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23 May, 2024 08:28

Kiev backtracks on Russian ‘orcs’ smear ban

The Ukrainian media regulator had urged journalists not to use dehumanizing language, but later withdrew the instruction
Kiev backtracks on Russian ‘orcs’ smear ban

Ukraine’s media censor has withdrawn instructions urging news outlets not to use insults when referring to Russian troops and officials. The country’s National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting has taken down an advisory on the widespread Ukrainian media practice of labeling Russians “orcs” and “retards.”

Guidelines on covering frontline news released earlier this month by the Council, urging journalists to avoid dehumanizing language when describing Russian military personnel, had remained largely unnoticed until Wednesday, when some of the content was highlighted by the media.

The advisory claimed that insults “are not ethical or justifiable” in journalism and can fuel tensions in Ukrainian society. It also said the use of derogatory language “does not further objective and open coverage” of news, and may “undermine perception of media outlets as reliable sources of information.” Inflammatory rhetoric could also prolong the hostilities, it suggested.

”Journalism should remain objective towards all belligerents,” the regulator said.

However, as of Thursday, that advisory is no longer on the Council's website. 

Use of language to dehumanize Russians in the Ukrainian public sphere, and especially by media organizations, has taken several forms.

Some Ukrainian news organizations, such as UNIAN, make a point of using derogatory terms for Russians in their output. UNIAN is the country's dominant online news provider, with a market share of some 19%, and is owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky's 1+1 media group. He is a key backer of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

It has become common practice in Ukraine not to capitalize the name of the country and its leader, President Vladimir Putin. Last September, the Ukrainian commission on language standards issued a formal opinion stating that such practice was legitimate anywhere except in official documents.

Before the conflict with Russia erupted in February 2022, Zelensky's government had cracked down on critical media outlets in what it claimed to be a fight against Russian propaganda.

Since then, Kiev has further tightened its grip on the news landscape by replacing all national television broadcasts with a single ‘Freedom Marathon’. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Ukrainians were tired of the programming, because it had turned into “little more than a mouthpiece for the government.”