18.10.2011 | V. Ivanov, N. Kostenko, N. Ligachova, V. Syumar

On Track to Media Blandness


The analysis below appeared just before the sentencing of Yulia Tymoshenko and was not put on the site then out of fear that it would not gain the attention it certainly warrants.

In a recent issue of Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Natalya Ligachova, Viktoria Syumar, Valery Ivanov and Natalya Kostenko give a disturbing assessment of Ukraine’s media realm with the problems seen over recent times only getting worse.

The authors write that the basis for political pluralism and competition must be platforms where this competition can be expressed.  The number of such platforms is becoming critically small. If we consider that 69 % of Ukrainians say that their main source of information is television, then already today we can say that two thirds of the country simply do not have an objective picture of the real situation. They do not receive balanced information with different points of view.  As monitoring carried out by various NGOs demonstrates, such a situation with observance of basic journalist standards on television had not been seen over the last seven years. Television is becoming ever more vapid, devoid of criticism, professional discussion, different points of view, expert positions and alternative views. Instead the TV channels are feeding their viewers TV products of an entirely different type”.

The primary aim, they say, is now to entertain, not to inform, discuss, teach people. This is not just on the talk shows, but even on the news itself.  The authors point to analysis carried out by the Academy of Ukrainian Press and Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology in February, June and September 2011.  This shows that while there is increasing politicization of the public, “the news remain unprecedentedly apolitical and entertainment-oriented. On average, only one in five reports concerns politics (in February and June – 14% of reports, this being the lowest over the last 10 years; in September – 19%).  At the beginning of September Ukrainian citizens were informed more often about crime (14%) than about the economy and finance (11%). In September, as over all of the last year, the news is dominated by events of mass culture and various shows (22%; 15%; 13% and 16%, respectively, and also reports about crimes and various types of catastrophes – 7%.

Leading Ukrainian TV channels are thus forming a picture of the world during primetime news in which considerably more attention is given to entertainment, those in power and their actions, crime and catastrophes. And that is against a background of other TV products where it’s all dances, songs, cooking competitions, clairvoyants, marriage bureaus and other reality shows instead of substantive discussion, educational and cultural programmes.

The second trend is towards far more coverage of those in power; and in a much better light than about the opposition. The coverage figures on all leading channels remain in favour of the ruling coalition (64% against 26% for the opposition, and 10% for other politicians). The least balanced selection and reports are on the [the State-owned] First National TV Channel or UTV-1; the most balanced – on Novy Kanal, STB and TVK “Ukraina”.   In September politicians commented on events for 3501 seconds (in June – 2267; in April – 4835; in February – 2279).  30% of accompanying reporting is about President Yanukovych and Prime Minister Azarov (against 47% in June; 37% in April; 36% in February and 28% in December). There is most connected with the President on UTV-1 and Inter (part of the media group owned by the Head of the Security Service, Valery Khoroshkovsky – translator], 352 seconds and 128 seconds, respectively.

Overall, 76% of accompanying reporting is connected with those in power; 14% - with the opposition and 10% about other politicians. 98% of the direct speech on UTV-1 is from members of the government and the ruling coalition.

The third trend is the increasing muffling of information. Some topics which are of immense relevance for the public get no attention on the TV news. The prominent trial of Yulia Tymoshenko and gas issues were given 5% of news time.  Reforms are also on the periphery (1%) and the abolition of benefits for certain categories of the public (0.4%).

As the quality analysis of TV content, carried out by Telekritika, shows, the channels pay virtually no attention to such vitally important subjects as: pressure by the authorities on middle and small-scale business; freedom of speech; human rights; opposition protests and those of other political parties as well as the actions of the police in blocking such protests and the prosecutions of people taking part in them; the reduction in the standard of living (price increases on basic food items and industrial goods; increase in taxes, communal charges and other payments, etc); conflict situations provoked by the actions of the authorities in the humanitarian sphere (reduced State support for the Ukrainian language; closure of schools where lessons are in Ukrainian; pressure on or the ignoring by the authorities of other than pro-Russian Churches, etc).  Nor is it easy to explain this away as being due to the lack of good education and awareness among journalists themselves. Telekritika’s monitoring also demonstrates a clear trend in news reports of ignoring such standards for presenting information as balance of opinions; separating facts from commentary; fullness, accuracy and truthfulness ; the inclusion of expert assessments; background.

Trend No. 4: irony with respect to the opposition and “the voice of the people” instead of experts. A negative-ironic tone is dominant in reports about the opposition; with such a tone being twice as frequent as in the context of the Party of the Regions.

Most dubious negative assessments from among political institutions are the local authorities and the judiciary; among individuals – opposition figures and certain ministers.

There remains a dearth of expert comments and reports on the activities of organizations within civil society. On all channels, except 1 + 1, there has been an increase in the number of comments from ordinary members of the public, with these considerably exceeding those from politicians and experts. The problem is that these comments do not usually give any understanding of how to resolve the problems people are talking about.

20% of reports came with several points of view (against 15% in June; 23% in April; 19% in February; 18% in December). For five months in a row, the largest number were on STB - 26% in September; 32% in June;  30 — in April and 27% in February and December). The least were on UTV-1 – 4%. The least reports with only one point of view were on TVK “Ukraina” (58%), the most – once again on UTV-1 (92%).  The leader for balanced coverage remains news on STB: 60%, 60%, 50%, 57 and 53% reports with only one point of view on political events from September through December 2010 respectively.

The first knob and the public interest

The situation is particularly indicative with UTV-1 which is not a leader in TV ratings, but does lead in failure to observe journalist standards. Just as an example, in September not only opposition politician was heard on the UTV-1 news.  

On UTV-1 there is much more commentary from official figures than from members of the public (30% against 18% in September).

UTV-1 leads in lack of balance with presenting news, the ratio of attention and commentary from those in power and the opposition (with opposition politicians again not having any on this channel).

If on the commercial channels, the conflict context of discussion of events made up 44% in September, UTV-1 remained leader for non-conflict reporting (with conflict present in only 28% of the reports).  This is clearly to demonstrate “stability in the country”.

Telekritika monitoring also shows that UTV-1 has the lowest quality in terms of ignoring fundamental standards of information journalism and for muffling topics of public importance; as well as in terms of the lack of opposition points of view.

This channel is notable in being, firstly, paid for by the taxpayer, although it clearly does not concern itself with those taxpayers who voted for the opposition and would like to hear their point of view.

Secondly, it is this channel which is supposed to be the platform for a move to public broadcasting. As can be seen, UTV-1 is virtually the antithesis of examples in other countries of public broadcasting.

The authors stress that UTV-1 is consistently violating standards, and that this is clearly conscious disregard for universally recognized standards.

All will lose

The authors write that the situation cannot be seen as analogous to the strict regulation under Kuchma. This is because there isn’t a big enough propaganda machine and because there remains freedom of speech in the printed press, and Internet sites are taking on a role.

“However it is clear that instead of informing and explaining their actions, public discussion regarding burning issues, the government have chosen a strategy of distancing themselves from criticism and muffing publicly important information and turning the media into a typical product for entertainment.

Such an approach, they warn, can only be of short-term effect, since soon public trust in the media will be eroded, with people moving their attention to the Internet, turning Internet sites and social networks into the main source of information, and the gradual demise of journalism as a profession. Here there can be no winners: everybody loses out.

Slightly abridged from the article by Valery Ivanov, Natalya Kostenko, Natalya Ligachova and Viktoria Syumarhere at:  (Photo from UTV-1)

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