A (perceived) Ministry of Truth?December 3, 2014
Today, in all probability – or certainly in the immediate future – we may see one of the biggest errors of judgement by the newly elected leadership of Ukraine since its temporary appointment and then subsequent election – and there have been more than a few errors thus far.
A new “Ministry of Information Policy” seems destined to be born – the reason/excuse for which, is to apparently to confront Kremlin propaganda – be it disinformation, misinformation, agitprop etc. What it infers, however, is forthcoming governmental manipulation, management and control of thus far freely accessed information.
Even war with the Kremlin is no excuse for what is a proposed ministry that will undoubtedly be misused when under the control of somebody loyal to one or another oligarch/politician. The same oligarchs/politicians that own most Ukrainian media between them.
Perhaps even worse, the slippery slope from a “Ministry of Information Policy” to a far more Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” is simply something all too tempting for those who remain at the pinnacle of Ukrainian political and business life – and containing the new Ministry of Information Policy to the issue of the Kremlin’s war may become a loose concept. (Smart money would have Yuri Stets, godparent to one of President Poroshenko’s children, as front-runner to lead this potential abomination of an entity.)
Questions of loyalty to whom, of eventual mission creep, and necessity for such a ministry at all, need be asked. The red flags of democracy are surely raised by the prospect of a Ministry of Information Policy that can easily morph into a Ministry of Truth”. It is nothing short of a disaster for the nation should this monstrosity be given life by the State.
To create such a governmental ministry will not only be expensive, but is likely to be perceived as Ukraine being dragged into the Kremlin paradigm of government controlled/censored media – a place where Ukraine would be well advised not to go. The issue of dealing with Kremlin lies, disinformation, misinformation and agitprop has already been the subject of an entry. A “Ministry of Information Policy” is simply not necessary – or desirable – in confronting this specter.
Refuting and rebutting wearisome nonsense emanating from the Kremlin machinery is not difficult the vast majority of the time. The troublesome aspect to its media strategy is the underlying attempt to undermine faith in all media regardless of source, not just that choreographed by the Kremlin. Ukraine need ask itself, if by creating what will undoubtedly be perceived as an odious and truth manipulating governmental ministry, does it help or hinder that Kremlin strategy? Regardless of the intentions behind it being good or bad, the perception it gives is simply counterproductive – as the tweets below in Russian make clear:
— Evgen Vorobiov (@vorobyov) November 30, 2014
— Nikolai Holmov (@OdessaBlogger) November 30, 2014
There is then a matter of legal issues that any such Ministry would have to successfully navigate.
Firstly, there seems to be enough legislative instruments already in existence to deal with Kremlin media shenanigans. It is a matter of the National Council of Television and Radio, or in the case of criminal incidents, the SBU, of actually employing the legal instruments they already have at their disposal. If these State bodies are ineffective, employ the poorly crafted lustration law to replace the relevant executives – who will all undoubtedly fail any strenuous lustration test – until effective leaders are found.
Secondly, Article 25 of the Law on Information, and Article 15 of the Law of Ukraine, (State support of mass media and social protection of journalists), would seem to be at odds with a central Ministry of Information Policy. Regardless, unfettered journalistic access to the war need remain.
Moreover, where does any perceived control and distribution of media relating to the events in The Donbas – and possibly beyond as mission creep sets in – leave Ukraine with regard to its national, regional and international obligations with respect to treaties, charters and other agreements to which it need adhere to with integrity in order to sustain international support?
Democracy requires a free press – whether Ukraine be at war with The Kremlin or not. A Ministry of Information Policy simply infers an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, and thus produces the perception of anything other than a free media – and perceptions count, both domestically and internationally.
Indeed, whilst President Poroshenko seems dead-set on a foreigner heading up the National Anti-Corruption Bureau in an effort to bolster its perceived independence from government and neutrality, perhaps the same determination would be well targeted in placing a foreigner at the head of the National Council of Television and Radio – for exactly the same reasons. One is no less important than the other to democracy.
A Ministry of Information Policy is a particularly poorly thought out and regressive concept – just as any perceived Ministry of Truth would be. Sadly, however, it seems Ukraine is set upon this counterproductive course – a course fraught with danger to its own fragile, and still feckless, democracy.