Kyiv Post has published a very insightful article into the recent “Sex scandal at Artek allegations”. It raises a number of serious issues not the least the potential misuse and abuse of “free media”.
Today, 21:15 | Otar Dovzhenko, Special to Kyiv Post
Theword “scandal” doesn’t do justice in describing the bombshell thatexploded in the Ukrainian media a week before the official Oct. 19start of the presidential election campaign. By its destructivepotential and its ability to shape the political campaign, “thepedophile case” can be already compared to the “tapegate” scandal ofnearly 10 years ago.
The tape scandal involved the surreptitious taping of ex-PresidentLeonid Kuchma by presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. Therecordings – purportedly catching Kuchma and top officials running thenation as a criminal enterprise – were released soon after theSeptember 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. It took manyyears for the Melnychenko tapes scandal to die down, and many potentialwitnesses to the crimes described lost their lives along the way.
But the pedophile scandal, from the start, demolished the lives oftwo children and cast doubts on the honor and career prospects ofseveral adults, including some parliament deputies. The scandal has thepotential to alter the choice of Ukrainian voters in the Jan. 17presidential election.
The Ukrainian media faced great challenges in covering the story ofa journalist who allegedly sexually assaulted his own kids for threeyears, enlisting other acquaintances – including parliamentarians – todo the same. They had to weigh the obligation to inform society againstthe harm of spreading confidential and compromising information.
The drama was worsened by the lack of trustworthy sources: Everypower institution in Ukraine is capable of falsifying documents andtestimony in the interests of political expediency and self- protection.
Overly pluralistic, but passive in their attempts to search fortheir own information sources, Ukrainian media have long trained theiraudiences to accept the idea that every conflict has two sets of“truth.”
In this particular story, the horrific accusations against ajournalist, three parliamentarians and managers of the Crimeanchildren’s camp, Artek, proved believable to many people. It’s notdifficult for Ukrainians to believe that politicians are capable of anyperversion. On the other hand, it is also not difficult to believe thatthis kind of case could be a fabricated show to assassinate politicalcareers.
Society had to decide between contradictory versions. Kyiv LawyerTetyana Montian, who represents the children’s mother, vouched for thecriminal accusations contained in the leaked letter of parliamentarianHryhoriy Omelchenko. Kyiv lawyer Eduard Bagirov, who represented theaccused father, calls the case fabricated. The credibility and mentalstability of the mother was called into question. The whole affair wasdismissed as a nasty family fight exploited for political gain.
Artek director Borys Novozhylov, also implicated in the sexualabuse, claimed that he and Artek were being defamed as part of a plotto discredit the institution.
Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko’s version to parliament on Oct. 20took a middle ground. He said that experts have concluded that thechildren were indeed sexually abused. The evidence, it appears, issolid against the father. But Lutsenko doubted the involvement oflawmakers and top management of the camp, alleging the mother tried toextort $2 million from the accused.
Lutsenko’s credibility, however, is also easily challenged by theopposition. He is a minister in Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’sgovernment while those implicated in pedophilia are deputies from herfaction in parliament.
Pursuing sensational scoops, some journalists disregardedconfidentiality and the interests of child victims. Others scolded thepoliticians. “There are basic rules, dear politicians. These areprivacy of investigation, presumption of innocence. There are alsobasic decency and humanity. We shall not take part in your dirtygames,” said a public letter signed by almost 100 journalists.
But in reality, separating the criminal element from the politicalone turned out to be too hard for the Ukrainian media. Isolatedattempts to find the truth drowned in the sea of moralizing panic andcynical predictions as to the effects of this pre-election scandal onthe result of the vote, and shocking (but not always necessary) details.
For example,ny ny media made much of Deputy Interior MinisterHennadiy Moskal’s obscene insult of lawyer Montian. The frenzied publicfuss of over-excited lawmakers, who rushed tnitiate thangesges in lawsto introduce hear (all ll the way up to chemical castration) punishmentfor pedophiles, got very serious coverage. As long as politicianscontinue to supply food for the sensation-hungry media, the children’sinterests will be overlooked.
The fate of these two children is scary to think about. Until Oct.13, when rupor.info and from-ua.com websites printed Omelchenko’sletter to the president about this case, the 12-year-old boy and9-y-old ld girl had alry dy been victims of inhn rapists.ts. Nowthey’re simply destroyed.
The documents that had been published on the Internet with nodiscretion made their names and surnames known to Ukraine. Later,Lutsenko divulged the secret of their adoption at a press conference onOct. 14.
Photos of these children appeared on the Internetaken frofromtheir father’s website, where they had been posted a year ago.
Other investigations released detailed circumstances of their abuseand their intimate experiences. They were further violated by theirgrandmother, the mother of the suspect, who told Inter TV and ICTV thatthe children’s mother had persuaded the children to testifyuntruthfully.
One can only hope that the children are not allowed to watch TV,read newspapers and go on the Internet, where it’s obvious that theirpersonal disaster has become small change in political games.
“It’s regrettable that it was our publication that had first madethe mistake and published the text of the deputies’ address, failing toblack out the names of the victimized children (this mistake wascorrected promptly). But keeping the names of the children secret wouldsimply have been impossible in this story,” said Nadiya Babenko, chiefeditor of from-ua.com website, when asked about professionalconclusions she made from this situation.
Others don’t recognize their mistakesd don’tn’t think about them,exinaining the euphoric disregard of the ethical norms with a singleword: election. The Ukrainian media have failed their first campaignexam in professional ethics.
The children’s father, the prime suspect, had tried to commitsuicide twice, even before his detention. Even if he lives through acourt hearing and is acquitted, his reputation is destroyed.
Will the journalists worry about the consequences of their carelessactions if the abuse story turns out to be nothing more thanpre-election spin? I doubt it. They believe that there are at least twosets of truth. In at least one of them, journalists think they’re right.