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Published On: Sat, Mar 7th, 2015

‘Maidan and Beyond: The Media Blackout in Ukraine’ – Dr. Johanna Granville’s Presentation

TND Guest Contributor: James L. Coffin, Ph.D. |euromaidan-nazi_240x160

The lack of any real debate in the Western media on Ukraine has irked me ever since the protests on Kiev’s Independence Square or Maidan Nezalezhnosti broke out in November 2013. The anti-Russian bias is so prevalent that perhaps average readers no longer detect it. In this post I would like to report on a very interesting presentation I heard and the disturbingly biased coverage of it in a Bulgarian student newspaper, which points to an alarming lack of critical thinking skills in today’s young adult population.

Given the deafening drumbeat of condemnation of Russia, and specifically Putin, I found Johanna Granville’s multimedia presentations on November 10 (“Ukraine: Another Yugoslavia?”) and especially November 19 (“Beyond Maidan: The Media Blackout in Ukraine”) at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) both refreshing and informative. While much of the information is already familiar to members of the Vineyard of the Saker community, the presentation invites analysis of the negative trend of repeated false flags in 2014 ever since the “Euromaidan revolution,” which so many uninformed citizens gullibly championed.

Granville is the author of numerous scholarly articles, a book (The First Domino: International Decision Making During the Hungarian Crisis of 1956), and is the winner of two Fulbright lectureships in Russia and Hungary (see her website here:http://www.johannagranville.com/). She was conducting research in Ukraine for her second book when the Maidan revolts began. After delighting the audience on November 19 with a three-minute introduction in Bulgarian, paying tribute to AUBG founding father John Dimitri Panitza, Dr. Granville noted the decline in press freedom around the world today. According to the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2014, the United States ranks 46th, Ukraine 127th, and the Russian Federation 148th. (She cautioned that the Reporters Without Borders organization is itself supported by the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy). All too often “freedom of information is sacrificed in the name of national security,” she stated. “If you get nothing else out of my presentation, remember this: we must not swallow uncritically anything we read in any one country’s newspapers,” she said. “To get the truth these days, a thinking person must dig for real facts and evidence.” Dr. Granville, who was AUBG’s first Panitza Memorial Professor of Communist Studies, selected three events in 2014 by which to illustrate the Ukrainian media’s biased coverage: the snipers’ killings at Kiev’s Maidan (February 20), the Odessa massacre (May 2), and the shootdown of the Malaysian airline (July 17).???????????????????????????????????????????

Hired to teach “East European History in the Twentieth Century,” which covered the period of Soviet communist domination over the “satellite” countries, Granville cannot be described as a Russophile. She is simply a diligent, impartial researcher. She prefaced her remarks by stating that her essay was exploratory and intended to encourage debate. Her sources included independently funded blogs by investigative journalists and analysts not subject to government or corporate censorship (like Vineyard of the Saker). When citing from the Russian press, she corroborated her findings with other independent sources.

Snipers’ Massacre on Maidan

We have heard it repeatedly: that former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych ordered Berkut anti-riot police to open fire on unarmed protesters, and that “Russian agents” participated in the killings. In his speech to the U.S. Congress on September 18, 2014, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko repeated this line, adding that the overthrow of the Yanukovych government resulted from mass peaceful protests against police violence. Granville presented some arguments that make me question this standard version.

First, take the Kiev regime’s cover-up and use of scapegoats. All recordings of live TV and internet broadcasts of the snipers’ massacre have been erased from Ukrainian websites. The results of ballistic, weapons, and medical examinations were declared classified. Even trees on Maidan with bullet holes were cut down. In her Power Point presentation, Granville showed photos of Dmytro Sadovnyk, the Berkut commander whom the Ukrainian Prosecutor General accused of killing 39 protesters at Maidan on February 20. There’s just one problem: Sadovnyk can’t shoot a gun very well. His right hand was blown off by a grenade six years earlier.

“Evidence suggests that the snipers were in fact from the Maidan opposition and/or from a third party of professional snipers, and that they shot at both unarmed protesters and policemen,” Granville attested. She drew upon published interviews, time-stamped live videos, and the meticulous research of Dr. Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa, who examined 30 gigabytes of intercepted radio exchanges of the Alfa and Omega units of the Ukrainian Security Service, the Berkut riot police, and anti-government protesters during the entire Maidan uprising.

One interview she cited was that of the former chief of Ukraine’s Security Service Aleksandr Yakimenko, published on March 13, 2014. According to Yakimenko, shooters were spotted in at least twelve buildings around the square that were forcibly occupied by the Maidan opposition, but Maidan “Commandant” Andriy Parubiy refused to allow Yakimenko’s armed men from entering the square. (Parubiy later became Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine until early August 2014. He is co-founder – with Oleh Tyahnybok – of the ultra right-wing Svoboda Party.)

Granville also cited the April 2, 2014 interview by Yanukovych, in which he denied ever ordering the Berkut police to shoot unarmed Ukrainian citizens. Furthermore, at a May 13 press conference, according to Granville, Ukrainian parliamentary investigation head Gennady Moskal stated that the bullets that killed both unarmed protesters and Berkut police in Kiev on February 20 did not match any of the firearms issued to Berkut’s special unit. This is interesting, when coupled with the testimony of Dr. Olha Bohomolets, who averred that the same type of bullets were extracted from the wounds in both protesters and police. Dr. Bohomolets performed emergency operations at the triage center during the Maidan shootings. Her testimony was alluded to in the famous leaked phone call between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on February 25. Gennady Moskal predicted decades of debate on this mystery of the snipers, since several keydocuments were destroyed.

Granville pointed out other evidence typically ignored by the Ukrainian media. This included videos showing members of the paramilitary group Right Sector leaving the Hotel Dnipro with large cases, which they called “musical instruments.” It also included radio intercepts of Maidan opposition fighters, positioning themselves on top floors in occupied buildings around the square. She played excerpts from these recordings, whereby the audience could hear Maidan protesters calling for access to open windows and referring to the Berkut in the third person. Their cameramen and shooters were apparently working together. Their words were audible in Russian at 0.22 in this video: “You must show how the people are being shot and how they fall to the ground.” Some of the photos of armed Berkut police may be misleading, Granville argues. In some cases, according to live videos, they are shooting at the dirt in front of unarmed protesters in order to get them to retreat. The videos show dirt sprays, not bodies falling to the ground. See here at 13:09–14:13.

As many as ten unarmed Berkut policemen were fatally shot earlier on February 18, which prompted the government’s decision to bring in armed security forces. That allowed later killings realistically to be blamed solely on the Berkut police. Granville posed the question: Would Berkut police have shot at theirown fellow officers? At least thirteen Berkut police died and 189 were wounded by gun shots. Curiously, no one has been arrested for shooting the policemen. Ironically, Maidan opposition leaders sought to appoint Andriy Parubiy to head the investigation of snipers’ attacks, the same man who apparently prevented Yakimenko’s men from entering the square to eliminate the snipers from the surrounding buildings.

Odessa Massacre

Three months after Maidan, on May 2, another tragic loss of life occurred, this time in Odessa, a key port city all the more valued after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. “Citizens in Odessa call it the ‘Odessa Massacre’ or the ‘Odessa Genocide,’ but the Ukrainian media typically refers to it as the ‘Odessa arson case,’” Granville said. The official version of this event in the Ukrainian media goes something like this. On May 2 several thousand young Ukrainians gathered to watch a soccer game, Chornomorets Odessa vs. Metalist Kharkiv. A traditional march for a “United Ukraine” was planned, with the opposing teams marching together. Before the march, “some 400 pro-Russian protesters” were “armed with guns, bats and sticks and wore bulletproof vests and helmets”, while most of the “Ukrainian patriots” were unarmed. These “armed pro-Russian separatists” shot into the crowd of ultranationalist football fans, killing at least one. The crowd of young, pro-Kiev football fans and Right Sector members then rushed over to Kulikovo Field. There they set fire to the tents in front of the Trade Unions building, where allegedly “radical” “heavily armed” pro-Russian “separatists” were camping out. Warned that these pro-Kiev radicals were coming to attack them, these protesters barricaded themselves in the large Trade Unions Building. “Russian citizens” disguised themselves as separatists and provoked the crowd. Official reports state that about forty-six died of asphyxiation. In differing later accounts, six died of falls from windows and as many as thirty-two from chloroform gas. The building, they state, was set on fire by the pro-Russian rebels themselves. In an unfortunate case of “accidental self-immolation,” these rebels hurled a Molotov cocktail at a closed window, which then ricocheted back into the room and ignited.

Other versions state that it is not known how the building caught on fire. “The Ukrainian Interior Ministry stated that 172 people were arrested after the tragedy, and that the majority of detainees were identified as Russian nationals and residents of Transnistria,” Granville said. “Never before has such agruesome event been so amply videotaped.”

Testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses, plus unedited videos by local Odessa citizens paint an entirely different picture of this event. The individuals trapped in the burning building were in fact all local Odessa citizens, Granville noted. Videos actually show Right Sector radicals removing passports and wallets from corpses after the fire. (See here at 46:06). This enabled authorities to claim later that the deceased were Russian citizens. Survivors state that perhaps as many as one hundred and sixteen people were trapped in the building’s basement, and that they died not exclusively from asphyxiation, falls, or burns, but also from gunshots and dismemberment by axes. One woman had been raped, and another pregnant woman strangled. The victims were unarmed (see here at 46:17), and included women, children, elderly men, and World War Two veterans. Several videos clearly depict Right Sectorgirls preparing Molotov cocktails and pro-Kiev radicals hurling the cocktails from without the building.

They show young men on the roof, throwing the first cocktails at the tents well before the football fans had even arrived at Kulikovo field. Still other videos show the radicals entering the building even before the pro-Russian protesters took refuge there, which would explain Molotov cocktails igniting from within the building. Even more mysterious is the footage of allegedly pro-Russian radicals and Odessa policemen wearing red armbands. (See here at 3:07). Granville showed photos of the Odessa deputy police chief, colonel Dmitry Fucheji, conferring with one red armbanded protester. The first Molotov cocktail hurlers atop the Trade Unions building were also wearing the red armbands, as was a young radical filmed shooting into the crowd of football fans in the center of town before the fire was set at Kulikovo field. (See here at 2:51 and here at 1:41:18-1:42:08).

Live videos place Andriy Parubiy in Odessa on April 30 and May 1, two days before the massacre. (Recall that Parubiy is reportedly the man who barred Yakimenko’s armed men from entering Maidan to eliminate the snipers and who was later appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council). He is seen distributing bullet-proof vests to the pro-Kiev militants, including the 33-year-old Maidan Self-Defense activist and later captain of the Interior Ministry’s “Storm Battalion”, Mykola Volkov. Granville showed video stills of the porcine Volkov shooting into the Trade Unions Building and mentioned that Ukrainian police since 2012 have sought to arrest Volkov for fraud. (See here at 1:15-1:28.)

As with the snipers’ massacre, Granville identified in the Odessa case classic signs of a cover-up. First, authorities were quick to blame Russia before any investigation was conducted. Prime MinisterYatseniuk visited Odessa the following day, May 3, and told reporters, “We are at war with Russia,” and that this was “a well-planned Russian terrorist plot.” Second, although a parliamentary investigatory commission was appointed, key public figures refused to testify, including Parubyi, chief of Ukraine’s Security Council Valentin Nalivaichenko, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Third, the commission’s report cut out, among other things, the roles of the Odessa region’s governor Vladimir Nemirovsky and Andrei Yusov, head of the Odessa branch of the heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s “Udar” party. Witnesses had testified that Nemirovsky had bussed in about 500 Right Sector members from Lviv in western Ukraine, and that Yusov instigated the pro-Kiev nationalists to burn the tents in front of the Trade Union building. The published version of the commission’s report was so doctored that parliament member Svetlana Fabrikant, the secretary of the commission, later withdrew her signature. Granville points out that if the Odessa Massacre – which resulted in the deaths of at least 48 pro-Russian protesters – really was a “Russian terrorist plot,” presumably the Ukrainian officials would want to cooperate in the investigation. She concluded that, “rather than being a ‘well-planned Russian terrorist plot,’ the Odessa Massacre was probably a deliberate provocation: pro-Kiev militants posing as pro-Russians and deliberately shooting at their own, to incite the mob and turn them on the real pro-Russian demonstrators at Kulikovo Field.”

MH17 Takedown

Two months after the Odessa Massacre, on July 17, the Malaysian airline (MH17) was shot down in the east Ukrainian region of Donetsk. In contrast to the snipers’ killings at Maidan and the Odessa fire, this was truly an international crisis, involving the death of 298 people, most of them Dutch, Belgian, or Australian nationals. Granville drew upon the Corbett Report, and the well-researched articles and interviews on this website and others. Within twenty-four hours of the crash, Granville told us, the Kiev government stated that it had “conclusive evidence” that Russia had supplied pro-Russian rebels with a Buk surface-to-air missile, and that these rebels – who controlled the region of Donetsk – had shot down the Malaysian airline, either accidentally or intentionally. Granville played a video excerpt from U.S. President Barack Obama’s address on July 18, in which he implicated Russia, stating that it was not the first time that pro-Russian rebels had shot down lower-flying Ukrainian military aircraft. “We know that these rebels have received arms, training, and anti-aircraft weapons from Russia,” Obama said. He then called for a credible “international investigation”.

Granville outlined the alleged evidence of Russian involvement commonly cited in Ukrainian newspapers, which includes: 1) a YouTube video of communications allegedly between a Russian military commander and pro-Russian rebel, discussing the Buk; 2) a YouTube video of the Buk(uncovered by a tarp) being driven supposedly across the Russian border at Krasnodon, missing a couple of missiles; 3) a comment on the VKontakte page of Russian national Igor Strelkov (real name Igor Girkin) posted thirty-five minutes after the MH17 crash, in which he supposedly wrote “We havewarned them not to fly in our sky.”

As Granville explained, there is no way to confirm the identities of the two masked men labeled “Major” and “Grek” depicted in static photos on the video. In the third part of the video an unnamed rebel says he can see “Malaysia Airlines” written on the plane, which is hard to believe, since the wreckage was spread over several kilometers in pieces. The other Buk video has been traced to the city of Luhansk, fifty kilometers from Krasnodon, an area that was indeed under the control of the Ukrainian army, not that of the rebels, on July 18, when the video was made. Finally, Strelkov’s supposed VKontakte account cannot be directly traced to him. Even if it was, Strelkov possibly thought at first that his men had indeed shot a plane down, but that it was a small military aircraft. Granville warned that none of these social media sources can be verified and are unreliable. They have all been thoroughly debunked by contributors in the Saker community.

When one considers Russia’s nuclear status, and the MH17 takedown as a potential casus belli (like the Lusitania or Gulf of Tonkin incident), making unjustified accusations is extremely reckless. The Russians denied supplying Buk missile launchers to the separatists. The Ukrainian military, incidentally, possesses several of them. On July 18 the Russian government formally asked Ukrainian authoritiesten questions. Granville provided the list. They included questions such as: On what evidence are accusations about Russia’s involvement based on? Why were Buk missile launchers deployed by the Ukrainian army in this conflict zone, since the self-defense forces don’t have any planes? Why did Kiev’s air traffic controllers tell the MH17 to fly fourteen kilometers off the normal route, directly over the war zone? Why did Ukraine’s Security Service start working with Kiev air traffic control recordings without waiting for international investigators? Will the Ukrainians provide data regarding the movements of Ukrainian warplanes on July 17? How does Kiev explain the comments by a Spanish air traffic controller regarding two Ukrainian military planes flying alongside the MH17?

Granville mentioned that the Russians startled everyone further by holding a press conference on July 21, 2014 in which military officials presented their own satellite and radar data. They stated that “there was a Ukrainian Air Force jet, probably Su-25, climbing and approaching” the MH17 just minutes before the airline disappeared. The Su-25 carries R60 air-to-air missiles as ammunition. Granville gave a timeline of events. On July 21 the black boxes were handed over to the Malaysians, who then sent them to London for an independent investigation. On August 8, the official investigation of the crash was finished. An agreement was signed between Ukraine, Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia to keep the findings of the long-awaited investigation classified. (For some reason, Malaysia – the country that lost an expensive airplane – had no say in this decision and, in fact, was originally excluded from the Joint Investigation Team until November 2014). The Kiev-based Prosecutor Yuri Boychenko stated that the results will be published only if all four countries give their consent, and any one of the countries can veto without explanation. This is quite astonishing, given President Obama’s strident calls for an “independent” international investigation and the endless tragic images the media has fed the world community. On August 19, Russia addressed the UN Security Council, asking for Kiev’s air traffic control records. Granville informed us that, according to Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, “The investigator-in-charge shall have unhampered access to the wreckage and all relevant material, including flight recorders and ATS records, and shall have unrestricted control over it to ensure that a detailed examination can be made without delay”. See here on page 39. On the day of the crash, the BBC reported: “Ukraine’s SBU security service has confiscated recordings of conversations between Ukrainian air traffic control officers and the crew of the doomed airliner, a source in Kiev has told Interfax news agency.”

Granville reminded us that all U.S. surveillance satellite imagery is also missing. This is all the more glaring, since the shootdown of the MH17 coincided with the ten-day NATO military exercise in the Black Sea code-named “BREEZE 2014.” NATO ships and aircraft had the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under total radar and electronic surveillance. U.S. officials have repeated publicly that their judgment is based on sensors tracing the Buk missile’s trajectory, voice print analysis of separatists’ conversations, and patterns of shrapnel in the debris. However, we should remember that none of this hard data has actually been presented to the public. If the Russians or the rebels of eastern Ukraine really are responsible, then why won’t the Kiev and Washington governments simply publicize their records?

Can we verify the Russians’ data about a Ukrainian air force jet approaching the MH17? Yes, according to Granville. She cited the BBC report by Olga Ivshina published on July 23, 2014. Ivshina interviewed Ukrainian villagers who saw one or two military planes flying next to MH17 before it blew up. The BBC later tried to scrub the internet of this report, claiming that it did not conform to the newspaper’s “editorial values,” but it has been preserved here. By contrast, no reliable eyewitnesses have claimed to see a Buk launch or plume. To drive her point home, Granville played a video showing the loudtakeoff of a Buk missile and the white fluffy plume that typically remains in the sky. “Do you think you would have remembered this if you saw it in the sky after hearing loud explosions?” she asked. “Thesound of a Buk missile launch can be heard within a radius of ten kilometers. It vibrates the earth all around for two kilometers. On that day there was very little wind. A plume like this would have remained in the sky for at least ten minutes,” Granville said. She also played the video of a villager who captured the crash as it happened. No Buk plume is visible. (The report by British social media blogger Eliot Higgins, claiming that residents saw the BUK smoke trail has been discredited by the Saker and others. Higgins of the blog “Bellingcat” is the same blogger who claimed the Syrian government was behind the sarin gas attack in Ghouta on August 21, 2013).

Granville also played a recording of OSCE monitor Michael Bociurkiw’s interview with Susan Ormiston of CBC News on July 28, 2014. Bociurkiw arrived at the crash scene when the wreckage was still smouldering. He noted three pieces of fuselage that were “pockmarked” by “heavy machine gun-like fire,” and told Ormiston there was no evidence that a missile brought down the plane. The hypothesis ofPeter Haisenko, a German national and retired Lufthansa pilot, also interested the audience. Haisenko observed small holes in the wreckage consistent with a 30 millimeter caliber projectile (which is the size of the cannon in an SU-25 military plane). A fragmentation blast from a Buk missile, on the other hand, is not capable of producing neatly aligned round holes. Haisenko also detected larger holes, some of which were inbound, others which were outbound. “This is what you would have if the plane were shot at from more than one direction, for example, from below and from alongside the plane,” Granville said. A Buk missile attacks only in one direction. Haisenko’s findings also fit with the Saker’s here and Colonel Cassad’s here, namely that both R-60 missiles and the SU-25’s cannons were used. Cassad found no cross-shaped traces that the Buk’s projectiles typically leave, and also conjectured that the explosion of firepower was no more than five meters from the MH17, further ruling out a BUK attack.

Still more chilling, Haisenko surmised that the most heavily pockmarked piece fit directly over the cockpit, suggesting that the pilot’s stomach was probably targeted directly. If true, Granville said, this would explain why there (apparently) was no “May Day” distress signal on the voice recorder, according to air traffic controllers from Dnepropetrovsk.

Granville ended with the curious case of Jose Carlos Barrios Sanchez, the Spanish national the Russians had asked the Kiev regime about. Apparently he was employed as an air traffic controller in Kiev’s Boryspil airport and tweeted minutes before the plane disappeared: “Plane shot down, no accident… [Military] has taken over air traffic control. Before they remove my phone or break my head, shot down by Kiev.” Sanchez wrote that the MH17 was “escorted by two Ukrainian fighter planes” just minutes before disappearing from the radar. This Twitter account (spain@buca) was deleted soon after the tweets, but the account has remained in internet archives. It was opened in August 2010 and contains several photos of the Boryspil airport. “Even if you discount this as a hoax,” Granville told the audience, “consider the timing of the tweets: 3:15 pm Kiev time, the same time air traffic control lost contact with MH17. It shows that at least someone had inside information.” Presumably the Kiev authorities would not implicate themselves. If it were somehow the Russians, to throw the blame on Kiev, one would think Ukrainian reporters would investigate the story in depth. Instead, the Ukrainian and Western press ignore the issue.

Thus, as with the Maidan and Odessa killings, Granville states, to date we lack incontrovertible proof that the Russians were directly or indirectly responsible for the MH17 crash. The official report of the Joint Investigation Team is due around October 2015. In all three cases, we see signs of an official cover-up, stonewalling, and destruction of evidence. The lack of a Russian motive and opportunity in each case should also give us pause. Surely Moscow would not benefit by employing snipers to infuriate a crowd already angry at Yanukovych – a pro-Russian leader – prompting him to leave Kiev, and hence enabling Maidan opposition leaders to seize power. Likewise, it is hard to see how Moscow could benefit by the deaths of a hundred or more pro-Russian peaceful demonstrators in Odessa or how Russians could even infiltrate the local Odessa police force. Certainly neither the Putin government nor the rebels in Donetsk could benefit by shooting down a large civilian airline. Critics point out that it was an accident. If that is the case, one wonders why Russia was punished with a second round of sanctions. Granville points out that on July 29, a week after the takedown, the Obama Administration was able to persuade Germany to move ahead with this second round of sanctions against Russia. Within hours of the shootdown, Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza, its air assault having begun on July 7. The crash also enabled the Kiev government to paint the pro-Russian rebels and Russia as responsible for what is essentially a civil war, not a “foreign invasion”.

A vigorous question-and-answer period followed this presentation at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). Granville shared her personal survey results and videotaped excerpts from interviews with citizens in Kiev and western Ukrainian cities, and also explained the results of the recent elections in Ukraine. After the applause died down, I overheard numerous positive comments from colleagues and students sitting around me. From the Provost Steven Fenter Sullivan, Associate Professor of Economics, came: “Granville’s talk was a success – well-structured, and certainly topical.” Pierangelo I. Castagneto, chair of the History and Civilizations department, said “It was concise and challenged the version in the Western media.” Tamara Peneva Todorova, Associate Professor of Economics, concurred, saying “Even people who may have disagreed with Johanna Granville were convinced that she had done a tremendous amount of research. She had interviewed local Ukrainian citizens in the Russian, Ukrainian, and Hungarian languages.” Dinka H. Spirovska, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, stated, “I thoroughly enjoyed Granville’s presentation. She condensed complex material in forty minutes and raised important questions.”

Compliments came from students as well. From Vladimir S. Todev, I heard: “Honestly, Professor Granville’s talk was the most interesting one I have heard at AUBG. Until now I was pro-Ukrainian, but now I’m not so sure. It showed a lot of respect for us Bulgarians that Granville began her lecture in Bulgarian, which was quite good for a non-native speaker. I also appreciated the photos from her travels in Ukraine. The event drew a large crowd and several student reporters attended.” Journalism major Tereza L. Denkova, a junior, said “The photo exhibition first caught my eye as I entered the room. Next was the soft cello music which I later realized was by Professor Granville, an accomplished cellist. I was amazed by her interviews in several languages and her efforts to dig so deeply for information.” From Irina Sotirova I heard, “I was surprised to learn that the same bullets killed both protesters and policemen, that there were no witnesses who heard the Buk launch, and that the results of the international investigation are still classified. I liked the way Granville presented both sides. A lot of people asked questions afterwards, and she had thoughtful answers.” Tsvetiana S. Zaharieva, another junior, agreed: “It was a very interesting talk that made me think deeply about the trustworthiness of the media. I wonder how many similar ‘blackouts’ have distorted the recording of history. Professor Granville prepared a solid Power Point presentation with many audio and video clips.”

Student Media Bias at AUBG

Having heard such favorable remarks, I was rather bewildered to read the two reports in the student-run online newspaper, the AUBG Daily, that were published on December 10, nearly a month after the November 19 event. Oddly, the 19-year-old reporter from Vitebsk, Belarus ignored the most plausible points, for example, those concerning the testimonies of Michael Bociurkiw and Peter Haisenko about bullet-like holes in MH17’s fuselage and NATO’s military exercise in the Black Sea. At other times she listed without any context other credible pieces of evidence. An especially glaring oversight is her failure to mention Granville’s boots-on-the-ground experience in Ukraine, her extensive preparation, and the uniformly positive response from the audience. This includes the enthusiastic remarks I myself made during a videotaped interview with the reporter’s classmate shortly after Granville’s presentation.

Apparently the reporter was so hard-pressed to find any dissatisfied members of the audience that, in her other article, she had to solicit comments on the public lecture from someone who did not even attend it–a former AUBG professor who was not even in Bulgaria on November 19! In another case, she interviewed a skeptical visiting professor who cites the “preponderance of evidence” that allegedly proves Granville wrong about the MH17 crash, but then does not provide any such evidence – as if by dint of stating that the speaker is wrong makes her wrong, despite all the supporting material she provided. I noticed that many Ukrainians attended, including some from Crimea who supported the Russian annexation. Strangely, the reporter chose to interview just one, a nationalist Ukrainian from Kharkiv, who alluded to “facts that directly contradict” Granville’s view, but then did not provide any. This fits a familiar pattern in the Ukrainian and Western media coverage of the MH17 crash; by blaming Putin’s Russia, we make Russia solely responsible for the war in Ukraine. No hard evidence need be given. If a spokesman from a NATO member country states that he “knows” something or says confidently “we have evidence” (but shows none), he is automatically believed, whereas genuine data – if it originates from a Russian source – is automatically discounted. One has only to watch how State Department spokesperson Marie Harf feebly ducks the penetrating questions of Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee to see such a pattern.

This fact-free, ad hominem approach starkly contrasts with Granville’s crisp, evidence-based analysis. The student-run periodical has consistently reported on the Ukrainian conflict entirely from a pro-Kiev perspective, either without citing any news sources at all or citing exclusively CNN, a news channel whose staged events, bias, and falsehoods on conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, and a host of other places is well-documented. To be sure, we all learn ultimately by doing, and the idea is to give students the experience and responsibility. However, as I later found out, writers for this student gazette (including first-semester freshmen) are not currently being trained on how to evaluate sources, examine both sides of an issue, and abide by the rules of responsible journalism. The Bulgarian student newspaper’s bias is all the more ironic, since Granville’s key message, stressed throughout the November 19 presentation, was that a democratic society depends on a free, unbiased press. She emphasized from the start the need to examine sources and to check facts.

In an era when politicians practically own media empires, young people today might get the idea that the media is simply an instrument of one side or another. The boundary between media and PR has become very blurred. Educators today need to remind students (West and East) that there exists a “higher calling” for investigative journalism. Truth is not relative. Without rigorous training in critical thinking skills and guarding against bias, journalists and their newspapers can easily become instruments of war.

“In all three cases, we are talking about war crimes,” Granville stated passionately in her conclusion, while Apple’s 1984 TV ad about Big Brother played silently behind her. “Innocent people have died in the sniper attacks on Maidan, the massacre in Odessa, and the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner. What we need to do as individuals is to keep asking the hard questions and demanding real evidence, rather than passively accept what we read in the mainstream media. We need to hold government officials accountable.”

I couldn’t agree more. As the Saker wrote recently, the Western media is “mounting a truly heroic effort into not mentioning the MH17 topic, as if it had never happened.” If more people and organizations around the world – not just Russian ones – demand the truth, the truth about the MH17 catastrophe might not disappear so easily into the memory hole as just one more “conspiracy theory.”

Dr. James Coffin was a Balkan Scholar at the American University in Bulgaria in 2013-2014, as well as Director Emeritus of the Center for International Programs at Ball State University in Indiana. An anthropologist, he examines how developing societies cope with pressures from developed societies and has developed programs to train anthropologists in fieldwork overseas.

This article was published at The Vineyard of the Saker blog and is reprinted with permission.

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