How to win an information war

How to win an information war

If we analyse the consequences of information attacks recently carried out against the Ukrainian state, we can come to a distressing conclusion: Ukraine is actually losing control over its own information sovereignty.

Russia held a successful information war against Ukraine during the gas crisis and the meat-and-dairy row, a Ukrainian information policy official has written in an article. Bohdan Chervak, the head of the information policy department of the State Committee for TV and Radio, emphasized the importance of creating public TV, but he said that state TV channels were also needed and should be financed much better to effectively promote Ukraine`s position.

The following is the text of the article by Bohdan Chervak entitled "How to win an information war" posted on Ukrayinska Pravda web site on 29 May; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Word combinations "information war", "information attack" and "information terrorism" have firmly entered the vocabulary of Ukrainian politicians and statesmen. Meanwhile, it should be noted that all of them just ascertain the fact of an information expansion against Ukraine and the necessity of "doing something" in this context.

Meanwhile, if we analyse the consequences of information attacks recently carried out against the Ukrainian state, we can come to a distressing conclusion: Ukraine is actually losing control over its own information sovereignty, and its territory is being influenced by information flows from neighbouring countries with all subsequent consequences.

RUSSIA WAGES INFORMATION WAR

The first serious information war against Ukraine is known to have been started during the gas confrontation between Russia and Ukraine [in December 2005 - January 2006].

It was the time when the Russian media initiated a flow of different news reports to our country`s territory. They were aimed at making an image of the Ukrainian authorities playing an "unfair game" with Russia. In particular, they try to "steal" Russian gas and are unable to follow generally accepted European standards in the course of negotiations.

Frankly speaking, the information attack from Moscow became a shock for the Ukrainian society, and consequently, for the authorities. The Ukrainian media just reproduced the Russian position for a long time, being unaware that they were "playing" on the "aggressive" country`s side.

At that time Ukrainian president`s [Viktor Yushchenko`s] adviser Volodymyr Horbulin was forced to recognize at one of his rare briefings: the information war over the gas problem was initiated by the Russian side, and the Ukrainian mass media insufficiently defended Ukraine`s interests.

"Unfortunately, the Ukrainian media did not properly defend the country`s position due to their pluralism," Yushchenko`s adviser said.

Yushchenko`s press secretary Iryna Herashchenko was more sincere. She said almost in despair: "No-one of them defended the president`s position. When it comes to national interests, one should make a choice: elections or Ukraine. Ukrainian politicians and media should unite their efforts and stop speculating on important problems."

However, as it turned out later, developments around Russian gas supplies and transit were just the beginning of a large-scale information expansion.

The Russian propaganda machine got a new momentum as early as March, and Moscow-based Kommersant paper informed us about this. It was the paper which had reported on the cancellation of broadcasting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on [Russian state-owned] Rossiya TV channel.

In particular, asked by a journalist on whether a broadcast of an interview with [German] Chancellor Angela Merkel would have been cancelled on the eve of an election in Germany, one of the company`s top managers answered: "These are different stories, as we have a single information space with Ukraine, the same way as with Belarus."

Like this, no more and no less.

Meanwhile, Russian media launched another information "canard", having accused Ukraine of alleged location of a secret CIA prison on its territory.

Obviously, this misinformation is aimed at destroying Ukraine`s positive international image and forming Ukraine`s image as a state having a "pro-American" "marionette" regime in power.

The events around Makariv-1, a military base where the Russian media "uncovered" secret prisons, were not only a proof of continuing information war, but also of Russia`s unwillingness to terminate it in principle.

Defence Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko who had invited Russian journalists, including the author of the Special Correspondent cycle (the one which had actually aired the spot about "prisons"), Arkadiy Mamontov, soon made certain of their general unwillingness to apologize for misinformation. They just ignored the Ukrainian minister`s invitation.

The Russian mass media soon focused on the [Moldovan breakaway] "Dniester" direction. They described new customs regulations for cargo from the Dniester region introduced by Ukraine as an "attempt of pressure on [Dniester region capital] Tiraspol" and accused the Ukrainian authorities of "escalating tensions in the region".

Russian propaganda pursued two goals in this situation: first, to discredit so-called "Yushchenko plan" which, according to international experts` assessments, remains the most realistic "road map" to settle the conflict between Chisinau and Tiraspol; second, to confuse numerous Ukrainians living in the Dniester region, who are likely to become official Kiev`s potential

partners.

While the Russians did not manage to achieve their first goal yet, they have fully accomplished the second one. The majority of the Ukrainians living in the Dniester region who had no sufficient information on the true reasons of the conflict, failed to support Kiev`s position and accepted unsubstantiated assurances from Tiraspol and Moscow.

UKRAINE`S ADEQUATE REACTION REQUIRED

Obviously, we have mentioned just the major "battles" from the information front waged by the neighbouring country against Ukraine in the course of six months. To be fair, we should also emphasize that Russia is not the only country demonstrating it information muscles. Practically all neighbouring countries broadcast for Ukraine, pursuing their own economical, political and cultural interests at the same time.

In relation to this, a logical question arises: what is the Ukrainian state doing and what can it do to protect its own information sovereignty?

There can be only one answer to this question: to introduce a brand-new, up-to-date and efficient state information policy which will provide for the country`s national interests, first of all in the information sphere.

Until recently, the authorities` recent efforts in the information field were mainly focused on elimination of rudiments of the previous regime. In particular, mechanisms of production, spreading and usage of "temnyky" [instructions on news coverage] as the means of the authorities` pressure at mass media have been dismantled.

Therefore, the authorities have made provisions for freedom of speech in the country, and Ukrainian media got an opportunity to operate and develop in the conditions of free and democratic society. However, the reality shows that it is not sufficient for protecting the country, society and individuals from foreign information expansion.

Obviously, when the conditions of freedom of speech are being met and the media market has been de-monopolized, it is not easy for the authorities to establish effective communication with the media and to present necessary information to the Ukrainian society and abroad. Despite this, certain experience has been accumulated.

For example, Viktor Yushchenko`s addresses broadcast by the National Radio Company every Saturday have fully justified all hopes. However, it is necessary to urgently develop information presence of the Ukrainian state, first of all, in the national information space, not to mention

international broadcasting.

PUBLIC MEDIA DEVELOPMENT, STATE MEDIA MODERNIZATION

Public news media can and must become reliable allies of the authorities and the state in this situation. The necessity of their establishment has been discussed for a long time. Of course, state-owned information resources, in particular, the modernization of the National TV Company of Ukraine, the National Radio Company and regional state TV and radio companies may not be

avoided.

I mean exactly "modernization", because all previous plans of launching social or public broadcasting were based on the idea of eliminating state-owned media. There is no need to be a far-sighted politician to understand that successful implementation of the project of establishing public media directly depends on the country`s capacity to reinforce available state-owned information resources which will consequently be transformed in public news media.

Otherwise, state-owned media will go to "sponsors`" hands, which means oligarchs in our case, and then one can forget about real public media.

Formation of social and public media on the basis of the National TV Company of Ukraine, National Radio Company of Ukraine and regional state TV and radio companies does not mean that the state should get rid of its own information resources.

On the contrary, it should concentrate necessary levers for ensuring Ukraine`s information presence in the world information and cultural space in its hands. International broadcasting, or to be more precise, protection of Ukraine`s own national and cultural interests abroad, is the direct function of the state and authorities.

In addition, let us note that the share of state-owned information resources in the leading western democracies currently equals up to 40 per cent, and they successfully operate alongside with public and commercial mass media.

This is the reason why the incorporation of the Ukrainian TV and Radio Broadcasting World Service [UTR] into the National TV Company of Ukraine, which can become a public broadcaster in the future, is absolutely ungrounded and cannot be justified from the point of view of protecting the Ukrainian information space. UTR has belonged to the state and should remain in its hands.

Moreover, transforming this company into a powerful information mouthpiece is an obligation of the state. By the way, governments of the world`s leading countries do not spare funds for supporting state-owned media.

FOREIGN EXPERIENCE

It was earlier this year when the House of Representatives of the US Congress approved budgetary allocations for development of state-owned international TV and radio broadcasting in the amount of 620m dollars.

The relevant document stipulates that the allocated funds are necessary for carrying out activities related to the provision of information to international audience, including purchases, installation and lease of new objects for TV and radio. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (similar to Ukrainian State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee) operates within the structure of the US government.

It is in charge of international broadcasting conducted in 61 languages by the Voice of America and TV Marti channels, Al Hurra TV channel, Radio Liberty and other state-owned media entities.

Someone can say that the USA is not an authority for us. But Russia is carrying out similar state information policy. It is currently systematically working on the establishment of a new Russia Today TV channel due to broadcast for abroad 24 hours a day. The head of the Federal Agency for the Press and Mass Communication (Russian information ministry), Mikhail Seslavinskiy, forecasts that 30m dollars will be spent for these purposes.

SUPPORT FOR CULTURAL CHANNEL

It is necessary to provide all kinds of support to the government`s initiative to modernize the Kultura state TV and radio company, which was earlier established thanks to the efforts of the famous Ukrainian film director, Oleh Biyma, and was aimed at propagating the best achievements of Ukrainian culture in Ukraine and in the world.

It is even not worth speaking much about this channel`s capacities. Its potential lies is inexhaustible sources of the Ukrainian cultural heritage, which is a much more efficient way of forming our country`s positive image than efforts of numerous officials from the Foreign Ministry.

By the way, the annual budget of the Russian Kultura TV and radio company equals 200m US dollars. This sum is beyond any comparison with the sums allocated for funding the Ukrainian Kultura channel.

INTERNET NEWS

It is necessary to pay attention to the absence of legal provisions for operation of information activity subjects in the "UA" web domain. We can trace a dangerous tendency of spreading untrue, distorted and sometimes explicitly provocative information aimed at discrediting some individuals, political parties, statesmen and business circles.

International practice shows that the world`s leading countries have legislatively regulated the relations emerging during the use of the Internet network.

STATE AUTHORITIES` ROLE

The complex of measures related to the formation of efficient state information policy is not limited with references to its importance and determination of the new role of state media. It is necessary to drastically change the nature of interaction between the authorities and news media. The same way, one should not invent a "bicycle" either.

State authorities are likely to act as the major information producer in the whole world. For example, 60 per cent of news on state activities in the USA is produced by the state itself.

Provisions for this work in the leading European countries are made the special state authorities in charge of developing communications which unite the authorities and media.

For example, the issue of providing information to people in Germany is tackled by a federal government`s agency in charge of work with the media, its staff amounting to 500 people and overall budget for information purposes equalling 20m euros.

It should be the major function in the activity of the Ukrainian State Committee for TV and Radio Broadcasting which, in accordance with legislation in force, is in charge of implementing the state information policy.

This article did not tackle other elements of state policy in information sphere, in particular, publishing books and printed media, protection of social morality, activities of the National Council for TV and Radio Broadcasting, etc. Each of these areas require a special fundamental

discussion.

However, I would like to hope that the aforementioned considerations will help the Ukrainians to win all information wars in the future.

The article was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.

 

By Bohdan Chervak, Head Information Policy Department

State Committee for TV and Radio

Ukrayinska Pravda web site, Kiev, in Ukrainian 29 May 06

BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, Wed, May 31, 2006

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