Wednesday 16th September was a bad day for those who have managed to fool themselves into believing that the Ukrainian Government is somehow characterised by “democratic values”, noble intentions and a steadfast commitment to liberty. Although there was really no excuse for not knowing the real nature of this unpleasant regime before, it still seems to have come as a shock to the western media when certain journalists were, by Presidential decree, barred from entering the country for a year on account of their being a “threat to national interests” and/or promoters of “terrorist activities”. Mr Poroshenko, never one to shy away from making grandiose claims, said the sanctions against journalists and non-journalists would “strengthen the defences not only of Ukraine but of Europe as a whole, because a war is going on here”.
But in his zeal to strengthen the defences of Ukraine and Europe as a whole, Mr Poroshenko made the critical error of banning journalists from organisations that have been — well let’s put it mildly — not exactly known for having a bad word to say about him or the Government in Kiev. For instance, amongst those banned were three BBC personnel — Moscow correspondent, Steve Rosenberg, producer Emma Wells, and cameraman Anton Chicherov — as well as Spanish journalists Antonio Pampliega and Ángel Sastre, who are thought to have been kidnapped in Syria back in July.
For anyone who has been watching helplessly as Ukraine slips into a third world despotism, it comes as no surprise that the Government in Kiev should take to banning or censoring journalists. Amongst the many it has already taken action against you might want to look up the names of Anna Shalimova, Andrey Zakharchuk, and Ruslan Kotsaba. What may be a bit more surprising is that the Kiev Government is now so utterly lacking in anything remotely resembling common sense that it doesn’t appear to have occurred to them that banning people from western media was what you might call A Very Bad Idea. File it in the box marked “PR disasters”.
Here’s what the BBC’s foreign editor, Andrew Roy, had to say:
“This is a shameful attack on media freedom. These sanctions are completely inappropriate and inexplicable measures to take against BBC journalists who are reporting the situation in Ukraine impartially and objectively and we call on the Ukrainian government to remove their names from this list immediately.”
So severe was the backlash that just 24 hours after the bans, Mr Poroshenko revoked them, although interestingly only for a select few. Which ones were these? Well, whooda thunk it, but it just so happened to be those working for the BBC, El Pais and Die Zeit. All others (mainly Russian) remained on the list.
Which throws up an interesting question. If, according to Mr Poroshenko’s decree, Steve Rosenberg was considered to be a “threat to national interests” or a “promoter of terrorism” on Wednesday, what on earth did he do to make himself no longer a “threat to national interests” or a “promoter of terrorism” by Thursday? That’s some achievement and it would be good for those journalists still on the list to know what they need to do in order to get downgraded from threat to non-threat. My guess is that belonging to a pro-Kiev western media outlet probably helps, and so unless they join a pro-Kiev western media outlet and promise to write only nice things about Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk, they’ll probably just have to accept that they are a “threat to national interests” and so must be sacrificed in order for the greater good — nothing less than the defence of Ukraine and indeed Europe as a whole in fact.
But the really big story here is the hollowness of the commitment to “freedom of the press” coming out of the western press and governments. Andrew Roy’s comment above spoke of media freedom, yet mentioned only the ban on BBC journalists. Well you’re either for media freedom or you’re not. If the former, you would want the ban to be lifted from all journalists, wouldn’t you? If the latter, then you would be happy to see some or perhaps all banned, wouldn’t you? But you cannot claim to be “for media freedom” only for those on your side, can you? That’s the opposite of media freedom.
Now that Mr Poroshenko has revoked the ban on the BBC three, is everything okay? Has media freedom been preserved? Or is Mr Roy now calling just as vociferously for the revoking of the ban on the other journalists? I haven’t heard anything yet but I’ll keep looking out.
Or take the comment from the US Ambassador and Coup-Plotter-in-Chief to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. On his Twitter account he wrote the following:
“Glad to see Minister Stets (Ukraine’s Information Policy Minister Yury Stets) agrees on press freedom and need to correct sanctions list.”
Ah but does he agree and has he corrected it Geoffrey? If he really does agree on press freedom, as you say, wouldn’t he have corrected the sanctions list to remove all the banned journalists? But if he has only removed the few that the western media were upset about, then are you sure he agrees on press freedom? Can we leave it with you, Geoffrey, to take him to task over this and work tirelessly to get all the other journalists taken off the list for the sake of “freedom of the press”?
There’s the rub. If you want to bleat on about “media freedom” and “press freedom” then you need to accept journalists who report on things that don’t fit with the Government and/or mainstream narrative. Classifying such people as some kind of national security threat really is frankly preposterous and despotic. If they have been involved in criminal activity, prosecute them. If not, leave them to do their job, even if you don’t much like what they write. Yet is such a reasonable approach even possible for a Government so paranoid and stupid that it bans actors Gerard Depardieu and Steven Segal on the grounds that they “threaten national security”?