Round table “Corruption in mass media” (Odessa)
According to the data of the State statistical committee, the number of magazines and other periodicals in Ukraine has increased more than nine times since 1990, and the number of newspapers increased twice. Some of them are profitable, and others are used as the political arenas by their owners. Today the corruption contaminated almost all branches of economics. In this connection the Odessa national juridical academy and the Odessa informational center in charge of the problems of fighting the organized crime conducted, last week, the round table “Corruption in mass media”. The participants of the round table, journalists and specialists from the academy, debated on the situation on the mass media market. They also discussed the problem whether it was possible to find some compromise in the framework of the legal sphere. The following questions were discussed at the round table: mass media as a kind of business; shadow economy and money-laundering; financing of mass media and the problem of independent press; political PR and new technologies in mass media. All these topics were very interesting for both journalists and lawyers. That is quite comprehensive, since until now the phrase “corrupted journalist” has aroused either the bewilderment or distrust. Today, when the space in newspapers and time in TV air are sold to anybody, who can pay for it, nobody is surprised by the situation when a journalist deals with “black PR” or ordered articles, and this is not considered as corruption from the viewpoint of the legality of such activities. Some lawyers have the opposite opinion, so the round table had the aim to clarify the function of mass media, to determine the degree of influence of the “fourth power” on the society and the possibility to affect the corruption through mass media.
Viktor Driomin, the head of the department of criminology of the Odessa national juridical academy, pointed out in his opening speech that mass media were, in a certain sense, an element of the globalization of criminality, because “they inform the population about the acts of violence in the country, in particular: terrorism, murders, robberies, etc., thus forming the idea about the criminal situation, which not always coincides with real one”. The facts were adduced, when some Russian MPs were financially by criminal organizations. The situation in our country is similar. Viktor Driomin is sure that the connection of mass media with certain “clans” and groups is an element of corruption relations, and the legislative regulation of this problem is needed. On the one hand, the Ukrainian legislation provides many opportunities for the creative work of a journalist, guarantees his rights for the freedom of speech and creative activities (the Laws of Ukraine “On censorship”, “On information”, “On authors right”, etc.). These normative acts were acknowledged by international organizations and confirmed by international legal documents. On the other side, it is very difficult today to put these rights into practice. Editors of newspapers and journalists complain that the interference of the power organs, officials and peoples deputies of different levels into the creative process becomes more and more noticeable, which, in their opinion, contradicts to the very concept of the freedom of the press. So, the modern journalism managed to get rid of the political bondage of the Soviet times. Yet, instead, the journalists got to the grip of economic crisis, and this financial pressure has become even stronger that the political one. Some journalists, who took part in the round table, recollected with regret about the “old good times”, when the editorial boards had to worry neither about paper, nor about the polygraphic base, nor about salaries, but obtained all this as a remuneration for their service to the communist power. At the same time, one must understand the difference between the totalitarian and the social-responsible models of journalism. Totalitarianism includes repressions and physical destruction of talented people disloyal to the state. Everybody knows about the scale and consequences of such repressions in the Soviet Union. On the background of these historical events the economic dependence of the press on their owners seems to be a problem of quite different level. The social-responsible journalism has begun to develop in Ukraine only recently, and it is senseless to revert to the authoritarian practices. The recession of the economic crisis stimulates the gradual appearance of solvent buyers, so increasing the number of newspapers and magazines. This will give the chance to mass media to reach the level of freedom that exists in the civilized countries. This opinion was expressed by Valeriy Ivanov, a doctor of philology and the manager of the Academy of the Ukrainian press. The majority of journalists present at the round table agreed with him. Almost all participants supported the idea that the wording “corruption among journalists” was extremely incorrect. The greatest part of the budget of mass media consists of the income from advertising. Yet, the Ukrainian advertising market is rather small: in 2002, for example, its volume was equal to 260 million USD. According to the assessment of experts, the lions share, about 100 million USD, is spent for TV advertising. The low profitableness of Ukrainian mass media resulted in their purchase by entrepreneurs, who made a profit in other spheres of business, first of all in the sphere of the export of oil and gas. Yet, the new owners did not consider the mass media as a source of profit. The Ukrainian mass media turned into the political projects, the tools for exerting pressure on public opinion. In that way mass media assisted the owners in their basic business. Some owners began, in order to increase their influence, to create the media groups, the so-called holdings. So, a common journalist, who works for the employer, cannot be a called “a corrupted journalist”, since he is forced to obey the orders of his boss. Such journalist receives his emolument for the work in a concrete media.
After the heated arguments and discussions the participants of the “round table”, both lawyers and journalists, agreed that “corruption in mass media” is a very relative concept, and that the media-market must develop on the basis of the following principles: transparency of work and the profitability at the expense of consumers, but not of sponsors. Besides, the public audit and the protection of the rights of hired workers must be practiced. These measures, jointly with the legislative regulation, would prevent the use of media in the interests of criminal and political structures, would stimulate the competition and turn the Ukrainian mass media into a transparent kind of business.
(«Delovaya Odessa», No. 21, 26 September 2003)