How anti-reform messages replace pro-Russian rhetoric on Ukrainian television

With the Russian aggression against Ukraine now in its eighth year, openly pro-Kremlin positions have turned toxic in the Ukrainian news space. Instead, those who wish to prevent Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration now tend to focus their attention on anti-Western rhetoric.

This trend has accelerated in recent years and appears designed to undermine public confidence in Ukraine’s reform agenda while fueling feelings of mistrust and suspicion towards the democratic world at large.

In order to get a better idea of ​​how anti-Western messages are used in Ukrainian media, the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) monitored the summer 2021 season of the political show “Hard with Vlashchenko” on the Rinat Akhmetov’s Ukrayina 24 TV channel.

Hosted by journalist Natalia Vlashchenko, “Hard with Vlashchenko” has faced numerous accusations of promoting anti-reform and anti-Western narratives. During their analysis of the summer season, the AntAC researchers found that messages of this nature were voiced at least once by a guest or by Vlashchenko in 30 of the 40 episodes.

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For Ukrainian politicians and commentators seeking to reverse the declining Kremlin influence in Ukraine, anti-Western messages are a much smarter option than pro-Russian propaganda. This undermines Ukraine’s confidence in the democratization of the country and considerably weakens the advocacy potential of major international partners such as the EU, IMF and G7 countries. Such accounts also implicitly favor a return to the orbit of the Kremlin.

According to AntAC’s analysis, many of the key themes featured in “Hard with Vlashchenko” in the summer of 2021 closely mirrored popular narratives from the Kremlin. The idea of ​​Ukraine being ruled from the outside was featured in 11 episodes, while the alleged Western exploitation of Ukraine was discussed in six shows. There were also regular attacks on anti-corruption institutions, the National Bank of Ukraine and the supervisory boards of state-owned enterprises, as well as conspiracy theories revolving around the supposed role of financier George Soros.

The guest list appearing on “Hard with Vlashchenko” indicated editorial bias, with many of those featured on the show in the summer of 2021 being best known to Ukrainian audiences for their anti-Western positions. Yevheniy Murayev was a frequent guest. A former member of the Party of Regions and the pro-Kremlin opposition bloc and current owner of the Ukrainian television station Nash, friend of Moscow, Murayev has used his appearances to attack Western involvement in Ukraine. Another most popular guest was Dmytro Spivak. Media watchdog Detector Media argues that his frequent appearances are difficult to justify because he has no other qualification than a reputation for promoting anti-reform narratives.

The summer 2021 edition of “Tough on Vlashchenko” also featured examples of the favored Soviet-era propaganda technique known as “what’s up for nothing”, which means attempts to discredit the position of Vlashchenko. ‘an opponent by accusing hypocrisy without directly refuting or refuting the argument. In one program, host Vlashchenko noted the existence of corruption in the West and suggested that in the fight against corruption “it would be good if everyone minded their own business”.

Eurasia Center events

Criticisms of Ukraine’s relations with the country’s Western partners that form the basis of today’s anti-Western rhetoric are easily refuted. For example, international experts have an important role to play in areas such as the selection of future members of judicial governance bodies, but the Ukrainian authorities continue to have the final say on who will actually occupy key positions in the process. judicial reform.

Far from signaling foreign control over the Ukrainian government, the engagement of international experts is a proven path to transparency that should strengthen rather than undermine public confidence in the reform program. The same goes for other targets of popular criticism such as the supervisory boards of large Ukrainian state-owned companies.

The problem of anti-Western messages in the Ukrainian media goes far beyond the program “Tough with Vlashchenko”. For example, Ukrayina 24 hired a number of journalists who previously worked for Murayev’s Nash channel or for channels linked to pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, which were sanctioned and shut down in early 2021. According to Detector Media, many are using their new platform to attack the West.

Ukraine today is going through an unprecedented democratic transition while simultaneously waging a defensive information war against a global superpower. While it is essential to provide mainstream media platforms to a wide range of opinions, Ukraine must also refrain from the militarization of disinformation which aims to demoralize and destabilize the country.

Recent research by AntAC and media watchdogs has shown how one of Ukraine’s most watched channels is helping to undermine people’s confidence in the country’s historic reforms. The weight given to such views is disproportionate and seems out of step with the broad public support for change, suggesting a coordinated attempt to undermine the reform agenda. Why does Akhmetov allow his channel to serve as a platform for anti-Western messages despite his close personal and professional ties to the West?

Olena Halushka is a member of the Board of Directors of AntAC. Oleksandr Yermakov is the communications manager of AntAC.

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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation by promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East .

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Image: With pro-Russian messages no longer effective in Ukraine today, the country’s Kremlin supporters are now focusing on anti-Western media narratives. (Xose Bouzas / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect)

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