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TV-managed democracy coming soon to nation

26.03.2010 |
Natalya Ligacheva

It cannot fail to impress – the speed with which the new rulers of the country make their compatriots understand who’s the boss. This extends to the media sector as well. There are still a few hot vacancies left, including some in the National Council for TV and Radio, the main regulator in the sector.
The five-year term of its two members out of eight ran out on March 18. Half of the council members are appointed by the president, the other half by parliament. There is little doubt that the National Council will be taken over soon in the same conspicuous manner that the State Radio and TV channel (NTKU) was taken over recently.
Savik Shuster hosts one of the most popular political talk shows in the country, Shuster Live. But experts fear that we are likely to see less political debate on TV in the near years, and more entertainment because all major media are owned by pro-presidential allies. (UNIAN)
Appointments, ownership changes
Due to the chaos in the way information is released by the new leaders, it’s difficult to figure out who was behind recent peculiar decisions to put the State Radio and TV channel under the cabinet rather than president. The appointment of Yehor Benkendorf, former chief producer of Inter TV channel as NTKU’s general director, is also odd.
Various sources tell Telekritika media watchdog that decisions in the media sector are taken by the same duo – Presidential administration chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin and especially State Security Service Chief Valery Khoroshkovsky, who owns Inter, while Hanna Herman, deputy head of the president administration, is trying to also stay in the picture.
The other great development is a consolidation of media assets by billionaire Igor Kolomoisky. He’s currently posed to take control of Central European Media Enterprises that will give him full control over the group of channels 1+1, Kino and TET. This is on top of the single-handed control Kolomoisky exerts over media holding Glavred Media after Oleksandr Tretyakov exited the partnership. Glavred media holding owns CITI TV channel, Izvestiya v Ukraine daily and a number of magazines and websites, including Telekritika.
Kolomoisky’s Privat group also controls the news agency UNIAN and a network of newspapers Gazeta-po-[city name], thus exercising an indirect influence over other media. The consolidation appears to be far from over.
So what does this all mean?
Four financial and political groups have essentially taken over ownership of the media sector in Ukraine. They are Dmytro Firtash- Khoroshkovsky, which represent Kremlin-friendly Russian capital and then billionaires Viktor Pinchuk, Rinat Akhmetov and Kolomoisky.
Foreign strategic capital has never been too keen on entering Ukrainian media; some of these who did were pushed out by the end of the last decade by the financial crisis and non-transparent rules of the game.
All four media empires are loyal to the government, which – under the Party of Regions – has control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Oppositional politicians, such as Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk, own no large media assets. The once “Orange” [Revolution] Channel 5, it seems, will remain accessible to Tymoshenko. But that may depend on where owner Petro Poroshenko lands in the power hierarchy.
At the same time, President Viktor Yanukovych is under the sway of a financially powerful, opaque industrial group headed by Lyovochkin, Firtash and Energy Minister Yuriy Boiko.
Here are the trends we see playing out over the next few years:
 “Putinization” of Ukrainian TV will mean that the dominant political force will control major media outlets, just as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does. TV coverage of the state will be positive, while print and Internet media will retain relatively more freedom.
State TV will become more commercialized, possibly even privatized. Private TV channels will develop information policies that coincide with the interests of the president’s team, such as nation-leading Inter TV has been doing lately.
Gradually all political opponents will be squeezed out of the news.
De-Ukrainization of TV, not just in language but also in ideology, will take place. Entertainment will replace political debate.
The era of “equality of corrupt possibilities” will come to an end. It flourished from 2006-2009, when people paid for TV coverage. Now, those in power don’t need to pay and opponents will be shut off from this opportunity. The development might be portrayed as a successful fight against corruption.
Stifled Information
Despite the media control, the release of information is still a problem area for the new administration. The appointment of presidential spokesperson is long overdue, but other communication appointments are needed. The new team seems to have a tough time finding “the right people” to assist spokeswoman Anna Herman. Currently, Herman has a monopoly on the president’s relations with the external world and is obviously unwilling to share her influence with anyone else.
At the Cabinet of Ministers, there are several people in charge of releasing information. The person officially in charge of the media activities is Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov. But the person in charge of interaction between the government and civil society is Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Semynozhenko. And, finally, in charge of information security is Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Sivkovych. Party of the Regions parliamentarian Olena Bondarenko also said she has a leading role in public information.
Regardless of who controls the media, there is at least one cause for celebration. In Ukraine, things are going to be smoother than in Russia, as long as those in power don’t start pressing too hard. Most people will probably go for stability, rather than freedom of the press. So, relax. Everything’s gonna be Donbass.
Natalya Ligacheva is chief editor of Telekritika, a media watchdog, internet newspaper and magazine

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