Inaccurate reporting from Voice of America offers support for Kremlin propaganda

BBG Watch Commentary

VOA Report Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 1.03AM EDTA report posted Monday on the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), “As Kyiv’s Maidan Square Clears, Regrets Remain,” gave an inaccurate and misleading account of recent civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine.

VOA: “More than 1,100 civilians have died since the Ukrainian army began its “anti-terrorist” operation in the east, say U.N. officials.”

UPDATE: After criticism from BBG Watch, VOA changed “civilians” to “people,” but it did not change the misleading link between the casualties and the Ukrainian army, which was not made in the UN report. VOA failed to note that Russia-supported and supplied rebels were themselves responsible for many of the casualties, executions and intimidation, which was one of the findings of the UN report.

This information provided by the Voice of America on its main English-language news website and translated and posted on VOA foreign language websites is not only inaccurate; the inaccurate and misleading language offers support for the Kremlin’s propaganda.

The VOA report says wrongly that all victims were civilians. VOA’s language can also tie the casualties to the Ukrainian army operations for those international audiences who do not know details of the UN report.

Kremlin propagandists have all the reasons to be delighted by such reporting by VOA, which is biased in favor of the Kremlin’s propaganda, as some other VOA news reports have been in recent months, most likely due to the meltdown of managerial and editorial controls.

This latest VOA report can very easily confuse international audiences into believing that the Ukrainian army is responsible for all civilian casualties. The sentence in the VOA report grossly distorts the tone and focus of the UN report in a way favorable to the Russian government. The UN report assigns plenty of blame to the Russian government and the forces Moscow supports in eastern Ukraine.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 15 July 2014,” it is quite clear that not all of the casualties have been civilians and that Russia-supported rebels are responsible for a large number of deaths.

“The number of casualties is hard to ascertain. However, based on the best data available conservative estimates by the HRMMU and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are that at least 1,000 people have died from mid-April until 15 July. This includes military and civilians (including members of the armed groups).

(…)

The number of members of armed groups who have been killed is unknown, but some may have been counted within the numbers of civilians killed.”

Accurate news reports on the UN-provided number of casulties in eastern Ukraine were posted online in English by Reuters, Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Like VOA, RFE/RL is funded through the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Reuters reported on August 11, 2014 in “Russia sending aid convoy to Ukraine despite Western warnings of ‘invasion pretext’“:

REUTERS: “According to U.N. agencies, more than 1,100 people have been killed including government forces, rebels and civilians in the four months since the separatists seized territory in the east and Kiev launched its crackdown.”

Deutsche Welle (DW) also pointed out in an online report on August 11, 2014, “Kyiv urges civilians out of Donetsk; Russia claims aid deal,” that according to the UN, those killed include government forces, rebels and civilians:

DW: UN agencies say in total more than 1,100 people have been killed, including government forces, rebels and civilians, in Ukraine over the past four months.

RFE/RL reported on July 28, 2014 in “UN Says More Than 1,100 Killed In Ukraine Conflict“:

RFE/RL: “The United Nations says more than 1,100 people have been killed in the Ukrainian conflict since mid-April.

The UN human rights office said on July 28 that the latest figures showed the conflict has claimed at least 1,129 lives, with both government rebel forces using heavy weaponry in built-up areas.

It said 3,442 people have been wounded, while some 100,000 people have now fled the conflict zone in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk for other areas of Ukraine.

The agency also accused pro-Russian separatists of subjecting the eastern Ukrainian population to “a reign of intimidation and terror.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the downing of a Malaysian airliner on July 17 “may amount to a war crime.”

The airliner crashed in Donetsk on July 17.”

END OF RFE/RL REPORT

 

VOICE OF AMERICA ENGLISH NEWS

 

VOA Report Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 1.03AM EDT

VOA Report Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 1.03AM EDT

 
 

Other Voice of America English News reports from Ukraine had similar inaccuracies and bias. VOA had posted a map showing Crimea to be part of Russia and retweeted misleading news reports from Russia’s RT. Voice of America also reported results of a questionable public opinion survey ordered in Russia-occupied Crimea by the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). According to the Voice of America English News reporting:

VOA English News: “The survey of Crimeans after the Russian takeover showed they are overwhelmingly happy to be part of Russia, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed saying their life will improve as part of Russia rather than Ukraine.”

Independent U.S., Russian, and Ukrainian experts said that conducting this kind of survey among the intimidated segments of population of Crimea could not produce valid results, but the Voice of America did not make this observation and failed to note that the Crimean Tatars (about 12% of the population and strongly against the Russian rule) were not even mentioned in the poll’s results.

Faulty VOA English News reporting on the questionable poll ordered by the BBG’s U.S. government officials in the occupied part of Ukraine’s territory without consulting the Ukrainian government validated the Kremlin’s propaganda claims, as does the latest inaccurate VOA report on the nature of casualties in eastern Ukraine.

It must be pointed out that the VOA Ukrainian Service does not use these questionable VOA English news reports, but many other VOA language services do. They inadvertently support the Russian government and its media in their propaganda claims.

The management meltdown at the Voice of America was also evident in the failure of the VOA Kurdish Service to update its website and social media pages for up to 11 hours and to report promptly online on President Obama’s statement Saturday while tens of thousands of Kurdish speaking refugees were fleeing for their lives and were being supplied with humanitarian aid by U.S. Air Force in northern Iraq.

There appears to be a complete breakdown of leadership, management or even basic editorial controls at the Voice of America.
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NEWS RELEASE

UNITED NATIONS
HUMAN RIGHTS
OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER

Intense fighting in eastern Ukraine “extremely alarming”, says Pillay, as UN releases new report

GENEVA (28 July 2014) A total breakdown of law and order and a reign of fear and terror have been inflicted by armed groups on the population of eastern Ukraine, according to a new report issued today by the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report documents how these armed groups continue to abduct, detain, torture and execute people kept as hostages in order to intimidate and “to exercise their power over the population in raw and brutal ways.”

Well organized and well equipped militarily, these armed groups have intensified their challenge to the Government of Ukraine, the report says. In response, there has been an acceleration of Government security operations during July in the areas still under the control of the armed groups, with heavy fighting located in and around population centres, resulting in loss of life, property and infrastructure and causing thousands to flee.

“The reports of increasingly intense fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are extremely alarming, with both sides employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

“Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured,” she added. “Already increasing numbers of people are being killed with serious damage to civilian infrastructure, which – depending on circumstances – could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. The fighting must stop.”

The deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine is impacting adversely on the rest of the country, with more than 100,000 people fleeing the areas of fighting having to be temporarily accommodated in other parts of Ukraine.

The latest report covers the period of 8 June to 15 July 2014 and is the fourth in a series of reports produced by the 39-person United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU) deployed in Ukraine by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in mid-March.

The report points out how impunity in the areas under the control of the armed groups in the east has led to the collapse of the rule of law. It lists examples of some of the 812 people who have been abducted or detained by these armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since mid-April. “Some of those detained by the armed groups are local politicians, public officials and employees of the local coal mining industry; the majority are ordinary citizens, including teachers, journalists, members of the clergy and students”. The Monitoring Mission has received numerous reports of acts of ill-treatment or torture of these detainees, as well as killings by the armed groups which frequently seek ransom or, more recently, use the detainees to dig trenches or send them to fight on the front lines. Some abductions appear to be totally random. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner reports cases of people being detained by the Ukrainian armed forces and some cases of Ukrainian nationals who allegedly have been taken and are currently detained in the Russian Federation on various charges.

New allegations of executions have arisen, some of which have been verified by the Monitoring Mission. Following the retreat of the armed groups from Slovyansk on 5 July, a journalist uncovered documents indicating that armed groups had been holding ‘military tribunals’ and sentencing people to death. ‘Execution orders’ were found signed by the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the armed groups.

Since the end of the ceasefire on 30 June, the Government has regained control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that were previously under the control of armed groups. But this has come at great cost, with increasing numbers of people being killed and injured and serious damage to property and infrastructure. In addition, new concerns arise as the Government restores law, order and security in those territories. The report urges the Government to ensure the full application of international human rights norms and apply adequate human rights guarantees, including avoiding reprisals, when identifying those suspected of violating the law while such areas were under control of the armed groups.

Casualty figures are hard to gauge reliably, the report says. However, based on the best data available, conservative estimates by the Human Rights Mission and the World Health Organisation put the number of those how have been killed from mid-April to 15 July as 1,000 people. As of 26 July, at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded. Material damage is also documented, and the Government estimates the cost for the rebuilding and revitalization of the east to be at least 8 billion UAH (about 750 million USD). The Government is proposing to cover these costs, along with those of its security operation in the east, by cutting social programs, social benefits and other areas that will affect the whole country, the report notes.

The report notes the impact of the current economic recession facing Ukraine and the “dire” situation in the east, which is the country’s centre for heavy industry. Public buildings have been seized, banks and other financial institutions have closed, factories and businesses have shut down and some big industrial enterprises and mines have been severely damaged. Infrastructure like electricity, water and sewerage plants and other public utilities have been damaged, cutting off essential services to the remaining residents and businesses. “With the economic life of Donetsk and Luhansk now crippled, the impact on the rest of the country will be severe,” the report says.

The human rights situation in Crimea remains of great concern. Harassment and discrimination against Ukrainian nationals, Crimean Tatars, religious minorities, minorities in general and activists who opposed the 16 March “referendum” has intensified, the report states. NGOs have warned of a possible new wave of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Crimea during the next few months as new restrictions take effect and make people’s lives there untenable. “This would include business people who were having serious difficulties with continuing to operate their businesses in Crimea; lecturers and teachers because they fear they will be sacked at the beginning of the new academic year for holding Ukrainian nationality or because they are Crimean Tatar; and families with sons of military age who do not want to be called for service into the Russian Federation army”.

Currently the vast majority (86%) of IDPs are from the east, with UNHCR estimating the total to be 101,617 as of 25 July – an increase of more than 15,000 since the reporting period ended on 15 July. While central government has now begun to provide resources and coordinate and plan better, a number of serious problems remain to be resolved.

Although the majority of Ukrainians outside the east continue to be able to exercise their freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, movement and religion or belief, the report notes some worrying trends. “As the severity of the violence increased in the east and the crisis there dragged on, opinions became more polarized in Ukraine. As a result, the level of hate speech has escalated dramatically, especially on social media, but also in demonstrations and protests and even in Parliament,” the report says, adding that, the level of ‘anti-Russia’ rhetoric has increased along with the physical targeting of Russian-owned banks and businesses on the grounds that they are ‘financing terrorism.’

Harassment, intimidation, manipulation, abductions, detentions and enforced disappearances of journalists have continued to occur in the east, and at least five journalists have been killed since the fighting began in April, the report notes. Cases from Donetsk in recent days reflect these concerns: a Ukrainian freelance journalist in Donetsk was abducted by the armed groups, then released after having been ill-treated. One Russian journalist was detained by the Ukrainian armed forces; his whereabouts were unknown for some time and he was then deported by the Ukrainian authorities.

The report also discusses new legislation being introduced as part of the Government’s reform. It notes the recent signing of the trade agreement with the European Union that completes the Association process and the publication of the much anticipated new proposed amendments to the Constitution that provide for a degree of regional autonomy and the increased use of local languages. These latter two issues were at the centre of demands being made by the residents of eastern Ukraine and their not being addressed led to the current conflict.

Despite the huge challenges the Government of Ukraine faces as it restores law, order and security as well as combats armed groups in the east, the report concludes that there is an urgent need to prioritize attention to good governance, rule of law and human rights issues in line with recommendations made by the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the work of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission (described in an Annex to the report). The report notes that the Government “needs to address the wider systemic problems facing the country with respect to good governance, rule of law and human rights. This requires deep and badly needed reforms, especially as Ukraine seeks to fulfil its EU aspirations and establish a democratic and pluralistic society.”

“The horrendous shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane on 17 July came just after the cut-off date of this report,” Pillay said. “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.

“I would like to stress to all those involved in the conflict, including foreign fighters, that every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are,” the High Commissioner added. “I urge all sides to bring to an end the rule of the gun and restore respect for the rule of law and human rights.”

ENDS

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