Death of Journalism in Donetsk

The clampdown on journalists in the Donetsk oblast [region] dates back to the beginning of the so-called ‘Russian spring.’ On 1 March this year, 7,000 people came out on to the city’s Lenin Square carrying Russian flags, and the flag of an unknown organisation called the ‘Donetsk Republic.’ Most journalists reported this as a normal demonstration expressing the will of the people. Independently-minded journalists, however, wrote that the rally had been organised with additional support from towns whose mayors were part of former President Yanukovych’s circle. This became the dividing line between the ordinary journalists and their independent colleagues.

. . . .

Most of the local media ignored the themes of corruption, and did not touch material we listed on our website highlighting discrepancies between the officials’ lifestyles and their incomes.

The mayor of Makeyevka, for instance, one Aleksandr Maltsev, worked all his life in the public sector, but was able to buy himself an expensive detached house with a garden and a swimming pool. Immediately after his appointment to the post of governor, Andriy Shishatsky bought his son a detached house in the centre of Donetsk. One of his deputies – a civil servant – regularly went to work in a watch worth $150,000.

. . . .

Writing the truth in the People’s Republic of Donetsk
Aleksey Matsuka 18 July 2014

Igor Druz on ‘People of the Republic’Some journalists in Donetsk are brave enough to tell the truth about what is going on there. But there are consequences… на русском языке

The clampdown on journalists in the Donetsk oblast [region] dates back to the beginning of the so-called ‘Russian spring.’ On 1 March this year, 7,000 people came out on to the city’s Lenin Square carrying Russian flags, and the flag of an unknown organisation called the ‘Donetsk Republic.’ Most journalists reported this as a normal demonstration expressing the will of the people. Independently-minded journalists, however, wrote that the rally had been organised with additional support from towns whose mayors were part of former President Yanukovych’s circle. This became the dividing line between the ordinary journalists and their independent colleagues.

Protest in solidarity with Donetsk journalists, Donetsk 2013. Photo courtesy of the author

When Viktor Yanukovych fled, he left his people behind in the Donetsk oblast – mayors of cities to the regional administration – all ensconced at various levels of the power vertical. Some of them subsequently publicly renounced any links with ‘The Family,’ others lay low, and yet others followed Yanukovych into exile. One of these was the former chairman of the Donetsk Regional Council, Andrei Fedoruk, whose current whereabouts are still unknown. The media overwhelmingly disregarded these facts, preferring to concentrate solely on what could be seen from the outside, both more convenient and simpler – not only for the editors, but for the journalists themselves.

The media concentrated on what could be seen from the outside – easier for the editors and the journalists
Follow the money

Most of the local media ignored the themes of corruption, and did not touch material we listed on our website highlighting discrepancies between the officials’ lifestyles and their incomes.

The mayor of Makeyevka, for instance, one Aleksandr Maltsev, worked all his life in the public sector, but was able to buy himself an expensive detached house with a garden and a swimming pool. Immediately after his appointment to the post of governor, Andriy Shishatsky bought his son a detached house in the centre of Donetsk. One of his deputies – a civil servant – regularly went to work in a watch worth $150,000.

Our information was ignored for a very simple reason: the journalists were hostages to their editors-in-chief; the editors depend on the local government and on their owners. That is why journalists in the Donetsk region have traditionally been regarded as servants by the authorities. When Viktor Yanukovych and his team came to power, we came under even greater pressure. In recent years the only independent sources of news from Donbas have been ‘Donbas News’ (where I am editor-in-chief) and the website ‘Ostrov’ [Island]. For a region with a population of five million, that is not much!

Independent journalism in Donbas is a dangerous profession: persons unknown tried to burn my flat down, and the editor of ‘Ostrov’, Sergei Garmash, had his car set alight. In 2013, after we began investigating the activities of the Donetsk public utility company ‘Donbas Water,’ where Governor Shishatsky had appointed one of his friends as manager, unknown people tried to barge their way into our office. Subsequently, my car too was burned, but that was already after the beginning of the so-called ‘Russian spring;’ and the arsonists were in all probability not the local authorities – they had been tightening the screws on us for the last five years – but their ‘children,’ the armed separatists.

. . . .

Now the newspaper kiosks of Donetsk, Makeyevka and other towns seized by the armed separatists have no Ukrainian or local papers or journals; just entertainment. Cable channels do not run Ukrainian channels (except entertainment). In ‘liberated’ Slovyansk, the local administration has put up a large screen where it transmits Ukrainian TV – there is no electricity or water in most of the city districts, so the locals come to the central square to find out what is going on.

. . . .

The information vacuum is a good thing for the armed separatists because only the ‘right’ news gets disseminated, such as the information that in Slovyansk the local ‘nationalist population’ and the National Guard had ‘executed’ a little girl; or that in now-liberated Kramatorsk, the ‘Right Sector’ party is forcing people to speak Ukrainian.

Back in January 2014, the local authorities in Donetsk were already putting out phoney news items: Yanukovych was still president, and the local elite, who were totally behind him, were doing all they could to ensure that the population did not come out in support of Euromaidan. This led the secretary of the Donetsk City Council, one of the local Party of Regions ideologues Sergei Bogachov, to spread rumours to the effect that right-wing ‘Right Sector’ militants were on their way to Donetsk to orchestrate actions against peaceful Russian-speaking citizens in Donetsk. Actually, no one from ‘Right Sector’ ever showed up, but radicals from Russia did. Bogachov himself left on 13 July 2014 for Berdyansk on the sea in the Zaprozhye oblast, which is completely controlled by the Ukrainian army; and the locals there have no fear of ‘Right Sector’.
Only one side of the story

The local press published the officials’ lies without checking the facts, with no second opinion and no investigation, though all the rules of journalism would dictate that after Bogachov’s statement, calls should have been put through to ‘Right Sector’ to establish whether they really had got busloads of activists ready to descend on Donetsk. But none of the editors were at all interested in fact checking, just as they were unprepared to take on any opinion that differed even slightly from the official line of the local political elite.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/writing-truth-in-people%E2%80%99s-republic-of-donetsk

1 Comment

Leave a Reply