Officially called “The Ministry of Information Policy,” Mashable reports the Ukraine government has established a department that critics are calling the ‘Ministry of Truth’ in a dystopian reference to George Orwell’s 1984 (apparent instruction manual). Run by a close ally of President Poroshenko’s close ally, while its main objective appears to be confronting Russia’s formidable propaganda machine, the Ministry is likely to also restrict free speech and inhibit journalists’ work – particularly in war-torn eastern Ukraine, according to observers.
At a demonstration outside parliament, Ukrainian journalists decried the new ministry, which deputies approved in the Verkhovna Rada late on Tuesday, along with the rest of the country’s Cabinet of Ministers.
About 40 journalists and activists from Ukrainian watchdog groups Chesno (Honest) and Stop Censorship! held posters that read “Hello, Big Brother.” They urged lawmakers entering the parliament ahead of Tuesday’s session to vote against appointing Stets as its head.
The creation of the ministry comes on the heels of critical reports from journalists and rights groups about its use of controversial weapons in eastern Ukraine, as well as possible war crimes committed by its armed forces.
Ukraine’s government is clearly frustrated with by its lack of success in disseminating its messages. “You must understand, we are being killed by [Russian] guns as well as their propaganda,” a top security official told Mashable when explaining why he supported the creation of the ministry.
A report released last month by The Interpreter website describes just how Russian propaganda works, and how effectively it is being used as a weapon of the Kremlin. The report outlines a “hybrid war” that combines disinformation “to sow confusion via conspiracy theories and proliferate falsehoods” with “covert and small-scale military operations.”
Not everyone is buying into this…
A senior official in the Presidential Administration, who spoke anonymously because he feared repercussions from officials for talking to a journalist, said he was “very concerned” about the ministry and how it would be used.
“Honestly, I’m not sure such a ministry is needed,” the official said, adding that others inside the administration have also questioned the move.
“The way to fight Russian propaganda is with honestly and transparency, not trying to beat Russia at its own game.”
But dictatorship appears to remain…
The Ministry of Information Policy was pushed through with little notice and even less debate on the parliament floor. That could be because the president himself pushed the concept on members of his party, the largest faction in parliament, and has great sway over the ruling coalition.
Details on how the ministry will operate are murky…
No documents were made available to the public or deputies, and Stets did not reply to Mashable’s requests for comment. But Romaniuk fears the government has given itself “carte blanche.”
Reporters Without Borders said it “firmly opposes” the information ministry. “Putting the government in charge of ‘information policy’ would be major retrograde step that would open the way to grave excesses,” said Christophe Deloire, the watchdog organization’s secretary-general.
“In a democratic society, the media should not be regulated by the government. The creation of an information ministry is the worst of all possible responses to the serious challenges that the government is facing.”
Journalists demonstrating at parliament likened the move to taking a step “back to the USSR.” Several held signs that combined the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle with the Nazi swastika.
“This is a fascist move,” one demonstrator told an observing who was arguing in support of the ministry. She said it would only lend fodder to Russia’s argument that Kiev is now being led by a “fascist junta.”
But the leader of the new ministry explained…
“I see it this way: different states with different historical and cultural experiences in times of crisis came to need to create a body of executive power that would control and manage the information security of the country,” Stets wrote.
According to Stets, none of the current state structures could efficiently handle those tasks.
“The information and communications space remain uncoordinated now, full of contradictions and influence of foreign agents, and under conditions of geopolitical wars becomes a weak part of the country, a subject of enemy attacks,” he added.
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1984 – it’s not meant to be an instruction manual!!