Stars of Pryamii TV chan­nel fo­cus on in­ter­na­tional news

Kyiv Post - - National - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]­POST.COM

They seem to be ev­ery­where — a con­fer­ence of Rus­sian dis­si­dents in Lithua­nia, Ukraine House Davos in Switzer­land, the Mu­nich Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence in Ger­many, Ukrainian Week in Lon­don and al­most ev­ery key event in Ukraine.

With their healthy travel bud­get and con­nec­tions, they’ve in­ter­viewed such lu­mi­nar­ies as: ex-U.S. sec­re­taries of state John Kerry and Con­doleezza Rice, the pres­i­dents of Columbia and Poland, U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, ex-U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Bob Gates, re­tired U. S. Gen­eral Wes­ley Clark, ex-Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Toomas Hen­drick Ilves, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning au­thor Anne Ap­ple­baum, Bri­tish his­to­rian Niall Fer­gu­son, ex-French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls, Ice­landic au­thor Sjon, Is­raeli au­thor Meir Shalov, ex-NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­ders Fogh Ras­mussen and oth­ers.

Their weekly in­ter­na­tional af­fairs talk show “The Week” is broad­cast on Pryamii TV chan­nel Satur­days at 10 p.m. They have done about 70 episodes with an es­ti­mated 1.5 mil­lion view­ers each show. TV news is still king of the hill in Ukraine, with 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion get­ting their in­for­ma­tion this way.

Such is the world of Pe­ter Zal­mayev, who grew up in Donetsk and then em­i­grated to Amer­ica, and Taras Bere­zovets, who is from Crimea. Bere­zovets is the more con­stant pres­ence on the air­waves. He can also be found on Pryamii TV chan­nel five times a week, host­ing “The Sit­u­a­tion” po­lit­i­cal talk show.

They share a lot of bonds, in­clud­ing sup­port for Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko. Pryamii is owned by ex-law­maker Vladimir Makeyenko.

Pro-Poroshenko chan­nel

In ad­di­tion to their sup­port for Poroshenko, they both hail from ar­eas of Ukraine now un­der Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion. This shared cir­cum­stance, they told the Kyiv Post, helped bol­ster their sup­port for the pres­i­dent seek­ing re-elec­tion on March 31. They ad­mire his strong anti-Rus­sian stance.

“We can say it’s largely friendly to the pres­i­dent,” Zal­mayev said of Pryamii’s pol­icy.

Said Bere­zovets: “In many senses, the chan­nel cov­ers news in Ukraine from the pro-gov­ern­men­tal po­si­tions. I sup­port Poroshenko be­cause of his per­sonal stance against Rus­sia and what he has done as the pres­i­dent.”

But they try to steer clear of do­mes­tic pol­i­tics on “The Week,” tak­ing en­joy­ment by ed­u­cat­ing Ukrainian view­ers on in­ter­na­tional is­sues through in­ter­views and re­ports on is­sues in other coun­tries.

Pro-West­ern views

Both of them fa­vor Ukraine’s in­te­gra­tion into the Euro­pean Union and NATO mem­ber­ship. If they dif­fer, it’s slightly on the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, with Bere­zovets more con­ser­va­tive than the lib­eral Zal­mayev.

They met in the sum­mer of 2015 at the Ar­se­nal Book Fair, where Bere­zovets was pre­sent­ing his book on Crimea, and hit it off quickly. Their on-air chem­istry is ob­vi­ous.

They be­lieve their in­ter­na­tional af­fairs show is “ex­actly what the Ukrainian TV mar­ket” needs, Zal­mayev said. “It’s a mis­sion of en­light­en­ment.”

De­spite their pro-pres­i­den­tial stance, they say they have “a healthy de­gree of au­ton­omy” on “The Week,” partly be­cause “we stay away from in­ter­nal pol­i­tics,” Zal­mayev said. But, they also note, Bere­zovets rou­tinely hosts gov­ern­ment crit­ics on his “The Sit­u­a­tion” pro­gram.

“We have edi­to­rial in­de­pen­dence. We have not had any in­ter­fer­ence in what to say and what not to say,” Bere­zovets in­sisted.

Zal­mayev said he “wouldn’t stay there for a minute” if he were told what to broad­cast. “I would be out the door.”

The chal­lenge, they said, is mak­ing in­ter­na­tional news in­ter­est­ing and rel­e­vant for Ukraini­ans fo­cused on do­mes­tic is­sues.

In one episode, they cov­ered the Brazil­ian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by em­pha­siz­ing the large Ukrainian di­as­pora in Brazil, es­ti­mated at 500,000 Ukraini­ans. They also go heavy on U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump’s Rus­sian ties and look for other ways to make what is hap­pen­ing in the world more rel­e­vant and in­ter­est­ing for the Ukrainian au­di­ence.

They have taken up many causes. Both were out­raged by the Oct. 2, 2018, mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, the out­spo­ken critic of Saudi prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man, who is be­lieved to have or­dered the as­sas­si­na­tion in the Saudi Ara­bian Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Turkey. They devoted sev­eral weeks to Khashoggi’s mur­der and won’t let it go. “As long as I’m there at the helm with Taras, I’m go­ing to be talk­ing about this,” Zal­mayev vowed.

Bere­zovets’ heavy work sched­ule has forced the po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant to spend less time on his Berta Com­mu­ni­ca­tions busi­ness. He has healthy pop­u­lar­ity on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing more than 66,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers.

Crimea, Don­bas

They are happy to be among the sta­ble of Pryamii’s stars, in­clud­ing hosts Matvey Ganopol­skaya, Karolina Ash­ion, Sergei Loiko and Yev­geniy Kise­lyov.

While the money of a Ukrainian TV host is not big, com­pared to Amer­i­can stan­dards, Zal­mayev said that he gets “tremen­dous job sat­is­fac­tion work­ing with this guy (Bere­zovets). We work seam­lessly to­gether. We’ve never had a con­flict, knock on wood.” To­gether, they have com­mand of a tremen­dous num­ber of lan­guages, in­clud­ing English, Rus­sian, Ukrainian, Span­ish, French and Pol­ish.

Bere­zovets, who hails from the Crimean city of Kerch — with 146,000 peo­ple nearly 1,000 kilo­me­ters south­east of Kyiv — be­lieves that Ukraine will even­tu­ally re­gain con­trol of its lost ter­ri­tory from Rus­sia, but not any­time soon. “Peo­ple there are Rus­si­fied and brain­washed now,” he said, so much so that he is no longer on speak­ing terms with some of his es­ti­mated 50 rel­a­tives still liv­ing there.

Zal­mayev un­der­went a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, spend­ing his first 19 years grow­ing up in Donetsk, the city of 1 mil­lion peo­ple lo­cated 700 kilo­me­ters south­east of Kyiv and now oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia. He had to re­lo­cate his rel­a­tives, in­clud­ing his Jewish mother, from Donetsk in May 2014, shortly af­ter Rus­sia launched its war. He moved them to Is­rael. But he spent most of his adult life in Amer­ica. He’s a li­censed Bap­tist preacher who has lived in Ten­nessee and New York.

'Ukrainian pa­tri­ots'

“We’re Ukrainian pa­tri­ots from Rus­sian-speak­ing and very un­for­tu­nate parts of our coun­try, un­der oc­cu­pa­tion both,” Zal­mayev said. “That’s a bind­ing fac­tor in our part­ner­ship.

Bere­zovets said that “in Crimea, they watch our pro­gram. Our mis­sion is to show they are not for­got­ten. Rus­sia is not for­ever. Things will change. Rus­sia is a pariah state now.”

Zal­mayev said he wants to “counter the de­featist at­ti­tudes” of those in the na­tion who want to give up Ukraine’s claim to the Don­bas and Crimea. “We are of the strong opin­ion that Ukraine can­not say good­bye to Crimea and Don­bas. The pa­tri­otic po­si­tion is to con­tinue to in­sist on their re­turn, on Ukrainian terms.”

Taras Bere­zovets (L) and Pe­ter Zal­mayev, who co-host "The Week" in­ter­na­tional af­fairs talk show on Pryamii TV chan­nel, speak with the Kyiv Post in the news­pa­per's of­fice on Nov 6, 2018. (Pavlo Po­d­u­falov)

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