How Russian TV Is Covering Ukraine's Protests

If you believe state media, the protesters in Kiev are depraved, Christmas-hating rabble-rousers driven to the streets by bad weather.
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A protester gathers with others at Independence Square during a rally to support EU integration in Kiev. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

Russia's state-run television channels are not known for their impartiality. 

Their coverage of the massive pro-European protests that have engulfed Ukraine is no exception, analysts say.

Russian state television has been churning out what critics describe as misleading, at times downright odd reports since protests erupted almost two weeks ago in Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to walk away from a key association deal with the European Union.

On December 8, as hundreds of thousands of angry demonstrators flooded Kiev's Independence Square to call for the government's sacking—felling a statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in the process—Russia's Channel One reported that "only a few hundred people" had turned out and assured viewers that the protests were "dying out."

Russian television reporters have spared no efforts to portray the protesters as a horde of hooligans funded by the West to topple Yanukovych and sow chaos in Ukraine.

The Democracy Report

"State channels have been shifted into combat mode, it's particularly clear and striking this time," Aleksandr Melman, a television critic for the Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, says. "People have received their assignment and are trying hard because they understand that this is the Kremlin's uncompromising stance and that there cannot be any halftones or compromises."

In Ukraine, demonstrators are not amused. Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Sedyuk on December 8 interrupted Rossiya 24's live coverage from Independence Square to present the Russian channel—and star anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov—with an "Oscar" for broadcasting what he described as "nonsense and lies" about the mass protests.

"Here's an Oscar for your channel and for Dmitry Kiselyov, for nonsense and lies in live broadcast," Sedyuk mocked. "We love Russians, but not how you are covering this."

Interior Ministry personnel block a street during a gathering of supporters of EU integration as snow falls in Kiev. Hundreds of protesters blocked several main streets. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Rossiya 24's reporter, Artyom Kol, eventually succeeded in pushing Sedyuk out of the frame. Kol then proceeded to describe the crowd's chants of "Shame on you!" and "Tell the truth!" in Ukrainian as "propaganda" aimed at pressuring his channel into showing only positive coverage of the demonstrations.

Kiselyov, a top television personality who was tapped on December 9 to lead a new state-run media conglomerate, has been spearheading Russia's information campaign against the protests.

"What Kiselyov has been up to over the past two weeks is a piece of work," Melman says. "Yesterday, he descended into complete lies and manipulation. Even Soviet propagandists did not allow themselves such comments. He is really an extreme case; others do it in a more acceptable manner. Channel One is a little more subtle."

In a particularly vitriolic 20-minute report aired December 8 on the state-controlled Rossiya 1 channel, Kiselyov described Ukrainian opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and his brother Vladimir as gay icons.

He went on to explain how demonstrators camped out on Independence Square survived on warm lard heated on burn barrels and used "ancient African military techniques" against police. He also accused them of depriving law-abiding Kiev residents of a proper Christmas by dismantling the giant artificial tree erected for the festive season. "The protesters barbarically dismembered the green beauty and used her to build barricades," Kiselyov said. "Under the slogan 'Ukraine is Europe,' life in central Kiev is becoming more and more archaic."

Just days before, Kiselyov had appeared in another television program in which he used footage from a Swedish children's series about bodily functions to disparage Europe and Ukraine's EU ambitions. He insisted that the children's program—which features an orchestra of backsides dressed in hats, glasses, and ties—showed "European values in all their glory" and charged that "early sex from the age of 9" was the norm in Sweden.

Kiselyov, however, doesn't hold a monopoly on bizarre coverage of the political turmoil in Ukraine. Rossiya 24 channel last week ran a whole segment in which weather forecaster Vadim Zavodchenkov blamed the demonstrations on the onset of winter, noting that the 2004 Orange Revolution also started at the time of year.

"It isn't the first time that a sharp deterioration in the political climate in Ukraine coincides with the change in the seasons," Zavodchenkov said. "Maybe this is no coincidence. Scientists at Columbia University in the United States have put forward a bold theory: Bad weather incites people to conflict. And it appears that their Russian colleagues agree with them."

Zavodchenkov advised the protesters to roll up their banners and go home for the sake of their health, warning of "a sharp rise in acute respiratory viral infections in Kiev."


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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