On “The Masks of the Revolution” – and on the ethics of journalism

This is a personal opinion post published ahead of the screening of “Les Masques de la Révolution”, on French Canal +, on 01/02/2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 19.17.14

Screenshot: http://www.pltv.fr/en/ukraine-masks-of-the-revolution/#

A few words on “Les Masques de la Révolution – The Masks of the Revolution”, by Paul Moreira, to be shown on French TV on Monday, 1st February.  The scandal has been brewing in France for the past week as I and a few people – press correspondents, researchers, activists, diplomats – got a hand on it. As we watched and discovered the 52-minute piece, we had to face a compilation of factual mistakes, exaggerations and misleading set-ups. Since then, those have been denounced extensively as a few samples show below:

Anna Colin Lebedev & Ioulia Shoukan: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/anna-colin-lebedev/blog/290116/d-ou-me-venait-cette-legere-impression-de-m-etre-fait-avoir?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Sharing&xtor=CS3-66

Benoît Vitkine: http://www.lemonde.fr/televisions-radio/article/2016/01/31/les-lunettes-deformantes-de-moreira_4856732_1655027.html

Halyna Coynash: http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1453944128

Even the notorious Ukrainian journalist Krystyna Berdynski, who does not understand French, felt shocked simply by watching the distorting visual effect the documentary produced: http://nv.ua/opinion/berdinskih/52-minuty-frantsuzskogo-filma-o-sobytijah-v-ukraine-94393.html

To which Moreira responded here:

https://blogs.mediapart.fr/paul-moreira/blog/300116/ukraine-les-masques-de-la-revolution-reponse-aux-critiques

Follow both an endless debate and a game of naming and shaming and guessing who told the truth before anyone else and who is paid by who. And so on, and so forth. I refuse to enter such a game and I want here to salute Anna Colin Lebedev and Ioulia Shoukan who managed to raise the standards of the debate by asking real questions in their latest posts. No, there is no sense in asking for the screening of the documentary to be cancelled. Yes, the theses it underlines deserve consideration and pedagogy. A proper investigation into the Odessa tragedy is essential – so is a solid investigation on the Maïdan deaths, still unresolved. And yes, a debate on the new faces and actions of nationalism in Ukraine is essential to understand and analyse.

What I want to stress here is that I feel insulted as a French journalist. I have been living in Ukraine since 2011 and I have tried to understand the complexity of this country and of the region – and the challenges it faces. What we may see in Moreira’s piece is nothing new. Given the current context of a war of information, if not a “war ON information”, one may have seen such distortion of facts before. What is new is that it comes from a French journalist with an impressive record of brilliant investigations. He is to screen what he dubs “an investigation” in an investigative show – “Spécial Investigation”, which is usually credited with a reputation of credibility and solid findings – on one of France’s major TV channels. His report will be viewed by millions – just because of his reputation.

This comes as a shock for me – a young French journalist who claims to represent and implement some standards of objective journalism. Western modern journalism, as we were taught. Hell, I even give lectures on that in Kyiv!

The most recent posts on the scandal were directed to the audience we, foreign correspondents, work FOR – our readership and viewership – to explain the fallacies of “The Masks of the Revolution”. Let me address the people we work WITH. Ukrainians, Russians, Donbass residents, DNR & LNR representatives, Crimean Tatars, nationalists, civic activists, drug users, HIV-AIDS patients, etc. People who trusted me with information and stories – first and foremost because of what I represented as a French journalist. After the movie screens tonight, I would understand if many of them would feel suspicious to see me coming in. I already know I will have to defend myself and my work. I will have to emphasise that I do not work like « this documentary you have seen on Canal + ».

And I don’t. I don’t pretend to have seen the flags of the Azov battalion over Maïdan – despite the fact that the battalion was created over two months after the end of the Revolution. I do not evoke the “Crimean referendum to join Russia” without mentioning the other component of the story, that is to say Russian troops deployed in Crimea ahead of the vote. I never come up with a theory, which would make the Ukrainian-Russian language issue as a symptom of an irreconcilable internal division. Provided I would, I would not pretend to ignore that many of the fiercest Ukrainian nationalists – Andriy Biletski first and foremost – are mainly Russian-speakers. When I need to ask questions on security and the impact of armed battalions in Ukraine, I do not go to the Minister of Economics to obtain answers. Those – and many more fallacies – literally glut Moreira’s report.

I live in Ukraine long enough to understand that here, as anywhere else, nothing and no one is all black or all white. The President, the government, the Parliament, Maïdan revolutionaries, Ukrainian nationalists, Donbass separatists, oligarchs, corrupt civil servants… No one is black or white. Nothing is that simple. I know it because I care enough to try to understand it. It’s exhausting. Yet I want to keep caring and be accountable for it. And I seriously hope I will keep enjoying people’s trust to do so. Trust is the most precious thing we have, as foreign correspondents. It cannot all go to dust, just because of a one journalist who decided to throw it all away.

5 réponses à “On “The Masks of the Revolution” – and on the ethics of journalism

  1. A reblogué ceci sur Bernard Gruaet a ajouté:
    A true French journalist, who works and lives in Ukraine, who publishes in the most respect medias, expresses his opinion about #PaulMoreira « documentary » which will be dumped today on Cnal+, the French channel now controlled by Vinencnt Bolloré who intend to expand his business in Russia

  2. Monsieur Gobert, vous affirmez vivre en Ukraine depuis 2011, pourtant vos propos concernant le problème de la langue me font penser le contraire. Cette question est soulevée depuis plusieurs années déjà, ce qui est aberrant dans un pays où une majorité écrasante de la population a reçu une éducation en langue russe. Ce qui, au passage, rend caduque votre remarque sarcastique sur le fait que les nationalistes soient eux-mêmes russophones… Mais évidemment qu’ils le sont! 100% de l’élite ukrainienne est russophone. Pour quelqu’un qui dit avoir vécu plus de 4 ans en Ukraine, ce genre de remarque est pour le moins.. étrange.

    Enfin, vous parlez de la présence de forces russes en crimée à la veille du référendum. C’est un fait, malgré l’absence de signes distinctifs sur leurs uniformes. Seulement, vous insinuez que cela a eu une quelconque influence sur le résultat du référendum. Pouvez-vous m’expliquer, par quel processus? Y a-t-il eu des menaces? Des aigressions? Des arrestations?
    Au contraire, je vous laisse imaginer le déroulement d’un tel référendum pro-russe SANS cette protection militaire, dans un pays où les victimes civiles sont une habitude depuis 2 ans.

    J’espère qu’en tant que ‘journaliste français’ vous aurez la motivation et discipline suffisante pour ne pas sombrer dans l’écriture hative de ce genre d’article de provocation en soif de réactions violentes de certains, mais vous préférerez approfondir l’article critiqué par un travail personnel sérieux et qui ne se limite pas à pointer les évidentes libertés prises par votre confrère.

    Bon courage.

    PS: considérez-vous les auteurs des journaux comme ‘le Monde’ comme des ‘journalistes français’, avec toutes les qualités que vous sous-entendez?

  3. Les nationalistes ukrainiens detruisent les statues  » russes  » a travers le pays .
    Ils apportent des fleurs a la statue et aux monuments a la gloire de Stepan Bandera ( qui a collabore avec les Nazis et qui inspire les nationalistes ukrainiens ).
    Et malheur a celui ou ceux qui tenteraient d’y toucher .
    Tout cela avec l’approbation du gouvernement .
    Voila ce qui me gene beaucoup dans ce nouvel Ukraine soit disant democratique ( quand bien meme il a interdit par example le Parti Communiste ).
    Ma femme est du centre/est de l’Ukraine . Nous y avons de la famille et des amis . La situation economique est catastrophique . Encore bien pire qu’avant Maidan .
    Nous allons en vacances depuis 15 ans en Crimee .
    ( je peux vous assurer que sans l’intervention de la Russie , la Crimee aurait ete le theatre d’affrontements sanglants , encore pires que dans le Donbass )
    La situation est complexe .
    L’Ukraine pourrait etre un grand pays a condition d’etre libre , neutre et independant des pressions russes , americaines ou europeennes .
    Un pays tampon ouvert a tous tout en gardant sa neutralite .
    Je crains qu’il n’y ai pas les hommes honnetes , intelligents ….pour le diriger au haut niveau ( car ces hommes la ont tres peu de chances d’acceder a des hautes fonctions ) .
    Et pour les russes , americains , europeens ce pays n’est qu’un jouet geopolitique .
    Les journalistes , politologues anti russes , anti Poutine ou pro americains continuent de defendre parfois aveuglement l’Ukraine .
    Les journalistes , politologues pro russes , continuent parfois aveuglement de les denigrer .
    Beaucoup de polemiques .
    En attendant l’ avenir des Ukrainiens s’annonce malheureusement tres , tres difficile .
    Merci .
    Salutations

  4. Good day,
    Azov founded after the Maidan events ended – that is indeed true, even though their starting date is rather irrelevant in this matter, which you cannot say about their “causes” or “motives”. However, far-right radicals taking up weapons and founding armed groups i.e. Azov, Pravy Sektor is also sort of true. In fact, he was mistaken in one point – the volunteer battalions do not take orders from anyone who is under the command of Ministry of defense or Ministry of interior affairs, as they literally make up their own rules. And that point might just emphasize the extent of their lawlessness, in case one would somehow avoid observing simple details when he was interviewing the Pravy Sektor, Azov commanders, leaders – they could barely make up a civilized sentence or two, let alone explaining reasons to why paramilitary groups were allowed taking up weapons and dictating their rules even to the people on “their side of the conflict”. Even SS, the guys they are so eagerly trying to imitate, were not equally fanatical, blinded, mentally deranged. And SS were limited by actual orders and structure, which obviously does not apply for the volunteer battalions in this case. Other than that – there are sadly plenty of parallels between modern day Ukraine and the dawn of the Third Reich. However, Azov members were indeed present at Maidan and they were indeed formed there and during those events. So, I do not quite see how it is a terrible mistake saying that Azov flags were waiving over Maidan. They, and their leaders are from and because of Maidan. Period. Imagine far-right Russians taking up weapons after Odessa events and doing whatever they are pleased to in Odessa and Odessa region, including disobeying any authorities, for instance. Just a parallel thought.

    On Crimean referendum, I also reacted in that way that I firstly noticed the fact that he avoids telling the entire picture. He simply portrayed a very shortened version of what was probably displayed on pro-Russian media during and after the Crimea referendum events. My guess would be that he did not focus on Crimea to begin with. And he also was speaking as if Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainian is the same thing during the entire movie. Which is not entirely correct, but it is not far off reality either. Because, as many people are aware of – since escalation of this conflict, there were people of both Russian and Ukrainian decent on BOTH sides of the conflict, on all levels of it. There are Russians (and Russian speakers) on the Ukrainian side of the war, and vice versa. But I assume such details are known to anyone who has lived in those former Soviet countries, let alone people that are from ex-USSR.

    But now that we started the topic of objectivity, and since you mention Russian troops in Crimea, you may as well mention the amount of allowed troops in Crimea according to agreements between Russian and Ukrainian governments prior to all this mess? Perhaps it is also worth mentioning the moods of simple people of Crimea at that time as well? For the sake of objectivity, that is.

    Anyway, my point is that Mr. Moreira probably did not put too much weight on neutrality in his investigation, as he obviously intended to show first and foremost horrors of Odessa events and origins of far-right organizations in Ukraine in general.

    And of course, I would also perhaps refrain from going to Minister of Economics in order to obtain war related answers. Especially if I could openly chose from schedules of different ministers at any time… but I am not sure how easy/difficult it might be to get hold of a Minister of… anything, despite being a journalist representing a European channel.

    Finally, I would like to humbly ask to specify one point of yours. You’ve mentioned: “Those – and many more fallacies – literally glut Moreira’s report.” In this point, could you please be more specific on this very point? What exactly did you mean by “many more fallacies”? From what I could observe – the journalist team went around the country gathering data, asking very unpleasant questions (mainly on the Ukrainian side though, I might add). Getting very loose answers to his very straight-forward questions, but STILL portraying a more truthful picture than what most Western media showed for the past 2 years. I still have yet to see someone conducting specified, comprehensive criticism without using words “territorial integrity”, “Putin” or “Russians” every 7 or 8 sentences.

    Almost everyone shown in this documentary, from the scandalous YouTube “star” who’s IQ is lower than my heels, to people with real power in real Western political/military institutions, such as the US military nobs provided quite vague answers. If any. Of course such “hotshots” as Nuland and the now-hand-shakable Tyagnibok did not provide even an attempt of depicting themselves as decent, well intentioned people, as they simply refused to be interviewed. Oh, I wonder why that happened. Could it be because their deeds are only good & conscience is clearer than that of an infant?

    Really looking forward to receiving a reply from a journalist, who knows no rest until full objectivity in Ukrainian press is achieved.

    PS. History has well enough shown us all that there has to be more than one side of the guilt, when it comes to armed conflicts, especially those that bear resemblance of a civil war. Only because you disagree with a journalist on a topic, it does not necessarily have to mean that he does not follow fundamental journalist principles. One might question your willingness to highlight events in an objective manner based on the abovementioned though, but I will leave you to criticizing Monsieur Moreira and his documentary.

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