What they're say­ing and show­ing

The Ukrainian Week looks at the editorial poli­cies and ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tions of Ukrainian me­dia out­lets

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY - Bo­hdan Butkevych and Denys Kazan­skiy

Tell me what you watch or read and I will tell you who you are. As the in­ter­net spreads across Ukraine, so many vir­tual me­dia out­lets have sprung up along with it that it’s all-too easy to get con­fused. This is es­pe­cially true of those who have lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the ways that the do­mes­tic me­dia mar­ket works. Still, within this enor­mous va­ri­ety, a num­ber of trends can be iden­ti­fied that in­ter­net me­dia be­long­ing to dif­fer­ent own­ers have in com­mon.

Just as in other Euro­pean coun­tries, Ukraine’s me­dia does not al­ways have as its goal to match the stan­dards set by the BBC; of­ten they have a no­tice­able ide­o­log­i­cal bias. This di­vi­sion among me­dia is not so much left and right as pro-Ukrainian and pro-Rus­sian—although this last group of­ten also try to po­si­tion them­selves as left­ist or an­tifas­cist when, in fact, they are nei­ther. In­deed, there is lit­tle re­ally left-lib­eral me­dia in Ukraine, other than, perhaps, Hro­madske TV, which emerged in the last few years. This po­si­tion has al­ready man­aged to be­come the ba­sis for any num­ber of ma­jor scan­dals.

If we look at the most pop­u­lar Ukrainian in­ter­net me­dia, then the nom­i­nally pro-Rus­sian out­lets in­clude Kor­re­spon­dent.net, Strana.ua, Vesti, 2000.ua, AiF.ua, and Kom­so­mol­skaya Pravda. Why “nom­i­nally”? Mainly be­cause none of them openly pro­mote friend­ship with Putin and the ab­di­ca­tion of sovereignty in fa­vor of Moscow.

Such pro-Rus­sian pub­li­ca­tions tend to be­long to politi­cians con­nected to the Krem­lin and are fairly cau­tious in their rhetoric, but there is a clear tone to them. As a rule, they reg­u­larly play on a stan­dard set of mes­sages: Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war, the Rev­o­lu­tion of 2014 has failed and was a point­less, no­body in Europe needs Ukraine, the gov- ern­ment is com­pletely cor­rupt, the army is be­ing be­trayed, util­ity rates are in­ap­pro­pri­ate, the econ­omy is only get­ting worse, and so on. Ev­ery once in a while, they also pub­lish, in con­trast, ar­ti­cles about Rus­sia’s suc­cesses and those of Be­larus, about the EU as an ill-fated project, and the need to de­cen­tral­ize to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. Rus­sianori­ented pub­li­ca­tions also pro­mote politi­cians with the same views. They of­ten quote pun­dits and ex­perts on Moscow’s pay­roll.

These me­dia re­sources present the war in East­ern Ukraine in a va­ri­ety of ways. They gen­er­ally write with re­straint about the Rus­sian mil­i­tants. But jour­nal­ists in Kor­re­spon­dent.net re­fer to them as “mili­tia.” For a while, the jour­nal Vesti.Reporter, which is part of the Vesti hold­ing, even pub­lished the field notes of a DNR fighter called Ghen­nadiy Duboviy, who was in the unit of the in­fa­mous filed com­man­der known as Mo­torola and vowed to kill Ukrainian jour­nal­ists.

Pro-Ukrainian me­dia are dis­tin­guished by the fact that their ide­o­log­i­cal ter­ri­tory is highly di­verse. Among them are moder­ate con­ser­va­tive, na­tion­al­ist and lib­eral me­dia.

To the right end of the spec­trum is one of the most pop­u­lar Ukrainian me­dia sources, Cen­sor.net, a play on the words “No Cen­sor,” which is fa­mous for its open hawk­ish editorial pol­icy. Cen­sor’s jour­nal­ists de­vote con­sid­er­able attention to the progress of mil­i­tary ac­tion on the front, of­ten write about the Rus­sian mil­i­tary pres­ence, and pub­lish in­ter­views with peo­ple in­volved in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. Gazeta.ua can also be cat­e­go­rized as right-lib­eral. The more lib­eral end of the spec­trum is most strongly rep­re­sented by Liviy Bereh, Gor­don. ua, Dz­erkalo Tyzh­nia, Novoye Vre­mya, Focus, and Ra­dio Svo­boda (RFE/RL). Like their coun­ter­parts on the right, the

lib­eral out­lets openly sup­ported the Euro­maidan and are un­am­bigu­ously on the side of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the con­flict in Don­bas. They re­fer to the Rus­sian prox­ies as mil­i­tants, ter­ror­ists and sep­a­ratists. The most clas­si­cally lib­eral, with some ten­den­cies to­wards left­ist is one of the most rep­utable sources, Ukrain­ska Pravda.

Hro­madske TV, Ukraine’s first ini­tia­tive as a pub­lic tele­vi­sion chan­nel, is more no­tice­ably left­ist in its po­si­tions. Af­ter a split in the editorial team and sev­eral scan­dals, all the peo­ple who did not share lib­eral val­ues were let go. The jour­nal­ists at this me­dia out­let more of­ten than others talk about the need to main­tain stan­dards and about equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all sides in the con­flict in East­ern Ukraine. Hro­madske also of­ten strongly crit­i­cizes Ukraine mil­i­tary and re­ports on war crimes per­pe­trated by men in the Armed Forces. Be­cause some of the site’s re­ports echo el­e­ments of Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda, Hro­madske is reg­u­larly crit­i­cized by the right for be­ing not suf­fi­ciently pa­tri­otic.

When it comes to Ukrainian tele­vi­sion, the split be­tween pro-Ukrainian and pro-Rus­sian editorial pol­icy is much more in­flu­enced by di­rectly by the owner’s own po­si­tion. If the oli­garch has pro-Ukrainian views, the re­source will fol­low suit. It should re­mem­ber that not one tele­vi­sion chan­nel is prof­itable in Ukraine, so ab­so­lutely all of them com­pletely de­pen­dent on their own­ers for fund­ing. This means that there is no point in even dis­cussing the no­tion of in­de­pen­dent chan­nels. To this can be added that, sta­tis­ti­cally, the typ­i­cal Ukrainian viewer is a house­wife of 40 with a rel­a­tively low level of ed­u­ca­tion and in­come both.

The three most pop­u­lar do­mes­tic chan­nels have for years been the same: In­ter, which cur­rently be­longs to Ser­hiy Liovochkin and Dmytro Fir­tash, 1+1, which now be­longs to Ihor Kolo­moyskiy; and Ukraina, which has al­ways be­longed to Donetsk bil­lion­aire Ri­nat Akhme­tov. Two of them, Ukraina and In­ter, have only a nom­i­nal pro-Ukrainian pol­icy that quite of­ten in fact echoes both covert and overt Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda. Ukraina dif­fers in that it bor­ingly pro­motes its owner all the time, or at least his sup­posed char­i­ta­ble work in ORDiLO. News pro­grams on this chan­nel of­ten sound like lit­tle blobs of information in­serted sim­ply so that his name doesn’t echo end­lessly.

As to In­ter, it has long and openly ma­nip­u­lated pub­lic opin­ion in a pro-Rus­sian key. Its crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment is mild as there are no open squab­bles be­tween Poroshenko and Liovochkin or Poroshenko and Akhme­tov. But Rus­sian fight­ers in Don­bas are never called ter­ror­ists on In­ter and once in a while the word “mili­tia” is used. Just re­cently, the cor­re­spon­dence of for­mer In­ter jour­nal­ists with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of “se­cu­rity bod­ies of DNR” was pub­lished, where the jour­nal­ists ef­fec­tively re­ported to the lat­ter about how to por­tray the ac­tiv­i­ties of the sep­a­ratists and also wrote that a reporter from the chan­nel who called them “ter­ror­ists” in one of his re­ports was se­verely pun­ished.

1+1 has tra­di­tion­ally been pro-Ukrainian although it oc­ca­sion­ally ex­pressed it­self in a very grotesque and even hys­ter­i­cal form. The chan­nel fa­vors teary sto­ries, cheap hu­mor and tal­ent shows. Af­ter Kolo­moyskiy re­solved his con­flicts with Pres­i­dent Poroshenko, even if only tem­po­rar­ily, crit­i­cism of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared.

The next large pool of chan­nels is the news chan­nels, of which there are six. For a long time 112 was pretty well the main ir­ri­tant for pa­tri­otic Ukraini­ans be­cause it of­ten served as a plat­form for pro-Rus­sian speak­ers. In the last nearly year, how­ever, it has be­come no­tice­ably more neu­tral. This is tied to the fact that the Yanukovych “Fam­ily” sold it and is no longer the owner. The ques­tion of who is its new owner re­mains open, although lately Petro Poroshenko’s name comes up in cer­tain cir­cles, that he sup­pos­edly de­cided to buy him­self yet another chan­nel. Whether this is true or not, 112 does not have a very strongly state po­si­tion now, pre­fer­ring to of­fer a plat­form to just about any­body. This, of course, can be seen in af­fects the qual­ity of the pro­gram­ming, be­cause there are clearly not enough ex­perts and talking heads to go around. How­ever, thanks to tremen­dous in­vest­ment and un­s­e­lec­tive ap­proach, it is turn­ing into the leader among the news chan­nels to­day.

NewsOne has con­fi­dently taken its place in the proRus­sian gallery. Nom­i­nally owned by the odi­ous Kharkiv Re­gional Yevhen Mu­rayev, in fact, it is fi­nanced by exYanukovych PM Mykola Azarov. The chan­nel is un­abashedly “vat­nik lite” in its poli­cies, as epit­o­mized by its Rus­sian “primo bal­lerino,” Matvei Ganapol­sky. Nor is Mu­rayev par­tic­u­larly covert, ap­pear­ing on the chan­nel nearly ev­ery day to speechify about “let’s stop the civil war in the East.” Af­ter his joint state­ment with Vadym Rabi­novych about launch­ing a new po­lit­i­cal project called “Zhyt­tia/Life,” which was clearly in­tended to pick up the elec­toral re­mains of Party of the Re­gions, it’s pretty clear that this chan­nel in­tends to be the main dis­sem­i­na­tor of pro-Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda in Ukraine.

The once-leg­endary Chan­nel 5 that still, de­spite many prom­ises, be­longs to Pres­i­dent Poroshenko, has lost po­si­tion sig­nif­i­cantly. De­spite its pro­duc­tion qual­ity, it has long lost its place as “the first news chan­nel.” Nor is its pop­u­lar­ity helped by the un­der­stand­able, if not too over­bear­ingly pro-Ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­sor­ship that rules it. In short, the pres­i­dent is the main fig­ure in ev­ery news pro­gram. In prin­ci­ple, this is quite log­i­cal, but it has its con­se­quences. One of the pos­i­tive sides of Chan­nel 5 re­mains its very ac­tive re­port­ing on events at the front with a clearly Ukrainian world­view.

Espresso, a chan­nel that rose on the Maidan wave and is owned to Nar­o­d­niy Front Deputy Mykola Kni­azhyt­skiy dis­plays a fairly in­de­pen­dent information pol­icy, ex­cept that view­ers might not hear that much crit­i­cism of Nar­o­d­niy Front and, ear­lier, PM Arseniy Yat­se­niuk. How­ever, it truly hon­ors plu­ral­ism of opin­ion and main­tains a pro­nounced pro-Ukrainian po­si­tion, even to the point of ac­cent­ing that it pro­vides a “Ukrainian view of the world.” Espresso’s main prob­lem and big­gest weak­ness is its poor re­source base, so the “cof­fee chan­nel” has a hard time com­pet­ing with 112 and NewsOne, at whom the own­ers have thrown tens of mil­lions of dol­lars from the very start.

Chan­nel 24 be­longs to Lviv Mayor and founder of Samopomich An­driy Sadoviy, but has not man­aged so far to go be­yond the bounds of its re­gional iden­tity. It has a proUkrainian editorial pol­icy, but the chan­nel is not com­pet­ing ef­fec­tively with the big four news chan­nels. In­ter­est­ingly, Sadoviy him­self makes lit­tle use of this chan­nel to pro­mote him­self, which in it­self mer­its con­sid­er­able re­spect.

ICTV, STB and Novy Kanal are the trio of en­ter­tain­ment chan­nels that be­long to Vik­tor Pinchuk. Like their owner, they all try to stay out of pol­i­tics as much as pos­si­ble. And they avoid crit­i­ciz­ing the pres­i­dent, with whom Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law has a nor­mal work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

UA:Per­shiy has not changed much since it switched to its new team lead by Zubar Alasa­nia, although credit is due to the new man­age­ment that the chan­nel no longer is such a fawn­ing sup­porter of the gov­ern­ment as it was in the past. There is even a kind of “Fronde” in the form of the pro­gram “Schemes,” which al­lows it­self to crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent. In other as­pects, the state chan­nel has not changed.

“The Right Ac­cents.” Kor­re­spon­dent.net em­pha­sizes the dark side of war, while In­ter care­fully in­tro­duces the mark­ers of “com­mon history from the days of World War II

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