Ukraine: media in the face of the war of information and images

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Author of Redaction Reforme with AFP

The abundance of information and images related to the Ukrainian conflict makes the media not turn into biased repeaters.

The abundance of information and images about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is forcing the media not to become biased repeaters of a parallel information war and to adopt new methods of work. “It has been a stream (of images and information) since the first hour of the conflict”, says Shayan Sardarizadeh, a journalist for the BBC Disinformation Unit. He cites two comparable moments in terms of the volume of issues that need to be sorted out: the global Covid-19 pandemic and the two weeks leading up to the vote in the November 2020 US presidential election.

The bombing of a theater in Mariupol, a city besieged by Russian troops, illustrates the difficulty the media has in reporting on events in a place that has become almost impossible to access. Thus, it was the mayor’s office of this port city who first published in Telegram messages a photo of the theater showing that its central part was completely destroyed, and again the municipality, which has since said that it fears about 300 deaths from this strike, citing witnesses. Another episode that took place on Zmeiny Island was covered by numerous publications from the first days of the conflict, and only with Ukrainian officials.

Presenting the Ukrainian soldiers as dead”like a hero“these authorities finally, after a few days, indicated that they “very happy“let it be”a life“, after the Russian army widely reported the return of these Ukrainian soldiers to the mainland. These inversions illustrate “fog of information due to war” as well as “desire for propagandaboth sides,” analyzes Arnaud Mercier, Professor of Communications at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas and author of “Weapons of Mass Communication”, which analyzes political communication during the Iraq War.

“We all see”

However, precautions taken by the media did not prevent public skepticism. At the beginning of the conflict, the German newspaper Bild and the Dutch media RTL Nieuws, for example, were falsely accused of misleading their readers by spreading false images of the conflict. Among the images and information to check”we see everything“, notes Shayan Sardarizade: “Videos of past conflicts and reworked military exercises, real images presented in a misleading way.“. Other elements frequently circulating on social media, such as what is presented as “humiliation“Ukrainians who collaborated with the Russians suffered, it is impossible to verify on their part due to the lack of the ability to determine the place or date where they could have occurred.

Not to mention Internet users, who include well-known conspiracy or anti-vaccination figures converted to pro-Kremlin who use this to stir up distrust in the so-called mainstream media through the misappropriation of logos and graphics. charters of channels such as CNN. In recent years, several publications have created information checks (or “fact checks”) to help sort things out, but their codes are now borrowed from the Russian side.

A site promoted by the authorities in recent weeks claims that “war on fakesonline, relaying accusations, sometimes unfounded, towards the Kremlin. To counterattack, the media are developing their digital investigative techniques. In early March, an investigation by journalists from Le Monde was able to attest to the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas of Ukraine through analysis of videos available on the Internet.

Visual intelligence service New York Times and online media Bellingcat, citing open sources of the investigation, studied the movement of Russian troops before the invasion of Ukraine, using satellite imagery and video surveillance. And the images of the American space technology company Maxar Technologies, as well as images of a huge Russian military convoy stretching northwest of Kyiv or the Mariupol theater, made an impression.

Bellingcat also deciphers the use of cluster munitions day by day with the help of images available on the Internet. All with the hope that in the long term this documentation of the conflict can be used in court, while several national and international courts have begun investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.

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