Dr. Becker talks about U.S. elections.

Director Becker Says at Symposium in Ukraine U.S. Elections Important Because of Impact Abroad

The 2004 United States presidential election “leaves unsettled many issues in the United States, and these issues have tremendous implications abroad,” Dr. Lee B. Becker from the University of Georgia told about 130 participants in a symposium on Ukrainian Political Journalism Before and After Elections at Lutsk Liberal Arts University in Ukraine in May.

Dr. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, said the election was worth examining because of unresolved issues, the complex outcome and the role that the media played in it.

Approximately 70 educators, scientists and journalists, a dozen Lutsk faculty members, and 50 students of the Department of Journalism from Lutsk Liberal Arts University participated in the May 17 symposium, the first of its kind at the new university. The university is only five years old and enrolls about 500 students, a quarter of whom are studying journalism.

The Ukrainian participants commented on their own national elections in November and December of 2004 which resulted in the election of Viktor Yushchenko as president. The election is referred to as the Orange Revolution because of the colors of the many supporters of Yushchenko, who stayed with the candidate through a series of protests and contested elections leading to the final outcome.

Several of the journalists speaking at the Lutsk meeting pointed out that they were currently more free to practice their vocation than at any time in the recent past. Several speakers, however, complained about Yushchenko’s policies in the wake of his election, indicating that they felt he had violated his promise not to make appointments to political positions based on whether the person had supported him or ViktorYanukovych, the candidate supported by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

Dr. Robert Bergland, a Fulbright Professor at the Lutsk Liberal Arts University, was the only speaker other than Dr. Becker from outside Ukraine. Dr. Bergland reported results of his analysis of U.S. media coverage of the November election. Many of the editorial cartoons analyzed by Bergland, a professor of journalism at Missouri Western State University, emphasized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Yanukovych.

“It is easy, particularly for those at some distance from it geographically,” to misunderstand the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, Dr. Becker said. He said the outcome of the election was a country divided in many ways and a country that easily could see another very close election in 2008.

Bush won by obtaining 50.75% of the popular vote, compared with 48.30% for Democratic Senator John Kerry. The remaining 0.95% was spread among minor candidates.

Dr. Becker said the 2004 election was the first in United States history in which some television news media were clearly partisan, suggesting a change in the media landscape in the future. He also said the internet played an important role in the election. Candidates raised money through the internet, he said, and the traditional media themselves became an issue in the campaign because of challenges from new voices from the internet.

The months since the election have not settled the issues from the campaign, Dr. Becker said. President Bush’s approval rating has remained at about 50% and opinion on the war in Iraq is also divided.

The percentage of the population thinking that it was worth going to war in Iraq varied from 46% to 48% and back to 45%, in three national polls by the Gallup organization between January and May of 2005, Dr. Becker said. The percentage in opposition to the war in Iraq in those three polls was 52%, 50% and 53% respectively. Dr. Becker also said that a Gallup Poll on April 1 and 2 found that 50% of the population thinks the Bush administration “deliberately misled” the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, up from 47% in October of 2004.

“In a very real sense, the amount of popular support for George W. Bush’s post 9-11 foreign policy, with its focus on unilateralism and aggressiveness in foreign affairs, cannot be fully judged at present,” Dr. Becker said. “People outside the U.S. would be making a mistake, I think, if they concluded that this policy enjoyed widespread and deep support.”

Dr. Becker was invited to participate in the Lutsk symposium by Dr. Larissa Nizhegorodstseva, Vice Rector for Foreign Contacts at Lutsk Liberal Arts University, and by Olga Kulish, First Deputy Director General of Volyn State TV and Radio Company.

Kulish, who teaches at Lutsk Liberal Arts, visited the University of Georgia in the spring of 2003 as a fellow supported by the Freedom Support Act (FSA) Contemporary Issues Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State. The Contemporary Issues Fellowship Program was operated by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) in Washington..

Dr. Becker’s trip to Lutsk was supported by a grant from IREX.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

In the two days following the workshop, Dr. Becker gave four lectures to two classes of journalism students at Lutsk Liberal Arts University. The lectures discussed the general characteristics of the U.S. media system.

Dr. Becker also met with faculty of the university on May 20 to discuss journalism education in the United States and at the Grady College and the work of the Cox Center.