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Biased and Blinkered Reporting on Ukraine Highlight Western Media Double Standards

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In the space of a few months Ukraine has been embroiled in two uprisings.

Both have appeared equally legitimate, both have been bloody and both have had the backing of differently aligned foreign governments. 

So why has the media characterised the US-backed one as a democratic right and the other as troublemaking by Russia?

And why does one bloody crackdown provoke press outrage and another not?

Reporting on Ukraine has been singularly one-sided with the media and the government moulding public perceptions by omitting information, or slanting it one way or another.

At the height of the first uprising in February Viktor Yanukovych was portrayed in the strongest terms as a corrupt leader responsible for killing civilian protestors. Those civilian deaths were seen as a catalyst for a change of government by force.

There has been no such outrage expressed for the more than 100 pro-Russian separatists killed by the new government, the most recent in heavy-handed attacks on Donetsk.

The Maidan protests, backed by the US, Germany and Britain, have been given fair, at times favourably biased, coverage, while those of pro-Russians have been scandalously under-reported or ignored.

More so the language used to describe each varies damningly.

It has been accompanied by a concerted and completely over-the-top demonisation of Russia, which culminated last week in Prince Charles comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler and 'Red' Ed Miliband seeming to support the remarks.

Opponents of Yanukovych were often described in the media as peaceful protesters, despite scenes of some of the most ferociously violent attacks on Ukraine's police - attacks for which the only UK parallel might be the Broadwater Farm riots in which PC Keith Blakelock was murdered.

In Kiev 16 police officers were killed by protesters. Can you imagine the reaction to that if it had occurred in Britain?

By contrast the western media routinely describes pro-Russian separatists as rebels, militants, insurgents, chechens, terrorists, militia.

It is often slyly suggested they have less claim on being Ukrainian, that they are insurgents from across the border or puppets of Russia, despite the overwhelming evidence that they are local, multi-generational Ukrainian residents with real gripes against the new right-wing government.

Earlier this month a fire in the Odessa Trade Union building killed 38 pro-Russian protesters, but the media quickly accepted the Kiev government's claim they were killed by a blaze they had begun.

Pictures of teenagers merrily making molotov cocktails outside the building didn't change the media's attitude. Nor was there much comment on the chants about roasting 'Colorado beetles' (a derogatory term for the pro-Russians) that rang out as the protesters burned. Video showed those trying to flee the blaze set upon by right-wing thugs.

The apparent strangulation murder of a pregnant women in the same building in a room in which government supporters unfurled a flag out the window, has not been investigated or commented on in the press.

And though video evidence emerged on the web of government supporters in collusion with police staging false attacks dressed in pro-Russian armbands it was not written about or reported in the mainstream media.

The truth about what happened at Odessa has only emerged through social network sites.

Instead there was an overriding willingness by press, broadcasters and online news groups to not blame government supporters for the deaths and to quickly move on.

By comparison the shooting of civilians during riots in Kiev against Yanukovych were denounced in the harshest of terms around the world. Germany and the US piled pressure on the government with threats of sanctions, and when Yanukovych eventually retreated from the capital an arrest warrant was issued accusing him of 'mass murder'.

Days later, when a leaked EU phone call raised the prospect some civilians may have been deliberately shot by the Maidan opposition to inflame the situation, little was said. An investigation by the new authorities into deaths in Kiev during the protests has so far gone nowhere.

Each day across Ukraine's restive east more and more pictures are posted on Twitter of the bodies of civilians  - middle aged women, casually dressed men - lying dead by the roadside.
But how many do we see in the press, on TV or online news agencies?

Typically such reports are omitted or tempered with claims of trouble being stirred up by Russian infiltrators - legitimising the killings.

It's a common propaganda technique, but we see it more and more from our governments and our media.

While the referendum in Crimea and the east for more autonomy was decried as illegal by the West and reported as such, the election of a new government in Kiev has been given legitimacy by the world's media, even though breakaway regions boycotted the vote.

Residents in those regions have now been dubbed 'bandits' and 'terrorists' by the newly elected hardline president Petro Poroshenko.

Underlying the entire conflict are claims the US encouraged the Maidan revolution to create another Nato state on one of Russia's most sensitive borders, and where its Black Sea Fleet is moored at Sevastopol in Crimea.

In the press Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea was denounced as a shameless land grab and Vladimir Putin accused of trying to rebuild the old Soviet Union.

Despite there being a majority of Russian citizens living in Crimea and clear parallels with the Nato-backed independence of Kosovo, relations between Russia and the US deteriorated to the point of talk about a new Cold War.

That has filtered down to the man in the street and one in the palace.

Ironically, the groups now in control in Ukraine are more right-wing than any European government since the Nazis.

But this bias in the media has existed for a long time and extends beyond the Ukraine today.

Reports on the Syria conflict are horrendously one-sided. Unsubstantiated charges of chemical weapons use by the Assad government are reported as fact.

The killing of pro-Assad voters at an election booth last week given no more than lip service.

Yes Assad has committed some terrible acts, but what of the al-Qaeda groups ranged against him? What of the beheadings, the mass killings, the torture and religious discrimination they have brought with them?

When rebels fighters deliberately cut off the water supply to 2.5million residents of Allepo a fortnight ago, only The Independent reported on it. Even Ban Ki Moon's condemnation of this act went unreported in the mainstream media.

Similarly there has been no outrage about the Kiev authorities attempts to cut off the water supply to the Crimea.

These are actions that can force a humanitarian crisis, and yet there is no outrage and the general public remain uninformed.

Going back to the reporting on the Balkan wars, Serbia was demonised and accused of ethnic cleansing and running rape camps. The latter was not proven and the former described tactics used across the board by all sides in the conflict.

And while the massacre by the Bosnian-Serb army at Srebrenica is the worst and defining atrocity of the wars, little is ever mentioned of the 50 villages razed to the ground and 5,000 Serb civilians murdered by muslim raiding parties in the same region in the run-up to it.

Decades on Serbia is still characterised simplistically as the bad guy while equally reprehensible war crimes committed by other sides barely get mentioned. To do that would muddy the narrative that the media demands.

Having worked in Fleet Street for almost two decades I know there is no one pulling the strings. There is no secret plot to subvert particular information while promoting the other.

No one calls up editors to exert pressure, and nor do the editors dictate to their journalists. And yet with great predictability they fall in line with a prevailing mood.

The media promotes a concept of good and bad, with no in-between.

It needs a simple, familiar narrative for its readers to understand (perhaps for its journalists too), one that is often, although not exclusively, still based on old world prejudices.

Known story patterns are repeated with rare deviation.

Passion, outrage and righteous indignation sell papers and (today) get page hits.

But what of the full facts? What of the other side of the story?

Our written history is at risk if it is based on the perception given by media and governments pushing their own blinkered or negligent agendas rather than the true, full story.

Nowhere is this hypocrisy more evident than in the current reporting on Ukraine.