Kyiv Post Editorial: Misguided rage
Despite declaring himself cardinally different from his predecessors, President Volodymyr Zelensky has something in common with all of them: His sour relationship with the press.
As Zelensky marked his first year since taking office on May 20 with a press conference, it became clear that he is not accepting criticism and investigative journalism when it targets his circle. Sure, it’s not exactly news. Zelensky and his allies have had a somewhat negative attitude toward traditional journalism since the start of his election campaign early in 2019. They showed that they prefer talking to the public through eye-grabbing videos and social media to interacting with journalists.
But it now seems that the president’s disregard for journalists solidified during his first year in office. At the press conference, he criticized and mocked journalists who confronted him with challenging questions. It prompted some media outlets to make statements condemning his demeanor.
It looked familiar enough. Zelensky seems to be taking lessons from his predecessor Petro Poroshenko and his phone pal Donald Trump. At least Zelensky’s not tweeting. But it would be one thing if Zelensky’s annoyance with independent journalists was just that — some verbal intemperance.
But the president, consumed with irritation, is missing out on some real threats to Ukraine that are coming from the state of the media. Days before the ungraceful press conference, one statement should have attracted Zelensky’s attention.
During a discussion at the Kyiv Security Forum, held online on May 15 due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin controls half of Ukraine’s television channels. As shocking as it sounds, it’s not far from the truth.
Three TV channels that are talking about Ukrainian politics non-stop — 112, NewsOne, and ZIK — belong to Taras Kozak, a lawmaker with the pro-Russian Opposition Platform party. He’s a close associate of Viktor Medvedchuk, an unofficial representative of Putin in Ukraine, who has been openly propagating a pro-Russian vector for the country for many years. Kozak’s low-key persona and the TV channels’ agenda have led many to believe that Putin’s friend is the real owner of the influential media holding — something that both Kozak and Medvedchuk deny.
None of this is a secret for Zelensky.
If the president is so preoccupied with journalists, he could just as well direct his irritation at curbing the influence of the media affiliated with Russia and pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. We are treading into the territory of predictable metaphors, but it’s hard to imagine a Nazi Germany-funded radio station airing in the U.S. in 1944. In Ukraine in 2020, all of the major pro-Russian media outlets received accreditation to the president’s “limited-attendance” press conference and were allowed questions.
Ending the vile and propagandistic media influence of Russia is a matter of survival for Ukraine. It is as important as stopping the actual fighting in the Donbas, and a way to prevent proxy attacks by Russia in the future. The Russian media mold the minds of Ukrainians, preparing them to act and vote the way that is best for Russia — not Ukraine. The president should recognize it and focus on protecting the country from Russia rather than protecting himself from journalists