17:08 Oct. 25, 2016
Review of Dutch media, covering the scandal around MH17 and Association agreement remarks
On October 20, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko visited the European People's Party summit in Maastricht. Answering a question from Netherlands' information agency NOS journalist, President commented on progress of Netherlands' ratification of Association agreement between EU and Ukraine:
"We collaborate effectively with the Netherlands. Starting with the investigation about the terrorist attack on MH17. This was my decision when I entrusted Dutch probers with a leading role in the investigation because Netherlands suffered the most in this catastrophe. And we ending with a visa-free regime and other European programs of cooperation. In this situation, if ratification will not happen, it would be a very dangerous precedent. We believe in the Netherlands and are absolutely sure that everything will be ok."
Later in the day at the evening press conference, dedicated to the results of the first day of European Council panel session in Brussels, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte had to answer a question concerning the Ukrainian president's statement.
According to a journalist, Poroshenko in his recent statement mentioned Ukraine's help during MH17 catastrophe investigation and linked it to Association agreement.
The journalist wanted to know Dutch Prime minister's opinion on whether he encourages such an approach. This is what Rutte said: "No, I would dissociate these two stories. MH17 is a separate and very important topic that should not be connected to the Association agreement."
The next day, reaction to these two interviews started spreading in Dutch press – half of the national daily newspapers featured this news: the most popular De Telegraaf and AD, Trouw. Volkskrant, NRC and Het Parool refrained from covering the topic. Media outlet De Telegraaf, that has a solid reputation of Eurosceptical voicer of populist politics, was the first to react.
First, Telegraaf gave Poroshenko's statement and Rutte's answer on Friday in their News section, the next day the media developed on this topic in its Saturday extended edition, by publishing a reader's opinion.
The general mood of the publications was rather tough and the existence of a link between the MH17 case and Association agreement in Poroshenko's statement was presented as a fact.
The second by circulation newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reacted on Saturday with a long and very rough text in their Comments section. The attempt to connect MH17 and Association agreement was called disgraceful. A phrase saying "298 innocent victims – is not the situation where you can go in for politics" just added more emotions.
A less popular, but not less authoritative Trouw mentioned the incident in their News section, in an article, dedicated to the progress of Rutte's Brussels talks. The newspaper delivered bare facts as the editorial team sees them: Rutte denied the link between MH17 and Association agreement; Poroshenko said the agreement should be ratified because Ukraine had given the right to conduct the investigation of MH17 catastrophe to Netherlands.; Rutte called these words of Ukrainian president unwise and said that the questions of agreement and MH17 should not be mixed.
Comparing the articles, we can make several conclusions. Firstly, none of the Dutch newspapers reacted directly to Poroshenko's statement. All the reactions concerned Prime Minister Rutte's answer.
Rutte's comment, based on a journalist's question, gave Dutch press a possibility to claim that the Ukrainian president tried to establish a link between MH17 and Association agreement. Poroshenko's statement does not make a direct connection between the topics; this speech was so general that it left lots of space for interpretations. We cannot claim for sure, but it is possible that when Prime Minister Rutte answered the journalist's question, he did not have information about the complete text of Ukrainian president's statement and basically answered not the statement, but the question itself.
If this is what happened, we can see a classical example of a sensation, created out of nothing by journalists' proficient actions. The editorial offices reaction proves it in a way – half of the media did not believe the "sensation" was real and did not publish it.
Second, this story received some publicity in Dutch society. Firstly, from eurosceptics, who willfully believed that Ukraine tried to blackmail the Netherlands. Unfortunately, but they were not the only ones.
This situation should be taken seriously, as nowadays Ukraine again needs support from its Dutch political partners, and therefore Dutch society to get a positive decision on Association agreement.
Netherlands' parliament has parties that, on the one hand, are opposing the government and, on the other hand, support the Association agreement.
For example, D66, that substantively complicates life for Rutte, made the cabinet of ministers to give propositions on the association to parliament no later than November 1st. D66, namely, has motivation and instruments (from street actions organized by Netherlanders to opinion leaders statements) to put pressure on the government to reach a positive decision for Ukraine.
Yet, both D66 and the Ukrainian community will fail if the Dutch society would think that Ukrainian authorities want to force the Netherlands to approve the association by means of blackmail.
This is why it very important for the press office of Ukrainian president and MFA to work together to explain and elaborate the Maastricht statement.
There is still time for that – the topic did not get onto evening talk-shows or venues and parts of Dutch media still feel suspicious about it.
Yet, it can all change very quickly, because Ukraine's enemies have a significant influence in the Dutch' media sources. The affair with Hoorn paintings has surely demonstrated this very loudly – the return of the paintings to the museum did not get the part of media coverage that was given to blaming Ukraine in hiding the paintings.