At a crossroads together with the authorities. Why some French media incorrectly cover the war in Ukraine

From the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the current French government has been acting under contradictions. Ukrainians often accuse the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, of ‘sitting on two chairs.’ On the one hand, France accepts Ukrainian refugees, provides financial and humanitarian aid and supplies necessary weapons to the Ukrainian military (Caesar howitzers, air defence systems, armoured vehicles, etc.). In addition, French gendarmes have worked in Ukraine, for example, and investigated Russian war crimes. 

At the same time, Macron is notorious for his calls to Vladimir Putin, talking about how we need ‘to save face’ of the Russian President and about the fact that Russian Federation ‘needs to be given security guarantees.’ 

What is the aim of this mini-excursion into politics? The point is that sometimes it seems that the French media, repeating the authorities’ strategy, are also trying to ‘sit on two chairs.’ They balance between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian narratives, but sometimes they lose their balance and slip into banal propaganda. Read more about this in the article.

Crimea and the Russian business that ‘resists.’ Reports of Le Monde

Photo: AP

Among all media, Le Monde is the most widely read in France: in 2021, the newspaper had almost 2.5 million readers, and as of the end of 2021, it had more than 500,000 subscribers: 87,000 of them for the ‘paper’ and 414,000 online. 

Therefore, a media with such a large audience significantly impacts public opinion. However, it is sometimes difficult to understand what kind of opinion and position the newspaper conveys. Below are some examples of ambiguous materials related to the topic of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. 

The November 2, 2022 report titled ‘Crimea, the peninsula with which Russia has tied its fate’ begins with the fact that most Crimeans interviewed by Le Monde allegedly believe ‘that the peninsula’s return to Ukraine is not a likely hypothesis.’ 

Then, in the first half of the report, the journalists diligently describe ‘global Russian projects’, the aim of which is, for example, to ‘make Sevastopol a major cultural centre of Russia.’ Also, the media admires that the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Sevastopol are under construction. The workers ‘do not stop even on Sunday’ despite the ‘current context’ — many of them have joined the army, and military helicopters are constantly flying over the construction site. 

First, there is no mention that the ‘context’ arose because Russia started the war: the events in Ukraine are mostly named ‘the conflict.’ And secondly, Le Monde’s narratives here are suspiciously similar to the favourite message of the Russian propaganda agency RIA News. They tell how everything is being done perfectly on the orders of Russian President Putin while ‘forgetting’ to describe how ordinary people are doing, who usually do not have water, electricity, money, or anything at all.

Photo: Facebook, ‘To live in Sevastopol’

Furthermore, one of the report’s protagonists, a choreography teacher in Sevastopol, states that ‘people have confidence in our president and are building their future.’ Another character, the rector of the same choreography academy, originally from Kherson, said that he has tattoos of Vladimir Putin on his shoulders. It is not known whether this was done on purpose, but it seems that Le Monde wanted to show that Ukrainians are the ones who support Russia the most.

Another elderly couple repeated to French journalists the Russian narrative that ‘the Crimean Peninsula is well protected, and Russia has nuclear weapons to scare enough  Americans and Europeans.’

And when it seemed that this material was utterly hopeless, some hints of balance appeared. At least in the second half of the report, the media showed the other side of the coin. For example, one interviewee said he voted ‘yes’ during the so-called referendum in 2014 because he ‘had no choice.’ Still, he is unhappy with the ‘presence of Russians’ on the peninsula because Moscow cannot cope with economic and social problems. 

In addition, there are mentions of the repressions of the Russian authorities against the indigenous population of the peninsula, in particular against the Crimean Tatars. Among these stories: Miss Crimea 2022, who was fined 40 thousand rubles for singing a Ukrainian song in a video, or 62-year-old public figure Oleh Prykhodko, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison for allegedly wanting to blow up the town administration of Saky. Before that, the man became famous for saving the Ukrainian flag and hanging it in his yard after the peninsula’s occupation in 2014.

Ukrainian political prisoner Oleh Prykhodko, photo: Facebook, Liudmyla Denisova

Given these points, the material can be called technically balanced, but there are at least two significant complaints about this text. First, there is no hint of diversity of opinion in either the headline or the lead. And given that the article is quite long, not everyone will read it to the point where an alternative view appears. And secondly, some people don’t even have the opportunity to read to that point because subscriptions to the media are paid, and while the first part (though not the whole thing) can be seen for free, the second part does not at all. 

Another interesting article is ‘How the Russian economy is withstanding the shock of sanctions.’ In short: the material describes the work of the Liston company amid anti-Russian restrictions. The company is located in the Kaluga region and manufactures medical laboratory equipment. 

The claim, in this case, is the following. On the one hand, France, as part of the European Union, joins the anti-Russian sanctions and emphasises that the Russian economy should not finance the Russian military sector and, accordingly, the invasion of Ukraine. On the other hand, Le Monde writes about ‘Russia’s famous resilience,’ that Liston is ‘the kind of successful industrial firm that Russia lacks,’ and that ‘the way the firm deals with sanctions illustrates the resilience of this (Russian — ed.) economy, for which many observers predicted an imminent collapse.’

It is possible that behind this ‘glorification’ of the Russian economy, there is fear of the collapse of this economy and what the redistribution of forces in the global market will lead to.

‘Most often, they (journalists ed.) write facts without their attitude to it. But when there is some analysis, I would say that there is a pessimistic vision of victory and a fear that ‘this will provoke an escalation’ or that prices are rising because Russian gas cannot be bought,’ comments Oleksandra Rymarchuk, a Ukrainian living and working in France.

There are many other reports and materials in Le Monde, such as the editorial ‘Support Ukraine to ensure peace,’ which discusses the need to supply more weapons to Ukraine, or the article on ‘cowardly bombing,’ which describes Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. However, the previous cases spoil the impression somewhat…

Who must liberate Mariupol?

Mariupol, 9 March 2022, photo:  AP

Another ‘unfortunate incident’ occurred with the English-language French TV channel France 24 English. 21 May news presenter repeatedly reports on the ‘liberation of Mariupol,’ referring to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

‘I’m watching the French news channel France 24 English, and I think I misheard, so I turned it up twice as loud, but no, I did not mishear. In a story about Mariupol, the commentator starts the text repeatedly with the words Mariupol has been completely liberated, announcing the Russian Defence Ministry. In other words, Mariupol has been completely liberated, reports the Russian Defence Ministry. And that’s it. There’s not even a Ukrainian point of view,’ wrote Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Sych.

However, the next day, Sych reported that the French TV channel admitted its mistake and assured that it had never taken and would never take a pro-Russian position. 

‘I am grateful to my French colleagues for their immediate reaction. They said it was an unfortunate mistake by one of the editors. The incident caused a big discussion in the editorial office. The channel has never taken and will never take a pro-Russian position. I thank France 24 correspondent Gulliver Cragg for his adequacy and mediation,’ the journalist wrote

Still, the incident is more than unpleasant. In this case, it is most likely a mistake by a particular editor because such broadcasting of Russian narratives looks too open and ‘clumsy.’ In any case, when the presenter talks about the ‘liberation of Mariupol’ regarding the Russian Ministry of Defence, this is an apparent failure to comply with journalistic standards, namely, the neglect of the principle of balance of opinions and points of view. Of course, the mistake is evident to Ukrainians, but the foreign media cited one source, which is common. However, several factors make this particular mistake unforgivable.

Photo: Telegram, Petro Andriushchenko

Firstly, the situation in Mariupol has received so much global publicity that a lack of understanding of the context cannot justify France 24 English’s mistake. 

Secondly, viewers should realise the ridiculousness of the wording coined by the Russian Ministry of Defence and subsequently repeated by French journalists. Liberation is the deliverance of something or someone from oppression or disenfranchisement. That is, to liberate something, it had to be captured. But Mariupol is a Ukrainian city (according to the Constitution of Ukraine and other state laws recognised in the EU and other countries). Russia has captured Mariupol (and since May 20, 2022, it has been under complete occupation after the Azov regiment soldiers defending Azovstal surrendered), and the Ukrainian army will now have to liberate the city. 

An expert in French-Ukrainian relations who is close to the issue and wishes to remain anonymous said that French society is very sympathetic to Ukrainian problems, and the media, in general, is too. Still, the professionalism of journalists is low and factual errors are standard.

‘For years, the FSB (the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation — ed.) has also been conducting covert and effective work to bring political extremists of the left and right into contact with the Russian authorities (in particular, through funding or creating so-called ‘friendly’ associations). Which is absolutely normal in peacetime, but it is directed and organised by Russian special services, and these extremist statements are now being reported in the media,’ he added.

So what’s going on with Crimea?

Photo: UNIAN

It was not only the French media that ‘distinguished themselves’ by showing Crimea as part of Russia. However, France is one of the ‘record holders’ in this matter. At the same time, French media and publishing houses have been ‘giving’ the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian Federation relatively regularly since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and started a war against Ukraine. 

For example, in late 2015, the French publishing house ‘Larousse’ published a socio-economic atlas for 2016, in which Crimea was part of Russia. After an appeal from the Ukrainian embassy, the mistake was corrected
Almost simultaneously, the Euromaidan France community reported that another French publishing house, now Rocher, had depicted Crimea as Russian in a geopolitical atlas of the world. However, the community later apologised to its readers and admitted that the information was false: it turned out that the photo of the atlas map was taken from the Larousse edition. However, a precedent has already been set in the French, and at the same time European, information space.

Photo: Voice of Crimea

In May 2020, Le Monde again published an interactive map of the spread of coronavirus worldwide. On this map, the Crimean Peninsula is the territory of the Russian Federation. If the user clicks on Crimea, the Russia incident statistics appear. Nevertheless, the mistake was corrected quickly. 

In September 2020, the French TV channel ARTE in its program Le Dessous des cartes (‘With Open Cards’), showed the occupied Ukrainian Crimea as part of Russia’s territory. At the same time, Ukrainian journalists noted that the program was devoted to the geopolitical situation around the Black and Azov Seas, and Crimea was never shown as Ukrainian in the broadcast: in one version, the peninsula was shown simply as Russian, in another — as annexed, i.e. disputed territory, in yet another version – Crimea is allegedly a Russian military base (the region is coloured in red). 

Another similar situation occurred in 2022, almost on the eve of a full-scale Russian invasion. On January 11, the French TV channel France Television in a video about the situation in eastern Ukraine illustrated the events of 2014 by depicting Crimea as part of Russia, Крим.Реалії reported. The Ukrainian Embassy again appealed to the channel, and again the channel apologised, saying there was a technical error.

Photo: UNIAN

As you can see, there were many cases, and these are only those that were noticed by the public.

As for the reasons: of course, we cannot rule out technical errors or mistakes made by specific editors, publishers, journalists, etc. However, in the case of France, the fact is that the French authorities and political elite cannot decide on their position about Crimea. Even the current president of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, recently dodged a question from journalists about whether he would support a Ukrainian offensive to regain Crimea.

‘Somehow, as the conflict develops, both Russia and Ukraine will have to return to negotiations. The question is whether the goals of the war will be achieved only by military means. Although it is up to Ukrainians to decide what these goals should be. I am telling you that at some point, it will be necessary. That is why I have always rejected maximalist positions,’ Macron said

It should be noted that official Paris condemns and has always condemned, does not recognise and has never recognised the annexation of Crimea, the pseudo-referendum, the so-called ‘incorporation’ of the peninsula into the Russian Federation, etc. It applies to both Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande. 

At the same time, the same cannot be said about the French opposition. For example, in 2017, the presidential candidate and former Prime Minister François Fillon stated that ‘Crimea is a territory that is historically, culturally, and linguistically Russian,’ and ‘it is useless to insist that Russia leaves Crimea, it will never happen.’

Another pro-Russian French politician, Marine Le Pen, former leader of the National Rally party and presidential candidate in 2017 and 2022, has consistently stated that Crimea is ‘legitimately Russian.’ Just as in 2017, Le Pen called the peninsula ‘an integral part of Russia,’ so she repeated the same thesis on the eve of the 2022 French elections.

French politician Marine Le Pen with Russian President Vladimir Putin, 24 March 2017, photo: AP

‘I did not object because there was a referendum… I don’t regret it at all. Crimea was Ukrainian for 26 years. The rest of the time, it was Russian. The people of Crimea wanted to join Russia, that’s all,’ Le Pen said in an interview for BFMTV.

The point is not that only France has pro-Russian politicians who support Russian aggression led by President Putin. The French opposition is quite influential (Le Pen gained more than 40% in the 2022 presidential election, which was more than five years ago). Of course, the position of influential politicians has a corresponding impact on public opinion, including the information space, while intertwining with the sometimes ambiguous actions and statements of President Macron. 

But the audience, in turn, must remember. Like Mariupol, Crimea, it is Ukraine. 

Today, the world believes in Ukraine’s victory more and more, and Russian or pro-Russian manipulations have less and less space in the information space. Therefore, there is hope that the already quite unequivocal position of the French media will be strengthened with the arrival of French fighter jets and Leclerc tanks in Ukraine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Post

How the Ukrainian military adapts civilian items to their needs

Next Post

Everyone remains indestructible: How do people in Ukraine treat war-affected persons

Related Posts

Please select your language / Будь ласка, виберіть бажану мову

🇬🇧 English

🇺🇦 Українська