‘Double standards’: Western coverage of Ukraine war criticised
Social media users accuse the media of hypocrisy in its coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine compared with other conflicts.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues into a fourth day, an outpouring of support for Ukrainians has been witnessed across much of Europe, Australia, and the West in general.
The war began on Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to enter Ukraine, following months of a heavy military build-up on the border.
Ukraine’s health minister said at least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed so far during the invasion. The United Nations says more than 360,000 Ukrainians have fled the country, with the majority crossing the border into neighbouring Poland.
The war has triggered swift condemnation by several countries, immediate sanctions by the United States and other countries targeting Russian banks, oil refineries, and military exports, and marathon emergency talks at the UN Security Council (UNSC).
On social media, the speed of such an international response – which includes the exclusion of Russia from some cultural events and treatment of it as a pariah in sports – has raised eyebrows at the lack of such a reaction to other conflicts across the world.
Media pundits, journalists, and political figures have been accused of double standards for using their outlets to not only commend Ukraine’s armed resistance to Russian troops, but also to underlying their horror at how such a conflict could happen to a “civilised” nation.
CBS News senior correspondent in Kyiv Charlie D’Agata said on Friday: “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
His comments were met with derision and anger on social media, with many pointing out how his statements contributed to the further dehumanisation of non-white, non-European people suffering under a conflict within mainstream media.
Atrocities start with words and dehumanization.
Atrocities unleashed upon millions in the ME, fueled by dictators labeled as reformists in the west.
The racist subtext: Afghans, Iraqi & Syrian lives don’t matter, for they are deemed inferior—“uncivilized.”pic.twitter.com/hC1JAkIHym — Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) February 26, 2022
Utterly stupid and ill informed statement. Afghanistan was also a peaceful and “civilised” place in 1979 before the Soviets invaded (and became the battle zone between the West and Soviet block). Ditto for Iraq (before the American attack in 2003) https://t.co/HkaaT5jxOi — Saad Mohseni (@saadmohseni) February 26, 2022
“This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. [Kyiv] is a relatively civilized city where you wouldn’t expect this to happen.” This isn’t even OANN or Fox. This overt white supremacy is on CBS. Absolutely disgusting dehumanization of people of color.
pic.twitter.com/zV8vWCVF5h — Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) February 26, 2022
D’Agata later apologised, saying he spoke “in a way I regret”.
On Saturday, the BBC hosted Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze.
“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets,” Sakvarelidze said.
The BBC presenter responded: “I understand and of course respect the emotion.”
But people with ‘blue eyes and blonde hair’ dropping bombs over the Middle East and Africa is OK. And ‘Blue eyes and blonde hair’ is Hitler’s words from the Mein Kampf about the superior Aryan race. https://t.co/uaya7OIPKF — Advaid അദ്വൈത് (@Advaidism) February 27, 2022
White supremacy is a core European value. #Ukraine “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” pic.twitter.com/hGHw4zt9FU — د. دانيال ياغِتش | Dr. Denijal Jegić (@denijeg) February 27, 2022
On Sunday, Al Jazeera English presenter Peter Dobbie described Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war; these are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa, they look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
The media network later issued an apology, saying the comments “were inappropriate, insensitive, and irresponsible”.
“Al Jazeera English is committed to impartiality, diversity and professionalism in all its work. This breach of that professionalism will be dealt with through disciplinary measures,” it said in a statement.
Add Al Jazeera to the list… The Supremacy around the media coverage of this isn’t even subtle. pic.twitter.com/ZuZtJ70K69 — TᕼE GᕼOᔕT Oᖴ ᗪᗩᑎ (@DocRobotnivik) February 27, 2022
Meanwhile on Friday, Sky News broadcast a video of people in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro making Molotov cocktails, explaining how grating Styrofoam makes the incendiary device stick to vehicles better.
If this was done by Palestinians, Afghanistan or other nations resisting occupation, it would be terrorism. And during Mandela’s anti-apartheid era, it was also dubbed terrorism. For Europeans facing similar situations, it is resistance!. Western duplicity knows no bounds. https://t.co/RlK9x00ZdS — Billow Kerrow (@BillowKerrow) February 27, 2022
“Amazing mainstream Western media gives glowing coverage of people resisting invasion by making molotov cocktails,” one social media user remarked. “If they were brown people in Yemen or Palestine doing the same they would be labeled terrorists deserving US-Israeli or US-Saudi drone bombing.”
the lady on CNN just now said that the damage in Kyiv is something a capitol city in Europe hasn’t seen in almost a century… the siege on Sarajevo began on April 5, 1992 and didn’t end until February 29, 1996. pic.twitter.com/NxUy3TJoqa — Sara Brnić (@SaraBrnic_) February 25, 2022
On BFM TV, France’s most-watched cable news channel, journalist Philippe Corbe said: “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”
This war is just revealing the western hypocrisy and racism at its peak. https://t.co/rxyJNE1H6H — Hania (@han3yy) February 27, 2022
British journalist Daniel Hannan was criticised online for an article in The Telegraph, in which he wrote that war no longer happens in “impoverished and remote populations”.
“It’s so odd,” this writer effectively cries. “War is no longer being waged exclusively against Black, brown and poor people. Shock. Horror”. An awful take. https://t.co/LNtCaSCyCa — Nadine White (@Nadine_Writes) February 26, 2022
European politicians have also expressed support for open borders towards Ukrainian refugees, using terminology such as “intellectuals” and “European” – a far cry from the fear-mongering used by governments against migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
“Skin is a passport … epidermal citizenship,” one social media user said.
Jean-Louis Bourlanges, a member of the French National Assembly, told a TV channel that the Ukrainian refugees will be “an immigration of great quality, intellectuals, one that we will be able to take advantage of”.
The Bulgarian PM: “These are not the refugees we are used to. They are Europeans, intelligent, educated people, some are IT programmers…this is not the usual refugee wave of people with an unknown past. No European country is afraid on them.” I am not surprised, just angry. — Victor Petrov (@VictorPPetrov) February 26, 2022
5.4 million dead. Deadliest conflict since WW2. Half the people with support flags in their bio couldn’t name you the capital let alone the bordering countries. Europeans look after their own. The rest of us can, quite literally, drown. — There’s No Point (@judeinlondon2) February 24, 2022
The Russia-Ukraine war has been billed by liberal media as Europe’s worst security crisis since the end of World War II, contributing to the general amnesia of relatively recent conflicts on the continent such as the Bosnian war in the 1990s and the Northern Ireland conflict that lasted from the 1960s until 1998.
Absent from such generalisations was the fact that in the post-World War era, Europe exported many wars in countries that were previous colonial entities.
Some commentators have also heaped praise on the steadfastness of Ukrainians and the country’s defence capabilities, in a way that they suggested no other nation or people have undergone such an experience before.
A lot. Bosnian during the Siege of Sarajevo and throughout the Bosnian Genocide were defenceless but never wavered. People are incredibly resilient and all over the world there are masses resisting oppression and war. Let’s not be ahistorical in the name of supporting Ukraine. https://t.co/lX9HejN2ei pic.twitter.com/rjmh7w4GlT — Arnesa Buljušmić-Kustura (@Rrrrnessa) February 26, 2022
Lebanon and Yemen have shown insane perseverance and dignity in the last 6 years or so alone. outside the US, I remember people being captivated by Lebanon’s defiance in the face of Saudis taking their PM (who they didn’t even really like!) https://t.co/Q9K6hdhW — 30 year old man saying he is homesick (@ByYourLogic) February 27, 2022
A few weeks ago, a picture of three Palestinian men holding rifles was used to justify their murder by IDF forces. https://t.co/NX0TiLmDdB — February hater✡️🇵🇸🤦🏽♂️ (@EvelKneidel) February 26, 2022
It would be great to see just a little of that enthusiasm for the legitimacy of armed resistance extended to people who are not white. — Ben Ehrenreich (@BenEhrenreich) February 26, 2022
The glorification of white people who engage in armed resistance versus the condemnation of people of color who do the same. — cℓaudia stєℓℓ✰r ✂️ (@ClaudiaStellar) February 26, 2022
Critics pointed out the hypocrisy of crowdsourcing and setting up online donations to fund Kyiv’s military without facing any government backlash or suspension of their monetary accounts.
Blue tick liberals openly fund-raising for the Ukrainian military while people get their PayPal accounts frozen just for fund-raising *medical* supplies for Cuba says a lot about the relationship between ostensibly apolitical finance/tech companies & US imperialist interests. — Louis Allday (@Louis_Allday) February 26, 2022
I love how people are literally crowdfunding Ukraine’s military equipment online. My subscribers get their PayPal donations taken aside for using the word “Palestine” or “Syria”. If you crowdfunded for the Palestinian resistance you’d be put in jail. Ah the double standards. — Richard Medhurst (@richimedhurst) February 26, 2022
beyond the strangeness of this, i’m just reminded of the number of muslims and muslim organisations who had their bank accounts shut off and placed on blacklists for donating to charities with tenuous “hamas links” pic.twitter.com/mpKC4RK1lL — HK (@HKesvani) February 26, 2022
The double standards regarding calls for excluding Russia from cultural and sporting events and not extending the same move to other occupying entities have not been lost on social media either.
Examples were drawn between the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel – often touted by Western governments as anti-Semitic – and the current exclusion of Moscow from events such as the Eurovision contest and stripping the Champions League final from St Petersburg.
First we discover that international law still exists. 2/ Refugees are welcome depending where they come from. 3/ Resistance to occupation is not only legitimate but a right. 4/ Sanctions seem to be an appropriate response to violations and not anti-Semitic as we were told. 😱🤯 — Salem Barahmeh (@Barahmeh) February 26, 2022
So you agree…that boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are legitimate actions against an occupying force? pic.twitter.com/giWz91i2B9 — Amy Fallas (@Amy_Fallas) February 26, 2022
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed the boycott of Russia from sports, but criticised the boycott of last month’s Sydney Cultural Festival over receiving sponsorship from the Israeli embassy.
Remember those who wrung their hands and equivocated over the Sydney Festival boycott? Remember the avalanche of anti-boycott think pieces? Turns out that cultural boycott of an invader/occupier is neither complicated nor controversial. pic.twitter.com/gCtgCQUmUN — Matt Chun (@matt_chun) February 26, 2022
Claudia Webbe, a British member of parliament, tweeted that the people who genuinely care about Ukrainians are the ones who will welcome all refugees with open arms.
“The rest?” she posted, “Well, they’re pretending.”