Sunday

15th Sep 2019

Opinion

Ukrainian PR: Beyond a paint job

  • Yanukovych says his country's rotten image is caused by 'Ukrainophobia' (Photo: goobimama)

Ukraine’s cabinet of ministers recently allocated money for measures aimed at “encouraging” international media sources to say nice things about Ukraine and its “foreign policy” and at creating a positive image of the country.

Before examining just what this entails, it is worth noting that Ukraine’s leaders have generally shown little originality in their response to mounting criticism and disgruntlement. 

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Leading members of former prime minister Tymoshenko’s government began addressing the “problem” of negative content in the media in late 2008. 

During the past year of his presidency Viktor Yushchenko also had a lot to say about improving Ukraine’s image in the world, which, he says, was not caused by internal chaos, conflict and lack of reform, but by various “Ukrainophobes," both in the Kremlin and elsewhere.

There are some new features of the present government’s efforts to create “a positive image of Ukraine." 

Most importantly, the audience is different. Under Yushchenko and Tymoshenko there was a lot that was bad to say and Ukraine’s media felt entirely free to do so. That freedom was rapidly eroded after Yanukovych came to power in 2010.

Three years on, all the main TV channels, as well as a lot of printed press can be relied on to muffle information which puts the President and his government in a bad light. 

A second new feature is the sheer volume of issues which need to be muffled or carefully “edited.”

Just months before a crucial EU summit in Vilnius, at which the fate of the EU-Ukraine association agreement is to be decided, the government is concerned about Ukraine’s image in the world for good reason. 

Weariness with political bedlam in Ukraine had reached a peak by the last presidential elections. But Ukraine’s rating in terms of media freedom, free elections and other democratic standards continued to be higher than in most post-Soviet republics. 

Its rating has dropped dramatically over the past three years. While Ukraine is most often in the headlines over the politically motivated imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s main rival, there has also been plenty of bad press on attempts to bring in Russia-type anti-gay legislation, on election rigging, on police impunity and much more.

Ukraine’s image, in short, is in need of more than a touch-up job.

Funding the positive image

On 3 July 2013, the cabinet of ministers made important additions to an earlier resolution on the use of public funding for ensuring a positive image of Ukraine in the world and on measures to support ties with Ukrainians living outside the country.

The additions are to item four and include the following: "17. Co-operation with leading foreign media in order to post positive publications about Ukraine. 18. Organising and holding forums, conferences, expert roundtables, press measures abroad in order to inform the community abroad about Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities."  

Item 18 aims to have a memorial to the victims of the Holodomor, the man-made, Soviet-era famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933, established in Washington.

Since the page on the President’s website devoted to the Holodomor disappeared as soon as Yanukovych came to power and was only reinstated after considerable protest from abroad, the $2 million to be spent on the Holodomor memorial seems unlikely to convince many Ukrainians in the diaspora that the current regime has seriously changed its attitude.

While the new measures adopted by Ukraine’s government on 3 July suggest that Ukraine’s leaders are concerned about the country’s international standing, they indicate concentration on propaganda, rather than compliance with very specific EU requirements for the EU-Ukraine association pact. 

In a nutshell, rather than adopting European standards, they are trying to export media tactics used extensively at home.

A recent report by BuzzFeed on "How Ukraine Wooed Conservative Websites" speaks of a concentrated drive “to convince sceptical American conservatives that the pro-Russian Party of Regions, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, deserved American support.”  

The measures described in the article are roughly those set out in items 17 and 18 of the new resolution. 

The campaign mentioned dates back to the parliamentary elections in October 2012. 

It speaks of prompts which journalists were allegedly invited to tweet and which were dramatically at odds with the highly critical reports from all election observers: “Ukraine has demonstrated its commitment to democracy and passed the test put forth by the international community of holding transparent elections” and “The victory for the Party of Regions is a victory for the people, for Ukraine and for democracy.”

One article should not be enough to convict – or convince – anybody. 

Compelling backup to the claims is, however, provided by another article by Chicago journalist Warner Todd Huston. BuzzFeed suggests it was written for money, and it is difficult to think of any other credible reason for this fairly gross misrepresentation of the Tymoshenko case.

Ukrainian taxpayers’ money has already been spent on similar output. 

In April 2012, the justice ministry paid the US law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates a hefty fee to “justify” the Tymoshenko prosecution and to reject allegations that it was politically motivated.”  

How much other money has been spent on reputation launderers is not public knowledge, but even the services which have come to light are not cheap.

The phenomenon of defamation

In March 2013, Renat Kuzmin, the first deputy prosecutor general visited London, where his meetings with various analysts and law firm representatives were organised by the Ukrainian embassy and by Burson-Marsteller UK. 

The meetings were aimed at convincing them that Ukrainian legislation and judicial proceedings were undergoing reform to bring them into line with European standards. 

Also, that the prosecutions of Tymoshenko and other former members of her government were justified.

That was for foreign consumption. 

Meanwhile, back home, Ukrainians learned that Kuzmin was proposing to criminalise “defamation,” which in his definition can include true statements.

What others might consider accusations of selective justice, judicial interference and dubious court rulings reflected, he wrote, a “dangerous trend towards using the phenomenon of defamation in order to put unlawful pressure on the courts and criminal investigators.”

Ukrainians’ confidence in the judiciary being at an all time low, the likelihood of such a threat silencing many journalists in Ukraine is high.

But there is no chance of any EU or US official seriously believing in any of it.

It is possible that those in power, having tried such tactics at home, are not capable of understanding that a few commissioned articles are powerless to contend with very real stains on Ukraine’s reputation. 

The number of journalists prepared to blacken their reputation through overtly commissioned material is simply not high enough. 

What remains unclear in all of this is why the new clauses were introduced into the resolution at all, unless certain sponsors have tired footing the bill alone. 

If making such efforts official is supposed to give them legitimacy, it does not.

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, a Ukrainian NGO

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Putin warns Ukraine against EU pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine he will take "protective measures" if it signs an EU free trade pact.

Ukraine: the book scandal that never was

Ukraine's President is getting millions of euros for books he never wrote. But Ukrainians have stopped believing that any kind of scandal will bring change.

Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

Luxembourg will be the first European country to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis (the Netherlands has a policy of de facto regulation of sale and consumption only), with all the implications this holds.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us