Television: will it be controlled in the run-up to the elections?


As reported already, conflict is raging in Dnipropetrovsk between the regional State-owned television company and the local authorities. law enforcement officers have began a financial check, while the television company calls this an attempt by the regional authorities to take the company under their control.  The authorities in their turn say that the company is just frightened of what the check will show.

Director of the television company Victoria Shypova, who is also a member of the Regional Council, considers that the problem is in her personal conflict with the Head of the Regional Administration Viktor Bondar

Civic organizations and public parties have become involved, taking one side or the other. On Wednesday communists, socialists and the “Greens”, as well as 8 civic organizations, picketed the Regional Administration with cries of “hands off the channel!”. On the other hand, the local journalists’ union says that a check by the law enforcement people of a television company run on taxpayers’ money is reasonable

Most regional media outlets are under the control of the local authorities

According to the Chief Editor of “Telekritika” Natalya Ligachova, the conflict in Dnipropetrovsk is an exception since it is rare for the local authorities to let control over electronic media out of their hands. “The local authorities are, as a rule, headed by the people who have the most influential businesses in their regions and good relations between businesspeople and the authorities. That also applies to television and radio companies. It is usually on an amicable basis. It’s no secret to anybody that the regional television companies, radio companies and a large percentage of the printed media are under the control of the local authorities. However this does not always happen via direct influence, more often through the close ties between the owners of those media outlets and the local authorities.”

Level of consciousness among Ukrainian journalists less than dazzling

Sceptics say that a lot of Ukrainian journalists are ready to obligingly work for any Presidential candidate, and it’s only a question of who pays the most. Natalya Ligachova partly agrees with the view that the problem is not only in politicians’ pressure, but in the flourishing of so-called “jeansa” – material written for money, yet presented as news.  “Ukrainian journalists’ level of consciousness is not  the best, and the changes which took place after the Orange Revolution have not taken root. Media owners and politicians have managed to minimize the influence of journalists and civic organizations that speak of journalism as a mission, and not just a business.  A majority of journalists are ready in the first instance to work for pay, for loans, without placing their public mission first. Yet there are exceptions, and not so very isolated.”

Viktor Ukolov, journalist and member of the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information from BYuT (Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc) believes that whoever owns a television channel, the latter do now try to be objective. He believes that there are two political points of view presented and a neutral stance from journalists in covering events. “The best example of this is Channel 5, owned by Petro Poroshenko which regularly has representatives from the Party of the Regions, Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence and BYuT. A similarly neutral position in covering events is taking by the channels of Viktor Pinchuk’s holding (ICTV, STB and Novy [New] Channel”. He adds that he basically has no criticism of the way events are covered on 1 + 1, but would have some professional comments with regard to the channels Inter and UT-1, saying that he would take a more independent stand in the place of journalists on those channels.

Another member of the Committee, Olena Bondarenko from the Party of the Regions says that politicians are already waging a fierce battle for control over television. She believes this to be a ailment of the growing process and that Ukraine will have to suffer the illness another 10 years at least. While there are business groups trying to maintain their influence, there are also holding groups appearing for whom the media is simply seen as business. You can earn money only by maintaining objectivity during any political setups.

Who should television journalists turn to and what can they count on if they experience pressure or censorship with the approaching presidential elections? Yury Lukanov, Head of the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union advises them to turn to their trade union if it’s active in the region. They can also approach the court since after all their rights as a journalist are being violated. There are a number of qualified media lawyers.

At the same time, Ukrainians are more inclined now to trust journalists. According to a Democratic Initiatives Fund survey, in June 2006 46% trusted the media, a year later – 49.5%, and in 2008 – 54%.

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