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Firtash and Lyovochkin’s Inter rejects balanced coverage safeguards

Inter has decided to dissolve the Public Council established to monitor observance of journalist standards. This follows staff and programme changes which may be aimed at improving rating, but hardly the channel’s balance and objectivity

On 7 March the Inter TV channel announced that it sees no need to continue the work of the recently created Public Council attached to the channel since the editorial staff of the channel “do not need external supervision and censoring of their work”. In an open letter to the members of the Council posted on its site, it states that Inter is carrying out a new strategy aimed at strengthening its leading position on the Ukrainian TV market.

“The channel’s team is determinedly working on increasing the quality and informative nature of its socio-political broadcasting.”

They note that there has been an increase in confidence of TV viewers in the channel and go on to mention that the return of Savik Shuster’s “Shuster Live” has enabled them to get high ratings.

“The channel’s management has every reason to rely upon the professionalism of the Inter creative team which does not require external supervision and censoring of its work”.

It ends by stating that they see no reason to continue the Memorandum between Inter and the International Renaissance Foundation from 10 December 2012. This had agreed to create a public advisory council undertaking independent monitoring of its information activities.

As reported, Inter changed hands in February this year in a move that raised eyebrows.  The Inter Media Holding was sold to Serhiy Lyovochkin, Head of President Yanukovych’s Administration and Dmytro Firtash, known for his very close links to the present regime. Firtash’s Group DF became the major share-holder.

After almost three years during which Inter competed with the State-owned UT-1 for ignominious first place in the constant number of infringements of journalist standards and muffled news stories, there was a brief change from November 2012.  This came after the former owner of Inter, Valery Khoroshkovsky left the government in protest at the reappointment of Azarov as Prime Minister. 

The channel’s atrocious record in all monitoring reports changed, and a new political talk show Spravedlyvist, hosted by Anna Bezulik, replaced the Velyka Polityka talk show by Yevgeny Kiselyov which was extremely biased towards those in power.

Despite claims from the new owners that they will not influence the editorial policy of the channel, the changes since February have been radical and apparently away from the refreshing glimmers of openness and balance over previous months.

The new (and old) Director is Yegor Benkendorf whose appointment to the same post on UTV-1 in March 2010 heralded the beginning of the channel’s degradation with its news programmes especially lacking in balance and very often manipulative.  It is worth noting that Benkendorf was himself the producer of a hagiographic film about Yanukovych marking his sixtieth birthday.

Kiselyov is now in charges of the news programme and Shuster’s return may improve the channel’s rating but is most unlikely to do any good for the channel’s commitment to quality and balanced broadcasting.  The talk shows of both Shuster and Kiselyov have been marred by lack of objectivity and balance, as well as overt manipulation of their viewers.

In the last month before the change in ownership, Telekritika’s traditional monitoring of the main national television channels found all the violations of journalist standards so endemic over the last three years, with one major exception.  Inter had jumped from being one of the two (occasionally three) worst offenders to having one of the least number of infringements.

The optimism expressed in Thursday’s statement is very difficult to share. 

Halya Coynash

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