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Media fumbles – Ukraine and Odessa

April 3, 2016

After what had been a surprisingly reasonable trip to Washington DC, President Poroshenko managed to leave the USA undoing much of what had been achieved in the US media (both MSM and social).

In short, when asked to comment upon a critical and prickly Editorial in the New York Times lambasting the unyielding corruption that prevails in Ukraine, he rejected out of hand all criticism therein and framed the Editorial as part of the “Hybrid War” being waged against Ukraine by The Kremlin.

Whether it was published as an act of “Hybrid War” by The Kremlins”s useful idiots, or whether it was published by the “supporters of Ukraine” to assert well meant pressure, or is a genuine “Editorial” behind which are neither, is somewhat irrelevant.  The content of the Editorial is accurate as evidenced by numerous public statements by European, US and Canadian diplomats, and is clearly perceived by the Ukrainian domestic constituency as such too (if opinion polls are anything to go by).

Ergo to simply dismiss the Editorial as but another act of Kremlin “Hybrid Warfare”, paying no heed to, and failing to address the contents therein, does only harm to the Ukrainian cause in the USA – not to mention undoubtedly making matters far more difficult for those trying to convince Dutch voters to vote favourably toward Ukraine on 6th April.

What is perhaps worse, is that such an article should have been expected – and therefore prepared for.

The US taxpayer is underwriting US$ billions of Ukrainian loans, providing hundreds of millions of US$ in other funding, sparing no effort in shaping IMF opinion, and is expending an awful lot of diplomatic energy over Ukraine.  President Poroshenko may believe he has already done enough to deserve a second term as president, (indeed he does believe so), but neither the domestic constituency, nor the external supporters of Ukraine are inclined to think so.  All consider him to have much more to do with regard to curtailing and reducing corruption and insuring the equal and unbaised application of the rule of law.

The US taxpayer and media have every right to publicly criticise, and it would (or at lest should) be expected by any competent Presidential Administration that such criticism would be most overt during the visit of a President of a nation that is simply not living up to expectations (or return on capital employed if you prefer).

Indeed at the time of writing, Prosecutor General Shokin is still technically Prosecutor General Shokin.  The final legal act of signing and publishing a Presidential Decree dismissing him from the role has still not been done.

President Poroshenko had ample to time prepare to deal with the content of the editorial.  As already stated such an editorial should have been anticipated during his time in the US, even before he boarded a plane in Kyiv and headed to Washington.  Even if it had not been published, it should have been anticipated and prepared for.  Preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance – and clearly a piss poor performance is what the world witnessed by way of public presidential response to the Editorial.

To simply dismiss it as Kremlin misdeeds suggests that the President is either in cahoots with the vested interests and will henceforth simply dismiss all criticism as Kremlin nefariousness, or that he is in a state of denial and so distant from reality it defies belief, or that he suffers from Homo Sovieticus media advisers and/or refuses media advice.  Perhaps it is a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Whatever the case the presidential response was a PR faux pas tarnishing what was an otherwise surprisingly reasonable visit to Washington, and a faux pas that also brought severe criticism from within Ukraine among media and the voting constituency alike.

There were a multitude of ways to suggest the Editorial was a Kremlin “Hybrid War” piece and still give an erudite and yet humble response to the accurate content.  It is content that he simply has to address with far more vigour to retain the trust of both the external supporters of Ukraine, and enough of the domestic constituency too.

To call this incident a media fumble is to be charitable.

In Odessa, on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon, the first protests of the year involving any number of people occurred in the city centre.

Quite by chance this blog witnessed several hundred people marching from Ekaterinaskaya Ploshad.  They were protesting against corruption.  From what was seen and heard, the protest was not against any particular individual, but was a protest against the corrupt system as a whole.  Bravo!

Odessa

(Undoubtedly the removal of Davit Sakvarelidze as Regional Prosecutor of Odessa, a man widely perceived to be a reformer both regionally and nationally, and his replacement being Nikolai Stoyanov, a man widely perceived to be of the corrupt old guard (and indeed he was part of the regional apparatus under Yanukovych) will have acted as a catalyst.)

Following the march, certain high profile figures bemoaned and lamented the fact that few journalists and bloggers covered the event.  As already stated, this blog witnessed it purely by chance – and this despite at least one of those high profile figures complaining having both telephone number and email address for it.

Clearly the preparatory media preparation for this march/protest was fumbled.  Most journalists and bloggers in Odessa either know each other or know of each other and thus have the ability to contact each other – yet if high profile individuals who are part of established entities want preparatory media coverage to either encourage turnout, or simply garner ample MSM/social media coverage, is it not beholding of them to let the media and blogging community know directly (if deemed necessary)?

How difficult is it to compile an email distribution list?  For those high profile individuals lamenting the lack of media and blogger attendance for the anti-corruption march/protest in Odessa, creating such an email distribution list is not a difficult thing to do – for all the local journalists and bloggers are already known to them.

This blog is on the distribution list of numerous embassies when it comes to receiving invitations.  In fact it is on several distribution lists of various categories within individual embassies.  As the blog is not a journalistic entity, the fact that is it on some but not all distribution lists within embassies is appreciated.  Turning up for the official opening of an envelope it would not do – but certain events have a guaranteed attendance (notwithstanding personally sent individual email requests to “have a chat”).

In short the Odessa anti-corruption march was not a failure with regard to turnout (though undoubtedly it could have been higher with wider preparatory coverage), but due to another media fumble and a lack of preparation, it failed to get the coverage desired.

Once again, planning and preparation prevent piss poor performance – and no differently to the widely perceived fumble of President Poroshenko, both could have easily been avoided.

The PR people certainly aren’t earning their keep this weekend!

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