Who's Afraid of Mr Jones? From Ukraine Holodomor to Media Manipulation & Disinformation
"A propaganda model suggests that the “societal purpose” of the media is to teach and defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through a selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises."
- Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman, Noam Chomsky
If you ask Ukrainians, who is the most memorable and influential British in their history, Gareth Jones’ name is undoubtedly on the record.
Ukraine’s capital city has renamed a street “Gareth Jones Lane” in honour of him as the first foreign correspondent who dared to uncover Stalin’s Ukraine Holodomor (man-made famine) of 1932-1933.
The hypotheses from Nigel Colley, researcher and grandnephew of Gareth Jones, stated that George Orwell’s renowned fable Animal Farm was inspired by Jones’ works. Orwell named the owner of Manor Farm Mr Jones and alluded to the famine and the cover-up in his novella.
Who’s Gareth Jones?
The historical thriller film Mr Jones opened the door of the rabbit hole for me. It tells the incredible story of Jones risking his career and life to reveal the truth when Western reports turn their blind eyes to Stalin’s notorious totalitarian crime in the twenties century.
Gareth Jones was a young and intelligent welsh journalist with a righteous ardour to seek the truth. He used to be a personal advisor to former prime minister David Lloyd George for his political journalism background and language talents (fluent in Germany and Russia).
Before he entered the Soviet Union in 1933, he had just flown with Adolf Hitler and conducted the interview foreseeing the rise of the Nazi Party. “The Europe of 1933 has seen the birth of the Hitler dictatorship in Germany. What will it see in the Soviet Union?” wrote him.
He sneaked into the Soviet Ukraine, where he kept diaries of his first-hand witnesses to the widespread starvation, unattended death and extremely crucial cannibalism.
“I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying’. This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia. I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents had been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.”
“In the train a Communist denied to me that there was a famine. I flung a crust of bread which I had been eating from my own supply into a spittoon. A peasant fellow-passenger fished it out and ravenously ate it. I threw an orange peel into the spittoon and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it. The Communist subsided. I stayed overnight in a village where there used to be two hundred oxen and where there now are six. The peasants were eating the cattle fodder and had only a month’s supply left. They told me that many had already died of hunger. Two soldiers came to arrest a thief. They warned me against travel by night, as there were too many ‘starving’ desperate men.”
- Extract of Jones’ reporting from Soviet Ukraine
Jones was utterly shocked by the reality because it was the opposite of what his fellow western correspondents reported. He spent two months undercover investigating the truth. And called a press conference in Berlin to reveal his findings: Stalin’s agricultural collectivization campaign forced millions of peasants onto collective farms and attacked the Ukrainian language and culture to form the USSR’s national identity.
However, Jones’ reports were dismissed by his peers, who knew better on judging the situation and deliberately concocted fake news for the interest groups.
Jones vs Duranty
The New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting the Soviet Five Year Plan glorifying this new regime, criticized Jones in New York Times by accusing him of jumping to conclusions based on limited facts. “Conditions are bad but there is no famine,” wrote Duranty in 1933.
Duranty also echoed Soviet propaganda by acknowledging “food shortages” due to “the novelty and mismanagement of collective farming” and shared his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine as “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” to cover up the man-made mass murder of millions.
Apart from Duranty, public figures such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells also publicly denied the famine in Ukraine. During a visit to Ukraine in 1933, former French Prime Minister Édouard Herriot said that Soviet Ukraine was “like a garden in full bloom”. Gareth Jones lost all his standing and reputation for revealing the Ukraine Holodomor that contradicted his Western peers’ testimonials and reportings.
In 1935, one day before his thirtieth birthday, Jones was kidnapped and murdered while investigating in Japanese-occupied Mongolia. A suspicion has examined the connection between his death and Soviet NKVD, as revenge for his reporting damaged the reputation of the Soviet regime.
While Jones suffered the tragic consequences of revealing the truth and was shot dead in a foreign country, Duranty, on the contrary, was greeted by ministers and governors at a dinner party in a grand hotel to celebrate the establishment of relations between the United States and the USSR.
The toastmaster on the night introduced Duranty as “one of the great foreign correspondents of modern times, serving a great newspaper of this city”. Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty, also noted: “he was arguably the best-known foreign correspondent in the world.”
"That part of the world is a cauldron of conflicting intrigue and one or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on... He had a passion for finding out what was happening in foreign lands wherever there was trouble, and in pursuit of his investigations he shrank from no risk... I had always been afraid that he would take one risk too many. Nothing escaped his observation, and he allowed no obstacle to turn from his course when he thought that there was some fact, which he could obtain. He had the almost unfailing knack of getting at things that mattered."
- London Evening Standard, quoting former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, 26th August 1935.