Ukraine: A Media Neglected Conflict

Less than a month after the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia was in the news again. This time it wasn’t for cultural exchange nor athletic events. Rather, her reaction to the increasingly violent protests in Ukraine was the focus. Far from being a recent development, however, they had been ongoing and gaining intensity since November.

Only, the media gave them increasingly scant coverage as the games loomed closer.

What did gain steam in the Western media’s pre-Olympics coverage was Russia’s civil rights/LGBT relations, or lack thereof. Specifically, how would the international community react to having the Olympics in a gay-unfriendly environment? How could Russia be so backward and intolerant in their policies regarding sexual orientation? (To be sure, violence directed at anyone, regardless of issue, is unacceptable.) The Huffington Post reported the following a few days before the opening ceremonies:

“Some athletes, barred by IOC rules from political debate while competing, hinted at the law as they began training for events that start Thursday. American figure skater Ashley Wagner joked that Sochi’s color scheme — omnipresent inside the Olympic Park — reminded her of the rainbow flag used to symbolize gay pride.’It doesn’t really matter where I am. It’s still my opinion,’ Wagner said. ‘I just believe in equality for all.’”

“Equality for all” is a favorite term the media uses when discussing gay rights. In their minds anyone using it appears tolerant and chic. Those who shy away from it are considered uneducated and closed-minded. These discussions before the international community gathered did much to spotlight Russia’s environment. From the same Huffington Post article:

“In downtown St. Petersburg, hundreds of miles north of Sochi, about a dozen Russian gay rights activists also protested. Two unfurled banners reading ‘Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014,’ referring to the Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. Single person protests are legal in Russia, and the two activists holding signs were spaced far enough apart that neither was arrested.”

Clearly the media thought that such dubious comparisons between treatment of gays in Nazi Germany and that in present-day Russia merited central attention. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian crisis was exploding. Deaths had already occurred and a nation was in turmoil. A January 23 CNN article announced four deaths and stated the following:

“The ministry said 195 police officers had been injured and 84 hospitalized since the situation turned violent Sunday. The clashes are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych’s decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead.”

Now the turmoil in Ukraine has turned the world’s attention away from the dim Olympic podium. Sochi seems a distant memory in light of the aggression and posturing taking place in the former Soviet Union. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine brings to mind the Cold War, and strains already tense international relationships.

So, a large part of the media got it all wrong. Again. What can we expect from them? The answer is clear – more of the same. Sochi presented them with an opportunity to rehearse their agenda, to once more “be on the right side of history” even if it meant pushing genuinely alarming events to the background. Then, when the games concluded and these events screamed for proportionate coverage, they “resumed course.”

As of Monday, March 10, the Ukrainian conflict continued to develop. The Russian military continues to pressure Ukraine into unification. Ukraine, on the other hand, desires independence. Fox News reported:

“Standing before the crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to writer and nationalist Taras Shevchenko on Sunday, Yatsenyuk said, ‘Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.’ “

We can expect many changes, for good or ill, in this conflict. What we cannot expect is a change in the bias of the media which covers said conflict. They will persist with neglectful, self-absorbed coverage which chooses to ignore, compartmentalize, and discriminate.