B&G: Are there double standards in media in the Ukraine invasion coverage?

June 5, 2022

There has been extensive media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine since it first began. (Graphic by Jessica Wu)

Yes, media coverage of Ukraine is emblematic of deep-rooted racism

The unanimous support of Ukraine in the war against Russia is heartening and critical in this time of crisis. However, the extensive media coverage of the Ukraine war has provided yet another opportunity for the West to gloss over equally appalling events that took place in non-European countries. 

Instead of objectively recounting the events that Ukrainian people had to experience, many reporters have expressed their support for Ukraine simply because they were not expecting the war to impact people who are “relatively civilized, relatively European” as said by CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata. Though D’Agata has since apologized for his remarks, what he said was symbolic of racism and xenophobia in the United States. 

The media’s coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict exemplifies the deep-rooted racism within the Western world. The amount of media coverage reflects the shock that a war could take place in a country with the ‘status’ of Ukraine. “The unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, third world nation; this is Europe,” ITV reporter Lucy Watson said. The media in the West clearly revolves only around the West. “I also think our country has been very Eurocentric with news coverage over the years,” said AP US History teacher Lisa MacFarlane.

Given the circumstance of other countries in war, such as Afghanistan with a projected poverty rate of 97% by mid-2022, it can be shocking to know that a war could occur in a primarily middle-class country such as Ukraine. Yet, many are unaware that Afghanistan was not always a country deeply in poverty. Pre-war, Afghanistan was described as a bustling, thriving country – when the Afghanistan War first began, it would have been just as much of a shock as the war in Ukraine.

However, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine,  there was no foot-dragging in the West to decide who to support. European nations and the US  swiftly set sanctions on Russian companies. The US set forth a plan for receiving Ukrainian refugees a month after the war began. The intense and immediate support for Ukraine has sparked some to pour out Russian vodka down the drain as a literal demonstration. 

Comparatively, US aid for the Afghan refugees was met with a lack of enthusiasm, even after the US delayed the refugee plan for as long as possible. Not only are Ukrainian refugees arriving sooner, they are also receiving better treatment in the US than Afghan refugees. The designation for Ukrainian refugees’ temporary protective status (TPS) was announced a mere month after their arrival, whereas there was a seven month delay for the TPS designation of Afghan refugees. 

And it is not just the US – countries in Europe have exposed their inherent racism upfront by refusing entrance to refugees from other countries. Europe infamously shut its doors to Afghan refugees in August of 2021, but held its hand out for Ukrainian refugees and welcomed them with open arms. While Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees had to plan attempt after attempt to enter Europe only to be detained and beaten. The European Union has even gone so far as to drop their old procedure for refugees to help Ukrainians, which would have been more admirable if their new protocol also applied to people of color. 

The EU has allowed Ukrainians to live, work and go to school in any country so long as the war continues. This new rule took place at the same time as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbin called Syrian refugees “Muslim invaders” and legalized the forceful pushing-back of refugees. Naturally, Hungary had open arms to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees -Orbin even said, “we’re letting everyone [who’s Ukrainian] in.” 

The Bulgarian prime minister, Kiril Petkov’s racism was even more overt. “These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” he said. “These people are intelligent, they are educated people.”  Petkov and many others fail to acknowledge the only reason why refugees from other w regions were not educated is because they are war-struck.

It is not just governments, even the private entertainment industry has over-coverage of the Ukraine war in comparison to other global conflicts. The events in the Middle East were brushed off like a passing fad that happened far out of reach of western countries. 

There is no doubt that the Ukraine war is a serious conflict and should be treated as such, but that does not mean that conflicts with people of color should be ignored or downplayed. SNL celebrated the beginning of the Afghanistan war with a skit called “War Party” where they broke out into song and portrayed the Afghanistan War as merely a “war on terrorism,” bltantantly ignoring all the innocent lives that were lost. SNL’s acknowledgment of the Ukraine War was significantly less demeaning, with an opening prayer for Ukraine and no cruel jokes. 

The war in Ukraine has led to a chain effect exposing the layers of racism and xenophobia in Western society. Critical as the coverage of the Ukraine invasion is, that does not mean the West should undermine the issues of refugees from non-European countries. The United States has been portraying itself as anti-racist, but with its complete and total lack of acknowledgment for other humanitarian crises abraod, deep-rooted racism has once again been exposed. An asylum-seeker from the Middle East should not be treated any differently than an asylum-seeker from Europe, and as the so-called Land of Freedom, the United States media should know better.

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No, Ukraine is a unique situation with heavily weighted consequences

Teachers went from instructing math and physics to calculating the trajectory of a mortar shell, hospitals become nothing more than rubble, every inhabitant takes arms as a giant tries to roll through their country. For the past few weeks, the world stands in solidarity as Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. The valiant efforts of the strong-willed Ukrainian people against evil imperialistic Putin are reported by every mainstream news source, classrooms and even chilling TikToks. Many view the intensive coverage of Ukraine as blatant bias by the media as many other countries have been through conflicts with little to no western media coverage, however, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the most egregious moments in the 21st century with heavy consequences and must be recognized as such. 

The media have spelled out correctly and quickly how devastating the full-scale invasion of Ukraine is. Freshman Kevin Si said, “Just pure surprise and disbelief… I never expected an all out war to break out with seemingly no true rhyme or reason.” Civilian and military death tolls between outlets vary within the thousands. Millions more are forced to flee into neighboring countries as their homes are bombed or stay and fight a David and Goliath battle. Even outlets like Fox Business and CNN Business outline the repercussions as gas and grocery prices skyrocket along with low business confidence across the globe slowing the economy.

Media has to hit Putin’s invasion of Ukraine hard as its consequences are unlike anything in recent history. There are no rebels, no terrorists, no insurgence, this is black and white, a nuclear power blatantly invading a west-leaning country and trotting right up to NATO and the EU. This completely defies the Budapest Memorandum from 30 years ago that had the West guarantee Ukrainian security against an act of aggression from Russia, and Russia leave Ukraine alone in return for shipping the country’s 5,000 nuclear bombs back to Russia. The breaking of this treaty reveals that Western treaties and promises do not mean the same thing they used to.

The dominoes of escalation have already fallen, a messy Afghanistan evacuation displayed western weakness in full force, Putin pounced on invading Ukraine, and the next domino might just be Taiwan, provoking many to question what will come next. This reality of two nuclear-armed nations butting heads once again since the Cold War only takes a miscalculation or misunderstanding to set the whole world in flames must be understood by people and the only way to achieve that is through widespread and accurate coverage of the situation. 

Social Studies Teacher Johnathan Taylor said, “Media has an obligation, you know, to report what they see and to report objectively… that’s essential in a democratic society.” With such high stakes, the people of the world must play a bigger role in decision-making. Furthermore, the media has to act as a bulwark of truth against radicalism and fear-mongering.

People have seen the consequences when reporting fails to deliver the full truth. In 2001 in lieu of 9/11 Islamophobia and xenophobia ran rampant, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 1,600% from the previous year, thousands more Sikhs fell to the same discrimination, and the perception of Brown and Middle-Eastern people may never be in a positive light again.  

This mistake cannot be repeated, this is Putin’s war, not the Russian people. Sophomore Byron Duvall stated, “When you generalize an entire country like that, it’s harmful to the people in that country.” Heartbreaking stories have already come out of Russian Americans being harassed and their businesses boycotted according to AP News

Within Russia, the people have largely been told lies of the war as Putin has clamped down on their media promoting Russia as the saviors of Ukraine and a victim of the West while banning foreign and private media, with the only access to news being through State sources. Many of those who have procured the truth have taken to the streets protesting Putin’s war with more than 15,000 arrested. Even stories and photos show Russian soldiers not wanting to fight a pointless war, a quarter of them conscripts, many dropping their weapons and walking back, feeling they were deceived by Putin.

Racism in any capacity is wrong, and when echoed by members of the media the consequences are only exacerbated. Former Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidzethat said in a CNN interview, “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.” The legitimation of cruelty in the Middle East is horrible and should not be pushed. However, the media’s emphasis on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine over other horrors in the world is more due to how aligned Ukraine is to the West and the fact nuclear bombs are in the equation, not the color of people’s skin.

All of this is not to discredit all the other atrocities in the world, but rather to put a spotlight on the one most important now. The media acts as a vital bridge for information between events, people, and leaders that must be kept up and used correctly by pushing accurate and unbiased information. Ukraine is one of the largest tragedies we have seen in our lifetimes and our full hearts and prayers go out to every Ukrainian. The best thing we can do is to stay informed and spread the right message.

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