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04.09.2012

Iryna Bekeshkina: TV channels remain undisputed leaders in terms of influence

   

In an interview to Media Sapiens, the Director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation Iryna Bekeshkina spoke about the role of the media and its impact on public opinion. She said that at the beginning of the 1990s wonderful opportunities for freedom, democratic, the free market opened before the media. Paradoxically, however, that victory proved pyrrhic.

Iryna Bekeshkina says that one of the grave-diggers of the Soviet Union was the media.

“Trying to bring up a “new Soviet person”, real people were held in an ideologically walled-up room. The Soviet regime  was terrified of competition, and with reason. When Gorbachev slightly opened the window, a true whirlwind of new ideas, thinking, concepts, interpretations of history, etc burst in through that gap and was eagerly fuelled by journalists, hungry for freedom”.

She says that when the USSR collapsed, the people did not defend  it since it had already died in their consciousness, largely under the influence of the media.

The victory achieved by the media was, however, to prove pyrrhic.  The economic crisis at the beginning of the 1990s presented previously unknown challenges.  Media publications were soon taken over by successful businessmen and oligarchs who maintained them “not for profit, but as a component of an economic-political “holding” for exerting influence on society.  Ms Bekeshkina says that “it became just as important for each oligarch to have his “own” media resource as to have his “own” party. Moreover each oligarch tried to subordinate to himself in one single “holding” economic areas, financial flows, institutions of power and the information realm”.  She says that the media publication became like departments in Soviet times responsible for agitation and propaganda.

Media sources were not expected to be objective sources of information, etc, but rather to represent the position and the interests of their “sponsors”.

She says that certain subjects, such as the privatization of state property and criticism of public officials, remained taboo.

She does point out that Ukraine’s media sphere did not become hopelessly homogenous, and there were opposition media resources founded by opposition parties, as well as private publications financed by private outfits that did not become part of the above-mentioned holding set up.  These included publications such as Den and Dzerkalo Tyzhnya. .There were significant changes after the Orange Revolution towards greater pluralism and freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, she says, having freed themselves of political pressure, they remained just as dependent on those with money. Commissioned material (called jeansa) where material which is essentially advertising gets reported as though news became a serious danger.

Yanukovych’s victory, she says, led not only to a power model where all is subordinate to the President, and the legislative and judicial branches of power are destroyed, but where there freedom of speech and the press came under attack.

The purge on television broadcasting was particularly successful, especially on channels broadcasting nationwide.

Asked if there were any media sources which have impact on real policy in Ukraine, she divided media into two types of influence.  The first are nationwide and here, she says, nothing can compete with TV. According to annual monitoring reports from the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences, 83% of the population had watched TV programmes. For comparison, during the week 32% had listened to radio programmes, while 48% had read newspapers. However these figures have over the years been falling.  On the other hand, 43% in the 2012 monitoring had used the Internet (Ms Bekeshkina gives the figure as being the number of people who used a computer but she first spoke of users of the Internet – translator).

A special study would be needed to determine the relative impact of each form of media. On the other hand it is clear that the most popular programmes on TV for example, have the most opportunity for impact.

She gives one revealing example.  Yevgeny Kiselyov’s political talk show on the Inter TV channel (owned by the media magnate, Minister of Finances until recently head of the Security Service] invited an extreme member of the VO Svoboda party for the broadcast on the controversial language law increasing the role of Russian. Iryna Farion’s presence, she says, was clearly to activate the Party of the Regions’s Russian-speaking electorate.

“Thus the television audience is being influenced by TV channels under the control of the authorities, this therefore influencing the results of the election and state policy. “

She points out that for the majority of older people who are the most “disciplined” voters, TV remains their main source of information.

From a considerably longer interview at http://osvita.mediasapiens.ua/material/9609

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