Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sensational scandal dirty politics

Kyiv Post has published a very insightful article into the recent "Sex scandal at Artek allegations". It raises a number of serious issues not the least the potential misuse and abuse of "free media".

Media fails its first campaign test in coverage of sex abuse scandal

Today, 21:15 | Otar Dovzhenko, Special to Kyiv Post
Otar Dovzhenko gives an “F” to Ukraine’s media.

The word “scandal” doesn’t do justice in describing the bombshell that exploded in the Ukrainian media a week before the official Oct. 19 start of the presidential election campaign. By its destructive potential and its ability to shape the political campaign, “the pedophile case” can be already compared to the “tapegate” scandal of nearly 10 years ago.

The tape scandal involved the surreptitious taping of ex-President Leonid Kuchma by presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. The recordings – purportedly catching Kuchma and top officials running the nation as a criminal enterprise – were released soon after the September 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. It took many years for the Melnychenko tapes scandal to die down, and many potential witnesses to the crimes described lost their lives along the way.

But the pedophile scandal, from the start, demolished the lives of two children and cast doubts on the honor and career prospects of several adults, including some parliament deputies. The scandal has the potential to alter the choice of Ukrainian voters in the Jan. 17 presidential election.

The Ukrainian media faced great challenges in covering the story of a journalist who allegedly sexually assaulted his own kids for three years, enlisting other acquaintances – including parliamentarians – to do the same. They had to weigh the obligation to inform society against the harm of spreading confidential and compromising information.

The drama was worsened by the lack of trustworthy sources: Every power institution in Ukraine is capable of falsifying documents and testimony in the interests of political expediency and self- protection.

Overly pluralistic, but passive in their attempts to search for their own information sources, Ukrainian media have long trained their audiences to accept the idea that every conflict has two sets of “truth.”

In this particular story, the horrific accusations against a journalist, three parliamentarians and managers of the Crimean children’s camp, Artek, proved believable to many people. It’s not difficult for Ukrainians to believe that politicians are capable of any perversion. On the other hand, it is also not difficult to believe that this kind of case could be a fabricated show to assassinate political careers.

Society had to decide between contradictory versions. Kyiv Lawyer Tetyana Montian, who represents the children’s mother, vouched for the criminal accusations contained in the leaked letter of parliamentarian Hryhoriy Omelchenko. Kyiv lawyer Eduard Bagirov, who represented the accused father, calls the case fabricated. The credibility and mental stability of the mother was called into question. The whole affair was dismissed as a nasty family fight exploited for political gain.

Artek director Borys Novozhylov, also implicated in the sexual abuse, claimed that he and Artek were being defamed as part of a plot to discredit the institution.

Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko’s version to parliament on Oct. 20 took a middle ground. He said that experts have concluded that the children were indeed sexually abused. The evidence, it appears, is solid against the father. But Lutsenko doubted the involvement of lawmakers and top management of the camp, alleging the mother tried to extort $2 million from the accused.

Lutsenko’s credibility, however, is also easily challenged by the opposition. He is a minister in Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s government while those implicated in pedophilia are deputies from her faction in parliament.

Pursuing sensational scoops, some journalists disregarded confidentiality and the interests of child victims. Others scolded the politicians. “There are basic rules, dear politicians. These are privacy of investigation, presumption of innocence. There are also basic decency and humanity. We shall not take part in your dirty games,” said a public letter signed by almost 100 journalists.

But in reality, separating the criminal element from the political one turned out to be too hard for the Ukrainian media. Isolated attempts to find the truth drowned in the sea of moralizing panic and cynical predictions as to the effects of this pre-election scandal on the result of the vote, and shocking (but not always necessary) details.

For example,ny ny media made much of Deputy Interior Minister Hennadiy Moskal’s obscene insult of lawyer Montian. The frenzied public fuss of over-excited lawmakers, who rushed tnitiate thangesges in laws to introduce hear (all ll the way up to chemical castration) punishment for pedophiles, got very serious coverage. As long as politicians continue to supply food for the sensation-hungry media, the children’s interests will be overlooked.

The fate of these two children is scary to think about. Until Oct. 13, when and websites printed Omelchenko’s letter to the president about this case, the 12-year-old boy and 9-y-old ld girl had alry dy been victims of inhn rapists.ts. Now they’re simply destroyed.

The documents that had been published on the Internet with no discretion made their names and surnames known to Ukraine. Later, Lutsenko divulged the secret of their adoption at a press conference on Oct. 14.

Photos of these children appeared on the Internetaken frofrom their father’s website, where they had been posted a year ago.

Other investigations released detailed circumstances of their abuse and their intimate experiences. They were further violated by their grandmother, the mother of the suspect, who told Inter TV and ICTV that the children’s mother had persuaded the children to testify untruthfully.

One can only hope that the children are not allowed to watch TV, read newspapers and go on the Internet, where it’s obvious that their personal disaster has become small change in political games.

“It’s regrettable that it was our publication that had first made the mistake and published the text of the deputies’ address, failing to black out the names of the victimized children (this mistake was corrected promptly). But keeping the names of the children secret would simply have been impossible in this story,” said Nadiya Babenko, chief editor of website, when asked about professional conclusions she made from this situation.

Others don’t recognize their mistakesd don’tn’t think about them, exinaining the euphoric disregard of the ethical norms with a single word: election. The Ukrainian media have failed their first campaign exam in professional ethics.

The children’s father, the prime suspect, had tried to commit suicide twice, even before his detention. Even if he lives through a court hearing and is acquitted, his reputation is destroyed.

Will the journalists worry about the consequences of their careless actions if the abuse story turns out to be nothing more than pre-election spin? I doubt it. They believe that there are at least two sets of truth. In at least one of them, journalists think they’re right.

Otar Dovzhenko is an observet Tt Telekritika, a media watchdog, at He can be reached at