“Big Brother is Watching You.” Is the Ministry of Information Policy a “Ministry of Truth” a la George Orwell’s 1984

Ukraine’s “Ministry of Truth”, Explained.

Ukraine’s newest Ministry of Information is the most controversial and dangerous move by the post-revolutionary government.

by Chris Dunnett, Hromadske International

produced by Maxim Eristavi, Randy R. Potts

What You Need to Know:

✓ Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine was accompanied by an aggressive media campaign;

✓ Some have dubbed the differing media narratives between Russia, Ukraine, and the West as an “information war”;

✓ Ukraine’s newly formed coalition government includes a Ministry of Information to “to ensure the information security” of the country;

✓Journalists and other critics mockingly call it the “Ministry of Truth”, saying that the ministry is a step backwards in media freedom;

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Move aside, guys. There’s a parallel war happening behind the scenes- the “Information War” Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

What Caused This?

The annexation of Crimea and resultant confrontation between Russia and the West has been noted by some observers as the beginning of a new asymmetrical war conflict over the information sphere. The narrative of the conflict in Russia and the West varies greatly. Mainstream Russian media, which is largely controlled by the Kremlin or its allies, has aggressively labeled the Ukrainian conflict as a result of a coup d’état and the seizure of state organs by hard-line nationalists and neo-Nazis. While accounts of the source of the conflict vary outside of Russia, many foreign journalists and observers have dismissed the often outlandish claims propagated in Russian state media.

One of the latest bizarre Russian media accusations: Ukraine offering two slaves to soldiers fighting in the east.

In recent years, the Russian government has invested heavily in disseminating the Russian view of world affairs to foreign audiences. Programs such as government-owned RT (formerly Russia Today) target foreign audiences with news and commentary that is often critical of the Western powers. Critics accuse the station of disseminating faulty information with a heavy ideological spin that is favorable towards Russian state interests.

The Twitter account of the Russian mission to the UN in Geneva posted a picture of a Nazi swastika next to the Ukrainian flag. The picture was actually taken during the filming of a movie in 2011.
In recent years, the Kremlin has made much use of information warfare, gaining support in the West from nostalgic communist fellow travelers, the rising far-right and conspiracy theorists. The rebranding today of the international branches of Russia’s state-owned Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) news group as Sputnik International speaks of the Kremlin’s intent to influence and manipulate opinion abroad. Russian state-owned or state-controlled media also serve to distribute disinformation, including outright lies, as best exemplified by fabricated reports of the crucifixion of a child by Ukrainian forces.

Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia has announced plans to increase its media reach worldwide, receiving a 40 percent boost in funding and expanding its operations in English, Spanish, and Arabic while adding programs in French and German.

Ukraine has perceived Russia’s aggressive media campaign as a direct threat to its national security, blaming Russia media for inciting pro-Russian sympathizers in Ukraine and decreasing foreign support for Kyiv in the face of Russian aggression. In March, Ukrainian authorities began to block Russian television stations in the name of protecting the country’s “information space”.

The Ukrainian National Council for TV and Radio Broadcasting instructed all cable operators on 11 March to stop transmitting a number of Russian channels, including the international versions of the main state-controlled stations Rossiya 1, Channel One and NTV, as well as news channel Rossiya 24.
It said it was acting in the interests of “information security”. It was also responding to calls from the National Security and Defence Council, which on 6 March said the presence of Russian TV channels in Ukraine’s “information space” represented a threat to “national security”.

In the summer, Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and owner of Ukrainian TV channel 1+1 founded Ukraine Today, an English-language broadcast that is designed to challenge the pro-Russian position on Ukraine propagated by RT.

Ukraine Today trolls Russia Today.

“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” 1984

What is “Ministry of Truth”?

Ukraine’s most recent move in the “information war” is the Ministry of Information Policy. The creation of the new government ministry came with little warning, and was pushed through parliament without much debate as the newly elected coalition finalized the cabinet on December 2.

“Everything is fine and logical, in my opinion,” said MP Yuriy Lutsenko from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc when asked about the controversy surrounding the creation of a Ministry of Information. Critics of this new ministry have suggested that it will provide the government with a legalized way to censor the press.
“There may be differing opinions between the public and Parliament, but the Prime Minister, along with the majority of MPs believe this [ministry] is necessary,” Lutsenko told reporters.
Creating a New Ministry of Information is “Fine and Logical”- MP Yuriy Lutsenko

The ministry will be led by a close ally to President Poroshenko, Yuriy Stets. Stets is a member of parliament and recently directed the Information Security Department of the National Guard of Ukraine. Before that, he led Poroshenko’s Channel 5 TV news station, a news station known for its critical coverage of the 2004 Orange Revolution and more recent events in the country. According to Stets, the Ministry of Information Policy is tasked with providing Ukrainians with accurate news and information, and counteract Russian aggression in the information space.

Ukraine needs an information strategy, according to the MP Yuri Stets, who is the acting head of the country’s controversial new Ministry of Information.
“We don’t have a single political institution that deals with political information, nor do we have any information strategy,” Stets told reporters, noting that the war in Ukraine has made the creation of such a ministry imperative.
Ministry of Information is Imperative to Ukraine’s Security — MP Yuri Stets

According to documents released by Yuriy Stets, the functions of the Ministry include:

The Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine is the main authority of executive power in state supervision (control) over the activities of mass media regardless of their forms of ownership, including those cases relating to national security.
The MIP, according to its assigned duties, is charged with forming a strategy for the country’s information policy and to police compliance as well.”
The MIP is supposed to develop, approve, and implement the strategy of protection of the information sphere of Ukraine from external informational influence.
This ministry should coordinate the way that information is shown and analyze how the official information is shown in state media.

What Is Wrong With It?

The creation of the new ministry has many detractors. Protestors gathered outside the Ukrainian parliament building, denouncing the ministry as the “Ministry of Truth”.

The newly established Ministry of Information could pose a serious threat to the freedom of the press in Ukraine, according a group of journalists, activists and MPs who staged a protest against the establishment of this new ministry outside of the Parliament building.
Press Freedom in Ukraine is Under Threat, Say Activists

Critics argue that the ministry will prove an obstacle for independent journalists, and could suppress news that is critical of the Ukrainian government. This is particularly relevant, considering that well-respected foreign news outlets such as The New York Times have recently reported on potential war crimes committed by Ukrainian troops. Here’s official condemnation of new Ukrainian ministry by international media-watchdog Reporters Without Borders:

“Putting the government in charge of ‘information policy’ would be major retrograde step that would open the way to grave excesses,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
Media independence and media freedom are the best weapons against propaganda. Enlisting journalists in a government-managed information war would just undermine the public’s confidence in the national media. Reporters Without Borders urges Ukraine’s parliamentarians to oppose this proposal.

Many are speaking out:

Poster: They don’t have money for tanks, but they have money for the Ministry of Truth.
MP Serhiy Leshchenko said that the Ministry of Information is a ticking time bomb. The newly created ministry could be a tool in the hands of oligarchs and dictators to muzzle the press and will have unknown repercussions for years to come, he warned.
The hastily created Ministry of Information will not help Ukraine’s “catastrophic” situation, said Tetiana Chornovol, an MP from the People’s Front Party.

Ukrainian journalists have been perhaps the most outspoken opponents of the ministry’s creation. Hromadske.TV staged a protest in the visitors’ gallery of parliament, and several well-regarded journalists have expressed their discontent with the government’s decision.

The statement from Ukrainian journalist community with a protest against the decision to create the ministry

Journalist civic movement “Stop Censorship!” deprecates establishing of state-run censorship in Ukraine in any forms. Even aggression of the Russian Federation cannot be an excuse. We interpret plans for creating a new structure named as “The Ministry of Information Policy” that have recently been declared by the new authorities, as menacing and harmful for the state.
Myroslava Petsa, a foreign correspondent for Ukraine’s Channel 5 speaks out against the move.

Even members of Poroshenko’s government and inner circle have criticized the Ministry of Information Policy as dangerous and damaging to Ukraine’s reputation and national security.

Treat A Problem With A Meme

Right after the decision to create the ministry Ukrainian web exploded with sarcastic memes. Like this one, suggesting a creation of ‘Ministry of Magic’ to resolve all the country’s problems:

“Ministry of Magic of Ukraine, because we deserve it.”

Or Ministry of Laziness and Spitting at the Ceiling:

Or “Ministry of Sexual Politics of Ukraine”

Hashtags #МінСтець (translated as Ministry of Stets and has audible connotations with a slur) and #МінКум (translated as Ministry of Godfather, citing the family connection of Minister Stets and President Poroshenko) had briefly took over Ukrainian Twitter accounts.

A year after the beginning of the Maidan protest revolution, feelings of disillusionment with the post-revolution government are only growing.

Also check out our explainer on more historic events happened during the vote for new Ukrainian government on December 2, 2014:

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