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On biased journalism

Ostap DROZDOV: “We are paying the price for our unwillingness to make decisions”
26 September, 17:51
Photo courtesy of the ZIK TV channel

The war has issued new challenges – for journalists too. And it would be wrong to think that only the military fight at the front. There are also other fronts which have nothing to do with propaganda but are directly relevant to seeking the truth. It is the front of journalism. Ostap DROZDOV, a Ukrainian writer, journalist, host of the talk shows “DROZDOV” and “Straight Up Front” on the Ukrainian ZIK TV channel, sometimes assumes rather a rough tone in his programs. He may turn out a guest and demands that participants speak Ukrainian only. But it is wrong to say that Drozdov is bent on behaving shockingly, as Russian talk-show hosts are. Just the contrary. Ukrainian television is perhaps short of a sincere dialog on sore points. This is the subject of our conversation with Drozdov.


Mr. Drozdov, a new political season begins. Are you planning to find some new formats on television?

“Frankly speaking, I am very conservative in this. I don’t think we should change the train that runs very well. My program ‘Straight Up Front’ has been on the air for 12 years. I have already tested a lot of approaches, but I still remain fixated on my own manner of interpreting political reality. Whatever you do, yours is the work of an author, and I classify my program as authorial. In other words, it has no format at all. You can see a talkfest anywhere, on any channels. I regard my program as a piece of biased journalism. I’ve always had an inclination for this. I always say that I don’t recognize impartiality as a notion. Moreover, I reject the concept of the so-called unbiased journalism. I don’t think we should allow the two sides to speak. Journalists should be more particulate about who they invite to speak. The so-called hybridism is being foisted on us under the guise of impartiality. We are forced to devote 50 percent of the broadcast time to outright evil disguised as balance of opinions. I have never played in this. I can say I am a manipulating journalist in the finest sense of the word. For example, it is written ‘manipulations’ [procedure room – Ed.] on the door of a Ukrainian outpatient hospital. It is the room where you are made healthy by hand. And a journalist does it at his own risk on newspaper pages or on television, for the audience is a very severe phenomenon. It forgives nothing. But it is much more interesting to do so than to hide behind the image of a dried-up moderator.”

After all, the spectator “scans” the host and can subconsciously feel sincerity or, on the contrary, manipulation in the worst sense of the word.

“Yes, the spectator feels all this. One can always feel falsity.”


 Incidentally, Russian television is based on the principle of pseudo-impartiality. They invite our “experts” as a side of a mock debate.

“Even those who think they can explain their opinion on Russian television and convince them of something in fact get into their format, into the grip of their propaganda. I am sure all the Ukrainian participants in Russian talk shows receive a money reward. I don’t want to be a piece of fake veneer and, sorry, give them the finger. That’s why one must not hide behind the attempt to put something across somebody. These are trips after a fast Russian buck. Russia has neither ears, nor eyes, and nor brains to grasp the Ukrainian point of view. This will never happen. It is very important for Russia to show the world that they nominally have pluralistic journalism.”

 Speaking of the new political season, we cannot help but note that some top TV channels are owned by pro-Russian forces now. What do you think of this danger for Ukraine on the information front?

“I will emphasize that journalism in Ukraine is a profession that does not belong to professionals. A bank must be run by a banker and a dental clinic by a dentist. But it is not journalists who run journalism. It is oligarchs who have placed certain media resources under their command. This is very dangerous, for it is about a certain messianic essence of our profession. But we do not belong to ourselves, and this happened well before our generation of journalists. At that time, the media came under control of politicians or players who aimed to capitalize their influences rather than do media business. Unfortunately, I have no recipes at the moment to save this situation. The Ukrainian media market was based on erroneous principles at the very outset. We will have to work on the dunghill. And everybody chooses his role here. But I am convinced that owners themselves find it beneficial to have free media. This increases their capitalization as well as trust in them. In this case journalists and editors must show enough willpower and stand their ground in order to make media owners understand this postulate. It will be eventually impossible to sell a discredited media channel at a profit.

“The Ukrainian media business is now based on reflecting the Russian media business. Our more or less successful media are copies of the Russian ones. They have the matrix of Russian television which is based on the image. This means domination of the image over the content. Unfortunately, we are a country of the image, not of senses. For this reason, elections in our country are also the apotheosis of visual advertising. We are a country of visualness, and this, unfortunately, is superimposed very well on the Russian matrix. Western television is totally different. They are poorer than we, as far as the image is concerned, but they are informative. In our country, sense vanishes behind liquid-crystal plasma displays in studios. Of course, Russia will use the whole pool of the available information channels during the elections in Ukraine. And it will go on doing so. Some Ukrainian channels will be used to completely blur the Ukrainian spectrum. This is why I view the upcoming elections as the heaviest blow to our country’s Ukrainocentrism.”

 When pro-Russian propagandists or “all-forgivers” appear on the air in Ukraine in one camouflage or another, the palette of their “betrayal” is clear enough. Nevertheless, what do you think of the situation when we are offered allegedly patriotic things that show the clear sign of an attack on our statehood?

“They will now be trying to foist a pro-Russian candidate on us. There are several of them. For this reason, the rhetoric of returning to pre-revolutionary times, to 2014, will be on the rise. This is a return to the so-called stability, where the film is being rewound. This harbors a major danger.”


 Here is a question to you as a talk show host. What is your attitude to the TV viewer in purely psychological terms?

“I am not going to pity him or her. Everyone has the right to boycott. But an individual is rather a passive user. Polls show that a certain number of Ukrainians do not trust the mass media. So what? They listen and watch anyway. All this brings about the lack of demand for an alternative. People need a primitivistic content. It is a problem, and we must speak to and educate this audience.”

 Nevertheless, to what extent are journalists to blame for distorting this frame of references?

“Sorry, but I curse each of my colleagues who has toyed with this in the past 20 years. Incidentally, I have seriously revised myself. I also got into journalism as a student, with all my delusions. I went through this all, but it was an organic search for my own self. Nonetheless, a thinking person always seeks the truth. And this is the core.”


 I’d like to turn to very contradictory and thorny questions of an attitude to the Ukrainians who are divided by half in eastern Ukraine. Where must a journalist have a limit in order not to turn into a banal provocateur?

“I myself cannot feel it to the end. I am a provocateur of ‘salivation’ so that people respond in a sound manner to informational challenges. I think this is necessary for digesting the heavy ethnic food which we find it difficult to digest by primitive means. We have a catastrophic situation with state-formation. People are still unable to become aware of this. But we must take a direct look at this all. It took us five years to reach Berlin, but we are at a standstill now. Is it not a cause for indignation? I’d like to make every effort to promote a better ‘digestion’ of these quite important and painful moments. I am taking on a role to spotlight all kinds of maximally painful moments of our life. We don’t need jingoistic rhetoric which can decide nothing. We need more profound and fundamental answers to questions. We should not fall asleep over the abyss. We need an analytical scalpel. Otherwise journalism will go down ‘neither your, nor our’ road. I am aware of sometimes excessive emotionality in my programs. But sorry, I am not a despot, and there is some logic in my behavior. We must encourage people to seek [the truth] and take responsibility. We’ve been simulating state-formation for more than 25 years. We are paying the price now for our unwillingness to make decisions.”

 Now the next point: Leonid Kuchma has turned 80. We recall the murdered Georgy Gongadze again. What is your attitude to some journalists who began to sing Kuchma’s praises on his birthday? Our journalists should perhaps find their own Code of Honor, especially when they recall Gongadze.

“I was shocked to watch the way Kuchma, the architect of evil in Ukraine, was eulogized. He built and blessed for years the criminal system of oligarchy. It is his brainchild, and I think he will never be forgiven for this. When I read journalists’ odes to Kuchma, I could not understand what happened to these people, for they seemed to be fully conscious. We cannot forget what remained on Melnychenko’s tapes. We cannot forget a spit at the entire journalistic community. The reaction of journalists is an indicator of the degree of malady. But we must be well-balanced. The Kuchma story is a censure against the entire society. The impunity of the creator of oligarchy has begotten all of our current vices.”

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