, and that acting to expel or to bar them is acting in the interests of national security.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) immediately slammed Ukraine and Estonia, saying their actions go against the principle of press freedom. But the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media did not make any case that the Russians involved are actually journalists. Ukraine and Estonia have painful experience to know that these individuals are in fact information warriors making aggressive propaganda for Russia and against democracies in Europe.
Ukraine and Estonia are front-line states to Russia, which is at war with Europe. Ukraine is subjected to a military invasion and an information sphere onslaught from Russia; to date, Estonia fights infowar with Russia only. Disguised as reporters, information warriors for Russia go to Ukraine and Estonia and simply lie about what is going on there. For example, Russian hate propagandists use actors to pretend to be victims of “nationalists”; Russian armed forces shell villages in Donbas territory which they themselves occupy, and Russian TV is on hand to record it as an atrocity by “Kiev” (they always use the Russian colonial name for Kyiv). Facts are made up, images are manipulated, words are wrongly translated, and reality is falsified. Anna Kurbatova told her viewers that the average Ukrainian salary is less than 170 dollars per month, when in fact it’s $300 a month according to latest statistics. Russian media present lies, and a lie is not another point of view or the “other side of the story” or alternative news. A lie is an attack on the truth, and on the duty of a reporter to inform. These Russian reporters are hate propagandists; they are not journalists.
Acting to defend their countries against Russia’s aggressive infowar, Ukraine and Estonia are doing a service to real journalists and are defending the freedom of the press. When Russian propagandists take the name “journalist” they poison the fundamental idea of news as a fair witness to events. Yes, freedom of the press must be very broad if we are to live in liberty – and we must live in liberty to be fully human. But it is impossible for that breadth of toleration to take in lies, because lies undermine the foundation and substance of freedom: the truth.
The mandate of the OSCE is security and co-operation in Europe. The OSCE should encourage and help all of its members in the fight against aggressive, hateful Russian propaganda. To live true to its highest ideals, the best way to do that would be to expel Russia from the OSCE for invading Europe in Ukraine and violating the Helsinki Final Act.