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Independent Media Council found “Zaborona”’s coverage of “Stopfake” unfair

05.09.2020, 20:28
Photo credit: "Detektor media'
Photo credit: "Detektor media'

The Independent Media Council (IMC) found elements of manipulations and discreditation of the “StopFake” project in “Zaborona” story entitled “Facebook blocked Zaborona for criticism of neo-Nazis. Ukrainian social network fact-checkers were found out to be their close friends”. The IMC acted at the request of the Centern of Media Reforms.

The conclusion of the IMC was published on September 3, as the press service of the Independent Media Council said.

The IMC believed that “Zaborona” violated several principles of Code of Journalistic Ethics.

By a majority of votes (six out of eight) the IMC members decided that “Zaborona” violated three principles of the Code of Journalistic Ethics, unjustifiably and groundlessly discredited the “StopFake” project as a fact-checker, and misled readers about the mechanism of interaction between fact-checkers and Facebook. 

"The article manipulates with these facts, creating an artificial allegedly causal link, which does not have sufficient justification and evidence," - said the Independent Media Council in its conclusion.

The IMC points out the inconsistency of the title of the content of the text (violation of principle 8 of the Code of Journalistic Ethics). After all, in the title “Zaborona" presents two theses as if there would be a causal link between them, although the text explains that blocking a post on Facebook was a reason to investigate the links of one of the fact-checkers with far-right groups.

The IMC also believes that the material contains manipulations, non-separation of facts, judgments and assumptions, bias and unfounded accusations (violation of principle 9 of the Code of Journalistic Ethics). One of the manipulations, according to the IMC, is that the revoking of the story from Facebook is artificially associated with the activities and alleged bias of the fact-checking organization, despite the available reliable information that such a link between fact-checker and revoking of the story is impossible. The allegation that the “StopFake” project is politicized, according to the IMC, is also manipulative and contradicts the available facts.

In addition, the IMC points out the story was imbalanced, it lacks opinion of the object of criticism (violation of principle 10 of the Code of Journalistic Ethics). Although the IMC notes that “Zaborona” asked “StopFake” (Mark Suprun, and his wife) to comment on, but they did not receive any response.

The IMC emphasizes that the story on would-be connection of “StopFake” with far-right groups creates significant reputational risks, which jeopardizes the future work of the “StopFake” project both as a fact checker and as a Facebook partner (one of only two Facebook partner organizations in Ukraine). The material has gained international notoriety, which can discredit the fact-checking program of the Facebook platform not only in Ukraine but also abroad, nullifying at least some efforts to combat disinformation online. The story about “StopFake” also appeared in pro-Russian propaganda media, as the IMC reminded. “Zaborona” itself later came out with another article - "All discuss “Zaborona’s” story about “StopFake” and the far right. We answer the main questions . "

The IMC also drew attention to the discussion around employing of the term “neo-Nazis”as to the C14 group. "Defining the ideological affiliation of the organization as neo-Nazi, it is not enough to refer only to publications in mass media, which, moreover, do not even assert that the organization is adept of this ideology," – as the IMC members said.

This case was considered by only eight members of the IMC out of the actual thirteen. “Zaborona” expressed doubts about impartiality of the organizations " Detector Media " and the Institute of Mass Information in this case, so the employees of " Detector Media " and IMI, which are members of the IMC, did not took part in the analyses. Thus, according to the decision of the founders of the IMC, the conclusion was adopted by a simple majority of votes not from the general membership of the council, but from the number of members who have the opportunity to vote.

The full conclusion of the IMC in this case can be read here .

As IMI reported, “Zaborona” web-based edition headed by Kateryna Sergatskova published an article about the “StopFake” fact-checking project, which suggested that the organization had ties to the far right. 

“StopFake” recused such allegations and claimed the attacks targeting its organization have been intensified. In response, “Zaborona” published another text.

Roman Skrypin then published a photo of Kateryna Segatskova together with her 5-years old son and accused Sergatskova of being an agent of the Kremlin. He wrote offensive posts about her.

Sergatskova and her family left Kyiv on the evening of July 13, feeling their life was threatened.

The police registered Kateryna Sergatskova's complaint, but the police did not answer whether criminal proceedings had been opened over that complaint. Kateryna Serhatskova told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that police refused to open an investigation, so her lawyer filed a complaint with the Interior Ministry.

On July 17, the Media for Conscious Choice Media movement called on the Independent Media Council and the Commission on Journalistic Ethics to evaluate the three stories of “Zaborona” on “StopFake”, and asked the law enforcement to investigate personal attacks on “Zaborona” and” StopFake” journalists. 

On July 18, the NGO Zaborona sent its response to the Media Movement, which also addressed the IMC and Commission on Journalism Ethics.

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