Why Interfax-Ukraine changed its mind on platforming the “renegade” Russian journalist Ovsyannikova

1 June, 05:02 PM
Marina Ovsyannikova , a former TV producer at Russia’s state-run Channel One (Photo:AFP)

Marina Ovsyannikova , a former TV producer at Russia’s state-run Channel One (Photo:AFP)

MarinaOvsyannikova , a former TV producer at Russia’s state-run Channel One, was planning to hold a press conference in Kyiv on June 1, in order to elaborate on how “Russian propaganda works,” but the event was abruptly cancelled.

Russia's war against Ukraine - the main events on June 1

Ukrainian news agency Interfax-Ukraine announced the event on May 31 with the following headline: “Revelations from Marina Ovsyannikova: how Russian propaganda works.”

The announcement immediately caused an uproar among Ukrainian social media users. People started to plan and organize protests at Interfax-Ukraine’s offices, and the agency’s website was flooded with derisive comments.

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The head of media transparency watchdog Detector Media, Natalia Lyhachova, urged people to ignore Ovsyannikova’s press event entirely.

“If she (Ovsyannikova) is sincere, does she lack the grace or judgement to understand this is untimely and unwelcome to Ukrainian citizens and journalists?” said Lyhachova.

“If, however, we assume that the whole thing was conceived as a special operation to whitewash ‘good Russians’ – then it all makes perfect sense.”

Hours later, Interfax-Ukraine cancelled the event.

Who is Ovsyannikova, exactly?

While working for Russian state TV, Ovsyannikova spent years manufacturing and disseminating maliciously misleading narratives about Ukraine.

On March 14, she appeared on an allegedly live news broadcast, holding a makeshift anti-war poster. Footage of the event quickly spread on YouTube, making Ovsyannikova a symbol of Russian “democratic” tendencies. Following the incident, she left Channel One, got slapped with an insignificant fine, left Russia, and quickly found herself working for the German newspaper Die Welt.

In Germany, Ovsyannikova was initially slated to receive the Media Freedom Award from the German Weimar Media Group, but this was later shelved. According to Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communication, Ovsyannikova is leveraging the fame and status she gained after her “heroic” stunt to “convince Western audiences that sanctions should be lifted from Russia.”

Interfax-UA’s role

After Ovsyannikova’s press conference was announced, NV contacted Interfax-Ukraine’s head, Oleksandr Martynenko.

Responding to our question about how a Russian propaganda professional could end up in a Ukrainian briefing room, Martynenko said: “She’ll just be (there). You are welcome to attend and ask her what she’s doing there. Let her answer that.”

The news agency director added that he doesn’t know who’s responsible for arranging the event in the first place. As far as he knows, “She (Ovsyannikova) called on her own” to schedule the press conference.

Martynenko said he doesn’t mind if people showed up to protest the event.

An hour after our conversation with him, Interfax-Ukraine announced the event was cancelled.

In a follow-up with NV, Martynenko said the decision to cancel Ovsyannikova’s press conference was made due to a “public uproar.”

He reiterated that Interfax-Ukraine “did not arrange the press conference” in the first place.

“It’s true that they booked a venue with us,” he said.

“I didn’t expect such a negative reaction. I thought (a reaction) will come, but still thought it would make sense for our journalists to come and tell her directly what they think of her. But, as far I can gather now, her presence is entirely unwelcome. This position unites all (Ukrainian) journalists, and we can hardly ignore it.”

Martynenko said he was skeptical about the suggestions that Ovsyannikova would gain legitimacy by holding a press conference in Ukraine.

“She’s around, she’s all over Europe, gathering awards – with no merit, in my opinion. Nevertheless, she’s present on numerous European TV channels,” he said.

The news agency chief also said that Ukrainian journalists could have had an opportunity to directly ask Ovsyannikova “how come she suddenly grew a conscience after producing propaganda for 10 years?”

“That’s something she could have been asked, directly,” he suggested.

“Whether her answer would have been sincere or not – that’s another matter. I have no idea of her motivations. I’d say (we) shouldn’t pay too much attention to her. After all, she’s not a representative of some (Russian) cohort. If there won’t be a conversation (with her) – so be it.”

According to him, Ovsyannikova was supposed to attend the event in person.

Martynenko doesn’t know if Ovsyannikova intends to hold a press conference elsewhere in Ukraine.

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