French media excluded from Ukraine, accused of playing Moscow games? The threat was formulated in recent days by Kiev. In the issue, participation in press trips organized by Russia, against which “the Ukrainians are upwind”, reports several journalists interviewed by CheckNews.
In recent days, several major French media have offered their readers and viewers a dive into the areas occupied by the Russian army. By documenting, for example, the state of ruin in which the city of Mariupol finds itself today, three months after the start of the Russian invasion. “The bodies of charred buildings stand against the low, rainy sky of the martyr city of Mariupolthus describes the Agence France Presse (AFP), in an article published on 22 May. As the last Ukrainian defenders surrender to the Russians, rare passers-by mourn their lost future. At the same time, LCI took us along Mariupol Tunnels at a place near the Azovstal factory, besieged for many weeks by Russian forces. France 2, for its part, told on May 23 daily life in Kherson, under Russian occupation since March.
The framework for these reports, in areas controlled exclusively by Russian forces? A press tour, the only way for the French media to document life, and what’s left of it, in these areas. But also the only way to prevent them from being covered only by Russian or pro-Russian media.
And this frame is not hidden. For example, from the outset, the report from the France Presse agency explains: “AFP reporters observed the extent of the damage [le 18 mai] during a press conference organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. ” Several passages in the broadcast also specify that the Russian forces decided the program of the journalists: “However, the Russian army did not allow the media to approach the huge steelworks, become the symbol of fierce Ukrainian resistance. […] The Russian army then takes the journalists to the city’s zoo. Lions, bears and other beasts stand there in grim cages, but look healthy. ”
As for AFP, France 2 announces the color from the first seconds of the subject: “It is the Russian army that is accompanying us.” Ditto for LCI, which multiplies the warnings about the nature of the images and the conditions of shooting. In voiceover, the journalist warns from the start “the Russian army invited the press”as the last pockets of resistance fell, and journalists therefore were “escorted by Russian soldiers”. And the comment to insist: “And that’s what Russia wants to show the international media: foreign military equipment […] powdered. “
According to the journalists concerned, this is one of the main interests of these press trips organized by Russia: to know and understand what the Kremlin wants to show, which provides information about its goals.
Anger in Kiev
A vision that the Ukrainian authorities hardly share. In fact, the Ukrainian anger even caused a real diplomatic incident: “The authorities in Kiev have informed us that from now on they will monitor the media taking on these trips and that we may be excluded from Ukraine.reports AFP’s Europe editor, Karim Talbi. We reacted strongly enough to express our position to the Ukrainian Embassy in France. It was recalled that the agency documented what happened in Boucha in Kramatorsk. That the pictures that President Zelensky shares on social networks are sometimes pictures of AFP, which Ukrainians have also shown to the UN.
Results: “There was a lively and honest debate with the ambassador. Which essentially explained that the Russians will seek to use our presence to legitimize theirs. It was agreed that he would explain our position in Kiev. Since then, we have not received any special feedback from the Ukrainian authorities. ” And the agency’s journalists can still work in Ukraine for the time being.
“Imagine a press trip to Oradour-sur-Glane”
Contacted by CheckNewsThe Ukrainian Embassy in France confirms that it is following this situation very closely: “Unfortunately, the French media is overrepresented in these press trips. And it is AFP, France Télé, TF1, therefore emblematic French media, that are invited by Russia. This shows it [le Kremlin] have communication objectives in certain countries. “
Embassy spokeswoman Alexandra Prysiazhniuk insists on one point: “When you agree to be accompanied by the Russian army, you agree not to see certain things. Follow the route [qu’ils ont] carefully prepared, you will not see mobile crematoria, mass grave. You will not have testimony about rape victims and torture. You want to see what they want you to see, and therefore you want to show the world what they want you to show. Your name and the reputation of your media will be cynically exploited to legitimize the aggression [russe]. “
It recognizes the Ukrainian Embassy “filming certain situations is valuable in terms of information” but she invokes “a matter of morality” : “Imagine a press trip to Oradour-sur-Glane after the massacres”, the spokesman cites, referring to the crimes committed by the German army in June 1944 in France. According to her, these press trips organized by Russia take place in a context where they “Ukrainians have nerves on edge and have difficulty digesting concessions, especially given by recognized media” : “The worst thing is that Russian propaganda is a winner no matter what: it potentially puts us in a situation where we have to have a strong position vis-à-vis the media that accepts these press trips to avoid the multiplication of this type of reporting.
“We work in complete freedom … within the fixed framework”
French journalists interviewed by CheckNews generally believe in it “It is not because we are with the Russian army that we can not make an interesting report”. As long as the special status of the images is explained. “In any case, there is no other way to be and Mariupol than to go there with the Russian armyslice Karim Talbi from AFP. Besides having a correspondent who lives in the separatist regions and who could travel, which is extremely rare. If we could go there independently, we would. But if we do not go there, we have no opportunity to tell what Mariupol is today.
How does the journey there take place in concrete terms? “When Russia invaded Ukraine again in February, we immediately asked through the Moscow office to be able to follow the Russian army, details the editor. Or at least gain access to areas under Russian military control. Two days before the start of this press trip to Mariupol, the army gave us an agreement in southern Russia. We did not know where we were going: they only tell us where we are going when we are taken care of. And even after that, the program can change at any time, almost hour by hour. “
“So on the spot, we work freely … within the stipulated frameworkhe continues. We can not walk around, we do not have our own vehicles. But they do not tell us who to talk to, what to film, etc. Afterwards, it is certain that when we go to talk to the people, they see that we are accompanied by the Russian army. But even under these conditions, we catch many things. We know how to ask questions without endangering them. The second challenge is also to have our own pictures, not just the pictures of the Russian Ministry of Defense. In short, we get what we can get. “
Before Mariupol, Aleppo
Practice is not new: before Ukraine, the Russian army had already organized trips of the same type. In Syria, for example, there also in a ruined city: Aleppo. “AFP has always accepted invitations, regardless of the armies. In Syria, we covered with the rebels, but also with Bashar’s army and the Russian army.”explains Karim Talbi.
Only the expression “pressetur” is generally used more when journalists are invited by companies for promotional reasons than by occupying forces. When a journalist accompanies a military unit, it is generally referred to as “embedded” or “embedded” journalism. Why did AFP prefer the first term? “We use the term embedded when a journalist follows the American or French army, we explain to AFP, because there is an immersion page among the soldiers who will discuss with the reporter. We’re talking about a press tour here, as they did not really talk to us. It was more on the tour operator’s condition. Moreover, the Russian army does not organize an embedding in the method of immersion. If they invited us, we would. “
“We do not go to Mariupol alone”
This is not the first time that the reporting conditions in a French media have made people talk. As Release said at the end of March, a team from TF1 had already been able to film in Mariupol, and already with approval from Moscow. Guillaume Debré, head of the news department at the editorial office at TF1, also told us that if the report in Mariupol was not “embedded” (or “embedded”) strictly speaking, “there was the Russian army around”. “[La journaliste] Liseron Boudoul has been based in Donetsk since early February. She was able to enter the northwestern district of Mariupol via Donetsk Oblast, thanks to her own contacts and means, to a strategic point where she therefore followed the prorussians. But they got permission, we certainly do not go to Mariupol alone. “he admitted.