Saturday 22 February 2014

The BBC, peacocks and the Ukrainian 'revolution'

If I hear one more time from BBC correspondents that people in the West of Ukraine are looking to the West and people in the East are looking East, I will probably throw my television out of the window.

The recent events in Ukraine have prompted the BBC into a journalistic 'dumbing down fest' that borders on wilful distortion. This is not the first time the BBC news coverage feeds simplistic interpretative patterns. Not so long ago, Libya was reported to be experiencing a conflict between Western oriented revolutionaries and the forces of a (previously courted) dictator. We know where that one ended.

So why is the BBC wedded to simplistic journalism? One reason is probably the poor calibre of its personnel. Most of their staff are anchors of general news programmes rather than well informed specialists. This should not be a problem, if they would not be so tone deaf when it comes to listening to their own studio guests or interviewees. The BBC still invites commentators from a reasonably wide political spectrum, and this should inform the quality of its own presenting. Alas, little of that is felt when it comes to ad hoc reporting. What we get instead is BBC reporters telling us that the president's compound in Kiev has peacocks (what else?) and a golf course. Shocking! You would not find this at Chequers or Kennebunkport of course!

This poor journalistic work is not the exclusive domain of anchormen. Even otherwise respectable journalists like Matt Frei succumb to it, twittering ceaselessly (and pointlessly some might say) about the duck houses in the presidential residence just outside Kiev.

As somebody who lived through the so-called 'revelations' of the 'excesses' of the East German leadership in 1989, I fail to be impressed by the alleged 'largesse' of East European leaders or the reports about it in the BBC. What looks like 'high society' at first glance usually turns out a result of poor taste and the preferences of the 'nouveau riche'. The real largesse is not the way in which a president lives but the millions of dollars that have been siphoned off and safely tucked away in Swiss bank accounts.

No doubt, Yanukovich will have something for a 'rainy day', but so undoubtedly has his opponent, the newly declared 'democrat' and hero of the Western media, Yulia Timoshenko. After all, she happens to have amassed tens of millions of dollars and her business partner was convicted of embezzlement of 'epic proportions' (the judge's words) in a US court.

So, why does this matter? It matters because the poor quality reporting from the BBC reflects a lack of understanding of the real fragmentation of the country, a split that does not run between East and West but between those who belong to a tiny political elite who have treated the state as their personal fiefdom and the rest of the population.

Yanukovich and Timoshenko are part of the former, fighting over the state silver, whilst those on the streets of Kiev hope that a change of the guard will bring an end to corruption and usher in democracy. If the Ukrainian (recent) past is anything to go by, Timoshenko will take the reigns of power, marginalise the current opposition leaders and do what she failed to do the last time when she 'led' a revolution to its inglorious demise: prevent the formation of a proper functioning party democracy and enrich herself and her entourage. And people in the West will stand by and scratch their heads, thinking that this was not what the BBC told us would happen.

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