What they're saying and showing
The Ukrainian Week looks at the editorial policies and ideological positions of Ukrainian media outlets
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