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10 September, 2013  ▪  Milan Lielich

Operation Smear Campaign

With the presidential election drawing closer in Ukraine, a campaign is unfolding to discredit the mass media

2015, which is just around the corner, is making a significant mark on the Ukrainian media market. New, powerful – at least financially, mass media are emerging mushrooming. At the same time, a smear campaign against the media is unfolding. The purpose is to eliminate their influence on public opinion as the presidential race nears. People should not trust publications or videos that sometimes sting the government more than the entire political opposition. Average Ukrainians should see any negative information only as a manifestation of a dirty war. The voters should be disoriented and as passive as possible, which will sharply increase the efficiency of administrative leverage.

This is nothing new. There have been many media projects before that focused on mudslinging and spreading negative word about disloyal journalists and less often about entire publications. They would always quote an “informed source” or “sensational documents”. People involved in this are media-killers generally well-known in professional circles, with undisguised pro-Russian sentiments. One example is the recent publication of documents by a typical media-killer, Anatoliy Shariy, which supposedly prove that renowned investigative journalist, Tetiana Chornovil is mentally ill. The publication came out in the heat of the election campaign when Chornovil was a candidate in a first-past-the-post district. She found a number of factual mistakes in the “certificates” which confirmed that they were actually falsified and Shariy was forced to apologise. But the damage had been done and a shadow was cast over Chornovil as journalist and candidate. Another recent example is related to the beating of journalists Olha Snitsarchuk and her husband Vladyslav Sodel at the May 18 opposition rally. The group of defenders of Vadym Titushko, the main suspect, was headed by Oksana Shkoda, who has close ties to Viktor Medvedchuk and made every effort to discredit the couple.

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However, during the political calm of the summer, the defamation of independent journalism rose to a new level. A website called Ukrayinska Kryvda (Ukrainian Injustice) emerged. Its format is identical to that of Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), one of the most influential online publications. The content of Ukrayinska Kryvda is standard mudslinging aimed against the media and sometimes politicians, mostly from the opposition. Its news mostly tells about articles ordered by politicians in various publications. Sometimes, they do seem to be true. However, such media monitoring has long been conducted by specialized publications or foundations which report the results in a neutral and reasonable manner, without Kryvda’s negative tone.

The newly created website is bigger, more resolute and consistent in its clearly defined goal of defamation. Its server is located in Germany – this is all that is known about it in public sources. All other information is secret, including that on its founders, executives or employees. Telekritika, an online publication that writes about mass media, quotes an anonymous source saying that Kryvda is done by the acting Chief Editor of Vechirniy Kyiv (Evening Kyiv), Roman Kostrytsia. He denies this, but a number of facts prove that this is the case. At present, according to unconfirmed information, he works for Serhiy Arbuzov, who is considered to be one of the possible initiators of the Ukrayinska Kryvda project. There are also other assumptions too. According to political analyst Taras Berezovets, Dmytro Firtash is behind Ukrayinska Kryvda, and the website was created to troll Ukrayinska Pravda. However, Ukrayinska Kryvda  is far too big for a trolling project, and Ukrayinska Pravda is not its only target. Another version is Viktor Medvedchuk, but Ukrayinska Kryvda besmirches him no less than others and does not trace pro-Russian sentiments that are typical of all of his projects. So far, Medvedchuk’s PR people have been so uninventive that they would hardly create something like this now.

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The fact that Arbuzov has so far been mentioned in just one article on Kryvda, and in a very mild context, may signal that the website is his project. The name of his potential competitor for premiership, Oleksandr Vilkul, who is closely linked to Rinat Akhmetov, has been mentioned dozens of times and generally in a negative context. As for opposition leaders, including Arseniy Yatseniuk, Oleh Tyahnybok, Vitaliy Klitschko and their party members, Ukrayinska Kryvda reveals their “ordered publications”, mudslinging against each other in the media or passion for expensive suits or luxurious vacations on a daily basis.  

Civic activists it has targeted include former investigative journalist Yehor Sobolev and journalist Sonya Koshkina. Publications list typical vices, such as expensive lifestyle, political unscrupulousness, suspicious sexual preferences or loose sexual relations.

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If necessary, Ukrayinska Kryvda’s materials will be republished in the most popular mass media to discredit journalism as such. This scenario was previously successfully used in other authoritative post-Soviet countries. For example, in Azerbaijan, an “intimate” scandal was published against Khadija Ismayilova, one of the few independent journalists in the country. In Russia, several editors of independent publications, as well as opposition politicians were blackened by recordings made with hidden cameras where they were spending time with girls or sniffing suspicious white powder.

As yet, Ukrayinska Kryvda has not become noticeable, and is generally talked about in the narrow circle of political journalists, people working in public relations and political analysts. However, this is just the beginning. In an e-mail interview with Telekritika, “Chief Editor, Lev Leshchenko” assured everyone that: “We will soon have a dossier on everyone: the mass media, journalists, people working in public relations, intermediaries and media managers”, noting that an “agency network, made up of 30 people, working in many Ukrainian media” will be assisting in this endeavour.

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