Ukrainian media shared out to suit those in power
Protest against censorship, 3 June 2011
The most popular media outlets in Ukraine are in the hands of a few people however the latter use them not as business, but as a means of achieving other ends. This is demonstrated both in a study by Ukrainian media lawyers as well as directly by Radio Svoboda. The National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council acknowledge that ownership of Ukrainian media outlets is not transparent enough, and that the State does not have sufficient levers for preventing the emergence of monopolies. Analysts predict that in the near future the grip of the media by supporters of pro-regime political forces will become even greater.
According to the latest studies carried out by the Media Law Institute and other, the ownership structure of Ukrainian television companies, radio stations and printed media is one of the least transparent in Europe.
The state register contains only the names of intermediary companies, not the real owners of the media outlets with these hidden behind several depersonalized firm. The outlets themselves are entitled to not divulge the information.
Each Ukrainian can buy a part of this or that big business by buying its shares on the market. However it’s virtually impossible to buy a part of a TV channel or even a small FM radio station. Radio Svoboda saw this for itself by turning to the leading shares markets in Ukraine and to brokers. The journalist who introduced himself as the manager of a firm wanting to buy shares in a leading TV and radio broadcasting company had no joy. “Unfortunately we don’t deal with the shares of such businesses. We don’t have them. The only thing that you can do is to approach the owners of the TV channels yourselves”.
This absence of shares on open sale is not a hindrance to the media magnates, in fact rather the contrary. The ownership structure of the Ukrainian media changes each year. Radio Svoboda learned from analysts, journalists and unofficial sources in media management that at present the greatest amount of television broadcasting is indirectly concentrated in the hands of the Head of the SBU [Security Service] Valery Khoroshkovsky (Inter and another eight TV channels); businessman Viktor Pinchuk; Boris Kolomoisky; Petro Poroshenko and Rinat Akhmetov. According to some of Radio Svoboda’s sources, Akhmetov is presently considering whether to buy the Tonic TV channel by the end of the year. Tonic is currently owned by the people close to Ukraine’s Green Party.
Sources which Radio Svoboda asked also talk of plans by the gas magnate Dmytro Firtash to become co-owner of one of the TV channels – he apparently has the option (documented right) to buy a part of the shares of Inter.
There is more diversity among the owners of radio frequencies with a considerable percentage of the radio stations controlled by supporters of prominent opposition political forces. However the balance has been shifted by the latest decision by the Broadcasting Council to give over 50 frequencies to the previously unknown company “Novy Obriy” [New Horizon]. We succeeded in discovering that this is controlled by several intermediaries registered abroad in offshore zones behind which, according to Radio Svoboda’s sources, you will find the interests of Viktor Yanukovych Junior and once again Valery Khoroshkovsky.
Most of the media people whom Radio Svoboda spoke to believe that Ukrainian media magnates do not usually receive their main profits from media outlets and use them for political ends, to push their main business or, more rarely, as a means of laundering money. According to the Deputy Chief Editor of Kyiv Post, Kateryna Gorchynska:
“This market is not competitive and many media owners don’t view their media outlets as a fully-fledged business, but merely as a supplement to their main source of income with it having a certain auxiliary function”.
The Head of the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council, Volodymyr Madzhosov says that neither the Broadcasting Council nor any other regulatory body has sufficient levers to find out who the end owners of the media outlets are, and to impede the creation of monopolies. He says that they don’t have the mechanisms and that this needs to be resolved at legislative level, with the division of functions between state bodies. The Anti-Monopoly Committee, for example, can identify a monopoly and establish supervision but it can’t break it up.
According to lawyer from the Media Law Institute, Ihor Rozkadai, before parliamentary elections the owners of TV channels change their views to more pro-government, while with radio broadcasting this process is accompanied by a rapid change in owners.
“We saw last year already that within the system of ownership of radio broadcasting companies, all of them changed their ownership structure. The television market was redistributed a year ago and is already more or less fixed. The four main players either support the regime or are no longer its opponents. On the local market there will continue to be pressure on the media and a change of their owners”.
Ihor Rozkladai predicts that there will be one more restructuring of control with regard to the electronic media. He links this with the move by all Ukrainian TV channels to digital technology. He points out that the only licence for the digital signal was received by a previously little known firm called Zeonbud whose owners, close to the Party of the Regions, conceal themselves in offshore zones. Experts therefore predict the creation in the media sphere of a monopoly working in favour of the present regime.