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13 November, 2014

Freedom For Others

Not everyone raised under western democracy considers freedom a universal value. Especially when it comes to the freedom of those whom they are not accustomed to noticing, hearing, or understanding

The commentator was doing his best. Beginning with a close-up image of a tattoo, he showed a video clip of armed thugs wearing balaclavas before launching into a panel discussion with “experts on Russian subjects”. But of course, how could he leave them out? He did what he could to prove that in Eastern Ukraine the “Ukrainian far right and the Russian far right are killing each other”.

The technique of “equalization” that is now becoming a trend on French television is convenient for many. It is convenient for those who use their dislike for the extreme right as a reason to don ideological blinders and dissociate themselves from the bloody events in the Donbas. Equalization is likewise employed by those who live under Russia’s spell, refusing to acknowledge the Kremlin’s imperialistic aggression. “The only difference is the flags they’re waving,” urged another expert. “When the guns aren’t firing, the Ukrainian fighters and separatists listen to the same music, read the same books, wear the same tattoos and follow identical ideologies. A pathologist from the Donetsk morgue said that their corpses can’t even be told apart.” And the audience believes this. He then reiterates this point to calm himself and the crowd: the conflict in Ukraine is purely localized and ideologically narrow. It’s not a European conflict. It doesn’t concern us.

The viewer is led to believe that these “fraternal nations”, Russia and Ukraine, have so much in common! “The Cyrillic alphabet, Orthodoxy, a common Soviet past - all these elements are passed from commentator to commentator, from one ‘expert’ to another”, explains a lawyer who has travelled around Eastern Europe on various missions with the Council of Europe over the last fifteen years. “The French react to this information as follows: it is about two parts of one whole, which are temporarily quarrelling but will eventually reconcile.”

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Whether subconsciously or due to the influence of certain interests, through laziness or narrow-minded cowardice, it would be convenient for many in France if Ukraine were within Russia’s sphere of influence. It is initially difficult to say how many of the commentators are getting their identical slogans about Ukraine: “a territory without a history”, “a fascist junta in power in Kyiv”, and “following America’s orders". It is especially difficult to determine precisely how these repetitive pro-Russian messages are being disseminated for use in mass-media.

“We don’t use the kinds of brutal tactics that one sees in Ukraine. You cannot, for example, kick down the door of the channel director’s office and offer a tidy sum to buy out your own ‘negative package’(i.e. purchase a specified period of media loyalty to your business)”, says Sylvie, who not once reported on Ukraine during or after the Orange Revolution. "French TV has other weaknesses: ideological blinders, automatism in support of Parisian foreign policy, and lazy hosts who tend to invite the same favourite pundits to debate.”

Why this particular approach, these commentators, and this taboo about Ukraine on French TV? What is more influential: material interests or the stereotypical ideas of the journalists and their audience? “Except for the Francophone channel ProRussiaTV, which was openly financed by Russian money, we have no solid evidence of the direct role of Russian capital in French TV”, states Frédéric, a lawyer who specializes in media issues. “State television often demonstrates a relative dependence on the political sympathies of the state leadership. There is no full transparency for private television channels. If it wanted, Russia could certainly buy up shares in such media firms in order to indirectly influence the overall tone of programming, but of course not the content itself. It’s more appropriate to speak not about censorship or corruption, but rather a subtle encouragement of self-censorship. Indeed, a large number of politicians and TV producers think that getting into an open conflict with Russia would not be beneficial to France.”

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And we mustn’t forget whose purposes television serves, and about the preferences, interests, and priorities of these viewers whom even the television producers openly call “narrow-minded plankton?” “French paternalistic society has done everything it can to destroy people’s ability to empathize”, stated one broadcaster colleague. “Not only empathy toward distant peoples who are dying for their freedom, but even toward their own citizens. Everything is entrusted to the state, and even a function like solidarity ceases to be the responsibility of the individual”.

Children of freedom do not always grow up to be conscious of its value. They take their comfort for granted, refusing to believe that it could come to an end just as suddenly as the lives of those who walked down Kyiv’s Instytutska St. one sinister February morning.


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