Ukrainian journalism is working at a professional level during the war

Gohar Khojayan, Programme Manager for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia at IMS, spoke to Format21.org about the need for journalism cope with the coverage of war in Europe in the 21st century and the importance of the media maintaining professionalism and working with a deep understanding of their role in society.

At critical moments, the media community actively unites around the principles of accuracy, objectivity and responsibility. It is important that the media maintain high professionalism and work with a deep understanding of their role in society. There is a great demand that journalism cope with the coverage of war in Europe in the 21st century, as well as to develop a system for acquiring media skills and information literacy. We talked about this with Gohar Khojayan, Programme Manager for Ukraine and Moldova at IMS.

How effective can media self-regulation be in times of war? Some experts believe that it develops very powerfully during special periods.

I agree that self-regulation is more effective during the war because I also see it through the programme that we are implementing. Participants in this programme between 2022 and now are much more interested in self-regulation tools. And it’s not that there wasn’t such interest before, but right now it has become very important. Why are we doing this? First of all, it unites the media. Journalists also think more about what they write and how they write. It is also very important to be prepared for the fact that what you write can be problematic. I am also glad that there are so many journalists who, despite the situation in the country, continue to be ethical. This also applies to hate speech and other issues that we talk about.

In your opinion, are Ukrainian and foreign journalism coping with the latest challenges of Russia’s war in Ukraine war?

I can see that Ukrainian independent media and journalism work quite well. There are, in particular, all those that are on the “trust list”, and who even write in English, like The Kyiv Independent.

Many Ukrainian-language media outlets now have an English-language version, and they also have an audience outside of Ukraine. I sincerely believe that the information is quite interesting. At the same time, I would like to focus more on the challenges that Ukraine is overcoming. Of course, it is very important that the media cover terrible Russian crimes, but it is also necessary for Ukraine to have candidate status for EU membership. So they must also write about internal problems, for example, about overcoming corruption. I think these are the first and very important steps towards accession. For example, when I see that a government organisation, or even the government itself, says that it is better to show only a positive picture of Ukraine, that is not always correct. In fact, showing a positive picture does not always work in the west. It is worth showing that Ukraine has problems, it has some situations that need to be resolved and it needs the help of our partners in this. European allies really think very critically; if there are no problems in Ukraine, then why should they help us? And that is not only about helping the military. They also want to see that a country that will be part of the European Union in the future is taking steps to be worthy of being a part of such a union.

What can you say about international journalism? Is there still attention on the events in Ukraine?

Of course, now there are fewer resources, and this is due to the fact that the war has been going on for more than two years. Everyone wants a new perspective, new information. We can recall the situation in Syria and in other countries, where at the beginning of the war there was an information boom, and then everything calmed down. At the same time, I cannot say that, for example, Danish journalists do not write anything about Ukraine. We can find one news item every day, but it’s not five, not 10, not 20 as it was.

As for other countries, I think the situation there is much worse than in Scandinavia. Scandinavians support Ukraine and write quite a lot. The situation regarding Russian propaganda in Germany is very complicated. If we go to the south of Europe, the coverage of the war is certainly worse, but not only because it is not interesting, but because they themselves have many problems.

The war in Gaza is also taking up a lot of time and energy for both journalists and society. Now there is a lot of news about what is happening there, what kind of support are the governments of various European countries giving to Israel.

I think that in order to attract more attention to Ukrainian affairs, it is necessary to negotiate with foreign media, to do some kind of twinning between European and Ukrainian media, so that there is some kind of line of information. And to write not only about the war, but also about other things that are happening in Ukraine, about its future, about what Ukraine can bring to the EU by being part of it. This is where you can create a positive image.

We mentioned Russian propaganda narratives. In your opinion, can media and information literacy help to resist the latest forms of Russian disinformation, especially with the use of artificial intelligence?

I think so, and it’s very important. In my opinion, we need to be more resilient and media literate. I agree with the opinion that we should start this work with children and continue it through to adults. We have a generation that grew up in Soviet times and still has a different opinion, and it is very, very difficult to change. But you still need to start with kids, they learn very quickly. In general, we have a society that can understand exactly what is propaganda and what is not.

I believe that factchecking is very important for journalists. Factchecking is not so much a tool for society as it is for journalists to verify data, information and facts. If society itself turns to journalists, or to the media, or to a public organisation with a request: can you verify this or that information? That’s okay. Now it is also important to understand to what extent society is ready to identify propaganda through critical thinking. For example, the participants of our programmes came to Denmark back in the days when Russia Today was broadcasting in Europe, and asked: “Why do you think this is propaganda?” But we have no problem with this because society knows what propaganda is, what Russian opinion is and how it can be filtered.

In your opinion, what do we need to do to develop media literacy skills in children and adults?

For children it’s a more technical issue. Children now start using YouTube and other channels very early. I myself have a daughter who doesn’t want to watch YouTube Kids, she just wants to watch YouTube, and there’s a lot of stuff out there. Therefore, I think that it is necessary to start talking to children very early so that they understand that what they see is not always true, and it’s not always good. That way they can ask their parents, “What is this?” to filter the information, because we, as parents, cannot always be there and watch what they consume. Everything is open on the internet. In Danish schools, even in kindergartens, there is a programme where they talk about the internet, about what can be photographed and published, what can and cannot be recorded. There is a lot of focus on this issue in schools.

As for adults, I would say focus on those who are 65+. I don’t know about Ukraine, but in Denmark, not as many adults use social networks or watch YouTube as the children do. They understand what AI is, what threats it poses or what good it can do. Most likely, they don’t even know that a lot of articles are being written by AI right now, or how we can understand it and what it is, whether it’s good or bad.

Of course, there should be a different approach to the adult population. More information should be shared that can be read and given as an example, because the old approaches still work for them. That is, new methods and new applications for media literacy will not always work for adult audiences.


This interview was first published on Format21.org on 3 May 2024.

Gohar Khodjayan is IMS’ Programme Manager for Ukraine. She took part in an international conference on media literacy and media self regulation, held in Kyiv, on 25-26 April 2024.