Nets Blanket Airwaves With Ukraine President Zelensky's Speech to Congress

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Congress via video screen
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduces Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelensky ahead of his March 12 video address to Congress. (Image credit: J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)

The broadcast networks joined cable news and streaming outlets to go live with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remote address to Congress Wednesday (March 16) as the president used a striking video of the destruction and carnage to try and drive home his point that the U.S. needed to “close the sky over Ukraine.”

In Washington, the ABC, NBC and CBS outlets all carried the speech, with only the Fox station sticking with regular programming on its broadcast channel, while streaming the speech live on its website.

Zelensky, in his trademark green T-shirt, asked his audience to remember the U.S.’s own attacks from the skies:  Pearl Harbor with a sky black from planes attacking, and Sept. 11, 2001, “when evil tried to turn cities into battlefields and innocent people were attacked.” He said his country has been suffering the same fate every day and night for three weeks.

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He ticked off the city names and said Russia had turned the skies into death, including using drones. He said he was asking the whole world for a reply from the world, including a no-fly zone to prevent the terrorizing of free cities. “Is this too much to ask?”

He called for more planes to help protect not only his country, but Europe. “You recognize the words “I have a dream,’ ” he said. “I have a need,” a need to protect his country, he said.

He thanked the U.S. for what it has done, but called on it to do more, including new sanctions. He proposed that the U.S. sanction all Russian politicians who remain in office.

Zelensky said Russia should not receive a single penny that they will use for war. He said U.S. ports should be shut to Russian goods.

He said the institutions that are supposed to protect us from war [NATO, UN] have not worked, and that new alliances are needed. He proposed such an alliance, which he dubbed U 24, an alliance for peace.

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Zelensky, a former media producer and actor, then aired a graphic video showing Ukrainian cities before the war filled with happy, smiling people, followed by pictures of bombs and wreckage and human suffering, of dead and dying and injured, while plaintive violin music played in the background. The video ended with the words in white on a black background: “Close the sky over Ukraine.”

CNN, for one, did not put a warning on screen before the graphic video, but said that was because network officials did not know the footage would be shown.

He spoke directly to President Joe Biden and in English (the rest of the speech had been translated into English): “I wish you to be the leader of the world," he said, which means “being the leader of peace.”

The speech drew a brief standing ovation from the audience in the Capitol.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.