Radio 4's Today Programme Facing Backlash Over Syria Comparisons In Ukrainian Coverage

"Why don't they just call it Thoughtless of the Day?"
The coverage around the conflict in Ukraine and the emerging refugee crisis has come under fire
The coverage around the conflict in Ukraine and the emerging refugee crisis has come under fire
WOJTEK RADWANSKI via Getty Images

Radio 4′s Today programme became the latest broadcasting show to be in hot water for its commentary around the Ukrainian invasion on Monday.

Speaking during the ‘Thought for the Day’ segment, Tim Stanley, historian and Daily Telegraph writer said: “Ukraine has touched the West in a way that Syria or Yemen did not.

“And one of the reasons is that being a European country, it looks so familiar.

“Those streets, being dug up for trenches, could be our streets. And the young men volunteering or being conscripted, could be our sons or fathers.”

The suggestion that this war was somehow more damaging than previous conflicts simply because it was taking place in a European country left some people deeply frustrated on Twitter.

Other shows have faced the same criticism in recent days for taking a similar stance.

The BBC was in hot water over another programme when a guest speaker discussed the race of the Ukrainian people at the weekend.

Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelideze said he was emotional “because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” during his BBC interview – a detail which was not called out by interviewer Ros Atkins on air.

Atkins did tweet about the interview two days later, acknowledging that the lawyer provided a “long and emotional answer” which he was trying to be “respectful” towards.

He added: “While I was doing that, he made a comment about race that, in the moment, I failed to pick up. I entirely agree with those of you who’ve messaged to say such comments shouldn’t pass without challenge.”

US channel CBS News faced similar backlash after foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata pointed out: “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, which has seen conflict for decades.

“This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully too – city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”

D’Agata did later apologise during a Saturday report, admitting: “I spoke in a way that I regret, and for that I’m sorry.”

He said he was trying to point out that Ukraine had not experienced conflict for years, compared to other areas of the world.

A presenter for Al Jazeera also faced criticism when he said: “What’s compelling is looking at [the refugees], the way they are dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East or North Africa.

“They look like any European family that you’d live next door to.”

Al Jazeera did later tweet to apologise, noting these were “unfair comparisons between Ukrainians fleeing the war and refugees from the MENA region”.

It added: “The presenter’s comments were insensitive and irresponsible. We apologise to our audiences worldwide and the breach of professionalism is being dealt with.”

BFM TV, a French channel, then aired comments from a presenter who said the Ukrainian attacks were “as though we were in Iraq or Afghanistan”, adding: “Can you imagine?”

The channel has not yet apologised.

Another reporter speaking from Poland told ITV: “The unthinkable has happened to them [the refugees]. This is not a developing third world nation; this is Europe!”

The US channel, NBS, echoed the same message over the weekend. Reporter Kelly Cobiella tried to explain why Poland was willing to accept refugees from Ukraine despite being reluctant to do so during the 2015 refugee crisis.

She said: “To put it bluntly these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighbouring Ukraine.

“That, quite frankly, is part of it. They’re Christians, they’re white, they’re very similar to many people who live in Poland.”

Away from broadcast, the world of print media has been under scrutiny over the connotations of its Ukrainian coverage too.

Writer and journalist Daniel Hannan wrote in The Telegraph: “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country.

“Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.”

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