Friday, May 6, 2005

Bob Webb's spring trip to Ukraine was a journalist's dream. Coming in the wake of the Orange Revolution, it meant he could assess it and try to help move it forward.

Seeing Orange, Up Close

By Bob Webb, ICF Vice President and board member, Washington, D.C., Pro chapter, SPJ

Bob Webb at the Kiev headquarters of the Journalists Fund of Ukraine with Jara Kutsyna, left, his friend and interpreter, and Lyudmyla Olkhovska, right, director of the Journalists Fund. My spring trip to Ukraine was a journalist's dream. Coming in the wake of the Orange Revolution, it meant one could assess it and try to help move it forward.

The trip originated with an invitation from the Cincinnati-Ukraine Partnership to join a delegation to Kiev and Kharkiv, Cincinnati's Sister City and former capital. But as a vice president of the International Communications Forum (ICF) and longtime SPJ member, I had an additional mission: to meet with media executives, journalists and j-students and try to give them a higher vision of the critical service they can perform.

Arrangements were quickly made for me to speak to journalism students at Kiev National Taras Shevchenko University, V. Karazin Kharkiv National University and Donetsk State University. I was also invited by Lyudmyla Olkhovska, director of the Journalists Fund of Ukraine, to speak at a seminar in Kiev for chief editors of Ukrainian regional newspapers.

As well, a good friend of mine, Jara Kutsyna, arranged an Orthodox Easter week program for me in her city, meeting with youth organizations and with a regional official of Ukraine's equivalent of our Federal Communications Commission. She also interpreted for me in Kiev and Lviv.

I tried to help these editors and students see how they can become a powerful force in building democracy and enhancing the new spirit of freedom the Orange Revolution projected, not only in their country but across the world. I was upfront with how mass media in the United States and many other countries had failed to make the most of their constructive, nation-building, reconciling and war-averting potential.

I called attention to the ICF's visionary Sarajevo Commitment, which Ms. Olkhovska had said was a compelling force for the Journalists Fund in training media workers and arranging international exchanges for them. The Commitment was launched at the Forum's Sarajevo-2000 World Media Assembly, which had the strong support of John D. Hopkins of the Miami Herald, then-chairman of the SPJ International Journalism Committee, and Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, USA.

Typically, I also let audiences know some of my own failures in the past - for example, how as a Southern journalist many years ago, I had defended the South's racial segregation. But after a transformative experience, I began to reach out to people of all races, colors, creeds and nationalities.

When I mentioned that to J-students in Donetsk in the eastern, heavily-Russian sector of Ukraine, one drew a parallel with her country's East-West divide. The thought I left was that as journalists, they could help mightily to bridge that gap.

With the Orthodox Easter, J-students at Ivan Franko Lviv University were on holiday, so I couldn't meet with them. But my time in Lviv (in the western, Polish sector of Ukraine) was nevertheless rewarding. Thus, the marvelous evening in the studio-home of an art professor with his inspiring stories from the Orange Revolution.

As well, I had a great session with Petro Tseholko, Lviv regional representative of the government's National Council of Radio and Television. I had a good phone chat later with his son, Svyatoslav, one of Ukraine's most famous TV journalists and a hero of the Orange Revolution. He and his colleagues at Channel 5, Kiev, together with ERA Radio and TV, dared report the truth while most broadcast outlets toed the government line.

I also met in Lviv with youth activists of It's High Time! and the Student Brotherhood, both prominent in the revolution and determined to carry it forward, and with student members of Foundations for Freedom, committed to democracy and the character traits it requires.

Having helped plan and implement the D.C. programs for three media delegations from Ukraine, I hope my third trip there strengthened our links in the best tradition of the Society of Professional Journalists and ICF.