Politics and Public Policy

Biases in news reports and media coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict

Media, all sorts of it, is full of biases. Many, we notice on a daily basis, yet others are rather more subtle. The recent outbreak of events on the Ukranian border, however, has brought a concerning number of those biases to light. It is concerning because of the ramifications on a worldwide scale.  

What biases are being referred to? 

Evidently, a various number of media biases have been surfacing the news as of late. Firstly, former deputy general of Ukraine, David Sakvarelizde, recently said to BBC that the situation was ‘really emotional’ for him because he saw ‘European people, with blue eyes, blonde hair’ being killed’. This is a simple of example of content bias, in which a certain actor or group is being favorized and approached differently from others. The bias is shown by the distinction of the victims’ eye and hair color, which should not be considered when talking about death. No person’s physical qualities should subject them to be killed, and so the former deputy general could have simply expressed his anguish by lamenting the killing of his people, irrespective of what they look like. 

Another example is when Daniel Hannan wrote in an article published on The Telegraph on 26/02/2022 that ‘They seem so like us. This is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts.’ He later added ‘War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.’ This is an example of both implicit and explicit presentation bias. The latter occurs when a certain actor or group are slandered by the media. When Hannan mentions Ukraine being a European country and follows it up with the fact that its people use social media, it is an implicit comparison to non-Europeans who presumably do not have access to the same platforms. Irrespective of whether that is true, people who do not have access to social media platforms should be just as protected from war as those who do. Additionally, Hannan explicitly commits presentation bias when he speaks of the impoverished populations. He says that they are no longer the only ones affected by war, which is why it is now ‘shocking’ to him. The fact that it had not previously been shocking to him for these populations to be crippled by war is slander in their respect.  

Moreover, CBS journalist Charlie D’Agata had a similar perspective when he gave his view on the ongoing conflict. On 25/02/2022 he pronounced ‘But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, 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’. This is an even more explicit example of presentation bias and is even an example of statement bias. While the two are similar, statement bias is far more explicit. When the journalist points out Iraq and Afghanistan, he falls in the trap he admittedly tried to avoid. Saying that Ukraine is a ‘relatively civilized’ country with respect to the two others is evident slander. This is repeated, although more implicitly, when he finishes off with ‘you wouldn’t hope that it’s going to happen’, which should be the case not only for Ukraine but also for Iraq, or Afghanistan, or any other country.  

Furthermore, D’Agata was not the only one to bring up the coveted examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. Following in his footsteps, France’s BFM TV reporter Ulysse Gosset exclaimed what literally translates to ‘We are in the 21st century, we are in a European city, and we have cruise missile launches as if we were in Iraq or in Afghanistan, can you imagine!” This statement brings together all three previously seen biases, starting off with content bias. This is evident as he defends a ‘European city’ clearly favorized over non-European ones, which he follows up by explicitly mentioning thus performing statement bias. He finishes with implied presentation bias as his ‘can you imagine’ conveys that it would be unconceivable for what occurs regularly in Iraq and Afghanistan to take place in Ukraine. It should objectively be unconceivable for it to occur anywhere.  

Such examples of racially and ethnically biased journalism are worryingly numerous. A final, rather explicit one is when an Al Jazeera reporter explained that ‘what’s compelling is just looking at them, the way they are dressed’ later followed by ‘these 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’. This, yet again is a statement heavily charged with media biases. Firstly, explicit statement bias with the mentions of the MENA region and its active war state, and finally, the favoritism of the ‘European family’ whose safety seems to be put on a higher pedestal than other families. 

What does this all mean? 

Many media biases exist and have always been present, yet it is more common to encounter them in crises and times of difficulty due to the pressure endured by populations. The ongoing conflict on the Ukrainian border has proven this, with the aforementioned examples of media biases mostly relating to favoring a certain party and/or diminishing another. All in all, media consumers must be wary not to carry those same biases into their thoughts and beliefs, as an escalation of such thoughts would lead to disparate, even supremacist and racist views and beliefs, which are best avoided.  


David Sakvarelizde’s comments

Hannan, Daniel. “Vladimir Putin’s monstruous invasion is an attack on civilization itself”, 26/02/2022, The Telegraph,

Ulysse Gosset’s comments
Charlie D’Agata’s comments and the Al Jazeera reporter’s comments

By Kareem Al Hajj Fakieh

Undergraduate student at Bocconi University

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