Responsible journalism does not act like in the movie Wag the Dog, but safeguards peace

  • 31.01.2022
  • UBJ
  • Snezhana Todorova
Drawing by Pablo Picasso

The Union of Bulgarian Journalists is convinced that there are enough responsible, sensible and intelligent journalists and citizens in Bulgaria who, in a challenging and risky moments for peace like the current one, will not be misled by hysterical campaigns and will be up to the ethical standards and the public duty of our profession.

The power of media influence and the information background has always been not just an integral element, but a striking weapon in any domestic, foreign or geopolitical tension in the world and in the country. This technology has long been known and repeatedly tested - disinformation, manipulation, false propaganda have been used to shape public opinion since many decades before the modern term "fake news" was born. The 1997 Hollywood satire "Wag the Dog" illustrated how this mechanism works for the widest even audience.

Alas, there have always been media officials - let's not call them journalists! - willing to engage in information campaigns profitable for their publishers and their political or economic bosses. But there has also never been a shortage of whistleblowing journalists, for whom nothing is more important than truth and accountability to the public - even though the Julian Assange debacle was an attempt to suppress on a global scale precisely this most important mission of our profession...

Today we are again facing a moment of acute testing of this responsibility. We are witnessing the escalation, for the third consecutive month now, of an information and media campaign, unleashed by publications in American periodicals, suggesting an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine. Despite repeated official statements from both sides refuting such claims, despite ongoing diplomatic negotiations, the build-up of tension continued all along. And not just as a background, but as a direct incitement of fear, the sparks of which could indeed threaten European peace.

The hysteria has reached such levels that a scandalous CNN report last week speculating about the content of a phone call between US and Ukrainian Presidents Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky prompted official denials from both Washington and Kiev. The Ukrainian head of state even called a special press conference for Western media, where he stressed his unease with repeated publications alleging an imminent war, which were actually harming his country.

We have also seen the opposition in Bulgaria pumping up tensions on the issue. But at government level a balanced and reasonable position was taken, confirming what every objective observer sees - that the crisis can and should be solved only by diplomatic means. The European position is also in this spirit, that there is no direct military threat from Russia, that the alarms about such a threat are mostly at the media-propaganda level and that Bulgaria, without giving in to artificial panic, is capable of reacting to the situation with its own military capabilities.

In this context was the remark of the defense minister Stefan Yanev, which annoyed a part of the professional journalistic college. “Let us defuse the tension,  stop reading foreign press, stop speculating”, he said. But, of course, grasping only one part of this citation - his words about the foreign press - is putting them ouy of context and distorts the meaning of it. It is obvious that what he had in mind is not a literal cessation of reading foreign media sources, but an appeal for a sensible and responsible approach to media speculation, as the end of the sentence makes clear.

The UBJ is convinced that there are enough responsible, sensible and intelligent journalists and citizens in Bulgaria who, in a challenging and risky moment for international peace such as the current one, will not be misled by hysterical campaigns, will refrain from "letting the dogs loose" and will be up to the ethical standards and the public duty of our profession. There is no greater common human good than peace and no greater common human responsibility than its preservation.

Snezhana Todorova

Chairwoman of the Managing Council of the UBJ