Tensions between Ukraine’s military forces and CNN have risen after a Ukrainian military spokeswoman called for a boycott of the network. The spokesman, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a transgender US journalist who recently became the spokesperson for the Territorial Defense Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has sought an apology from CNN over the network’s coverage of the fighting.
Ashton-Cirillo used Twitter to broadcast a video message in which she chastised CNN’s diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, for casting aspersions on foreign soldiers involved in the battle. She notably addressed the issue of foreign fighters being labeled as “Western mercenaries,” a description she believes is misleading and harmful. She claimed that this depiction had jeopardized the lives of people fighting for Ukraine’s liberty. In CNN’s coverage, the term “foreign fighters” was later modified.
Aside from the “mercenary” labeling controversy, Ashton-Cirillo chastised CNN for presenting photographs of slain Ukrainian soldiers. She argued that displaying “rotting bodies of Ukrainian soldiers in the sun for the entire world to see” was both callous and unethical. This portion of her criticism was tied to a CNN story showing Ukrainian military gathering the bodies of fallen soldiers from the battlefield.
The boycott request by Ashton-Cirillo has generated concerns about the potential damage on relations between Ukraine’s military services and CNN. While she has sought an apology from Nic Robertson and the CNN production team, it is unclear whether the Ukrainian Armed Forces would fully support her boycott appeal.
Concerns raised by the spokesman concerning the characterization of foreign fighters in Ukraine as “mercenaries” underscore the complexity of terminology in combat settings. The Geneva Conventions define mercenaries as persons who participate in hostilities for private gain and are not affiliated with any of the parties participating in the conflict. This label has legal ramifications and is a subject of considerable analysis in international law.
Sarah Ashton-Cirillo has an unusual background; she began her career as a journalist in Ukraine before enlisting in the military. She is most known as the world’s first openly transgender combat correspondent. Her earlier experiences in journalism and subsequent move to a combat job complicate her perspective on media coverage and its potential impact on the situation on the ground.
The call for a CNN boycott, as well as the larger discussion regarding ethical journalism in crisis zones, underscore the constraints and duties of media firms covering sensitive and possibly life-threatening circumstances. The broader consequences of this disagreement on the connection between the media, the military, and the truth in times of conflict are unknown.