According to Freedom House, in 2016, Ukraine had a “partly free” press. In the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in 2016, Ukraine moved up 22 places and ranked 107 out of 180 countries. During the Euromaidan Revolution – a wave of violent demonstrations and civil unrests in Ukraine – President Viktor Yanukovych and his government were removed from power in 2014. Public protests led to the 2014 Ukraine revolution, followed by a series of changes in the sociopolitical system, including the formation of a new government and the restoration of the previous constitution. As a result of violent protests and warfare in the east between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in 2014, Ukraine became “one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult working environments for the media” (Freedom House, 2016b). After the relative stabilisation of the political and economic situation in Ukraine, conditions for the media “showed signs of improvement” (ibid.). Even if some state pressure on private and public media outlets and journalists still persisted in 2015, the state interference has decreased drastically. Ukrainian media landscape “features considerable pluralism and open criticism of the government” (Freedom House, 2016c), but lacks the “functioning media market” (RSF, 2016: 5). Private media outlets often depend on and adapt their content to the varying political and commercial interests of their owners. The main private broadcasters in Ukraine are controlled by powerful businessmen and usually provide a variety of viewpoints and political orientations, but also disseminate disinformation undermining the credibility of the competitors’ broadcasters (Freedom House, 2016b, 2016c; RSF, 2016: 14). “The [TV] channels are constantly going to war with each other because their owners are at war with each other” (Valeri Ivanov, president of the Academy of Ukrainian Press, RSF, 2016: 13).
Even if the right to freedom of thought and speech and to free expression of views and beliefs is guaranteed by Article 34 of the constitution and censorship is prohibited by Article 15, the government continues to practise political censorship. The transmission of 14 Russian channels was suspended by the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine. The reason would have been an aggressive “propagandistic content” of Russian pro-Kremlin news media that “was apparently designed to support the Russian occupation of Crimea, encourage pro-Russian separatism in eastern and southern Ukraine, and discredit the new government” (Freedom House, 2016b). Anton Geraschenko, an aide to the Interior Minister, argued that the media space of Ukraine should be protected from Russian TV channels’ aggression and “propaganda of war and violence” (Reuters, 2014). To suppress the critical expressions regarding Ukraine’s position in the conflict in the east, authorities also “clamped down on so-called ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ expression online, with many users detained, fined, and even imprisoned for such activities” (Freedom House, 2016a). Freedom House (2016b) also reported that in September 2015 the President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree that forbids hundreds of individuals, among them over 40 foreign journalists and bloggers, to enter Ukraine on national security grounds. However, after an outcry from international media and human rights organizations, some journalists from Western media including BBC were removed from the list. Many Russian journalists who were apparently responsible for disseminating “propaganda and misinformation” were deported from Ukraine.
The self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass operate in isolation from the rest of Ukraine and remain one of the most dangerous regions in the country. In particular, Ukrainian media were forced to leave the regions controlled by pro-Russian insurgents and a new media landscape was created in the rebel-held areas (European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, 2016a). Self-proclaimed governments blocked the transmission of Ukrainian TV channels and restricted access to several websites, local and foreign journalists have been denied accreditation “based on accusations of ‘propagandistic’ or ‘negative’ reporting” (Freedom House, 2016b). Consequently, the current political environment forces local journalists to practice self-censorship on “politically sensitive issues” (ibid.).
The post-revolutionary government led by the President Poroshenko continued to strengthen media legislation by making several positive changes. Nowadays, according to Freedom House (2016), the legal framework for Ukrainian media “is among the most progressive in Eastern Europe, though its protections are not always upheld in practice”. Most of the laws still exist only on paper and are awaiting implementation (RSF, 2016: 4).
In February 2015, the Ukrainian parliament disbanded the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morality. Since 2004, it checked the work of mass media for religious hatred, pornography, violence as well as propaganda of alcoholism and smoking and has been widely criticized by journalists, activists and cultural figures for carrying out artistic and political censorship. However, at the beginning of 2017, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine decided to develop criteria of defining pornographic content and approve a new body on protection of public morality (Human Rights Information Center, 2017). Two controversial laws entered into force in May 2015. One of them generally bans symbols related to Communist and Nazi regimes and penalizes the denial of the “criminal nature” of them. The second law “established recognition for several groups that fought for Ukrainian independence in the 20th century and criminalized the public denial of their legitimacy” (Freedom House, 2016b). Media rights groups and NGOs criticize these laws as they could “discourage open debate and critical journalism about politically sensitive topics” (ibid.).
In order to comply with international standards, the legislation on access to public information and the activities of government bodies has been improved in 2015. Now, government agencies are obliged to regularly release open data on a national online portal or on their own websites. However, even if the free access to information about public utilities is guaranteed by law, in practice it remains problematic (Freedom House, 2016b). The NGO Institute of Mass Information, which has the objective to defend the journalists’ rights and to consolidate press freedom in Ukraine, recorded 33 cases of the restriction of the journalists’ access to public information from local government officials in 2015.
Print and online media, TV and radio stations must be registered. However, the process of establishment and operation of private media outlets is not always easy. So, the main LGBT online portal had been denied official registration many times. However, since September 2015, the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine is obliged to release “detailed explanations of its licensing decisions” (Freedom House, 2016b). As mentioned above, the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk operate independently from the rest of Ukraine. So, new laws on mass media in both Republics entered into force in 2015. Press freedom is guaranteed in Article 1, Article 3 prohibits censorship. In reality, “every criticism of the new power is forbidden and deadly dangerous” (ECPMF, 2016a).
Television is the main source of information in the Ukraine. There are four leading media groups on the TV market: DF Group, 1+1 Media, StarLightMedia, and SCN. All of them are owned by a small number of wealthy powerful business magnates, oligarchs, and serve their particular political and commercial interests. Inter, one of the most-watched TV channels, is owned by the gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash and the head of Presidential Administration Serhiy Lyovochkin. National TV channel 1+1 belongs to the multibillionaire Ihor Kolomoysky. The TV channels STB, ICTV and Novy Kanal belong to Victor Pinchuk, an influential Ukrainian businessman and son-in-law of ex-president Leonid Kuchma. The TV station 5 Kanal is still controlled by president Petro Poroshenko despite the obvious conflict of interests and media freedom groups’ calls to sell it. Other key media, for instance the cable and satellite broadcaster 112 Ukraine owned by Andriy Podshchypkov, are often critical of the president. There are also around 30 national channels, including special interest channels (RSF, 2016: 12).
According to Freedom House (2016d), the oligarchs’ impact is also present in the print media sector. For example, the Ukraine’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper (daily circulation: more than 1.1 million copies) Fakty i Kommentarii is controlled by Victor Pinchuk. Nevertheless, their competitors – independent media outlets including the magazines Novoe Vremya and Ukrainskyi Tyzhden, the analytical newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post and the popular internet newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda – contribute to the pluralistic media landscape and balanced political coverage by acting as a counterweight. Some popular media outlets such as Hromadske TV and Hromadske Radio, “the voice [...] of a new generation of journalists”, Telekritika, a website which discusses journalists’ professional issues, and Stop Fake, a website which struggles against Russian propaganda, are surviving thanks to support from abroad (RSF, 2016: 11).
The post-revolutionary government gradually transforms national and regional state-owned TV and radio outlets into public-service broadcasters (Freedom House, 2016b, 2016c). The National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine was registered in 2017 (Ukrayinska Pravda, 2017). This broadcasting company is based on the West European model, is independent from the president and has, inter alia, nine members who represent the civil society (Council of Europe, 2015). Zurab Alasania, the head of the National Television Company of Ukraine, said that all channels will focus on enlightening people as well as eliminating of “corrupt journalism practices, negativism and sensationalism” (Sventakh, 2015). In December 2015, Poroshenko also approved a law which facilitates the privatization of print media owned by government authorities. 244 print media were privatized at the end of 2016 (Vesti, 2016, 2015). The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović described this law as “a major step forward in advancing media freedom and pluralism in the country” (OSCE, 2015a). The ownership structures have been non-transparent for a long time, but, since 2015, media outlets are required to disclose detailed information about their owners and, inter alia, provide names of ultimate beneficiaries. As Dunja Mijatović noted, “prevention of undue concentration of media ownership and full transparency of media regulation are important prerequisites of media pluralism and freedom of expression in a democratic state” (OSCE, 2015b). Nevertheless, the ownership structures still mostly remain non-transparent (RSF, 2016: 12). Individuals and organizations from offshore economic zones as well as from a country recognized by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (legislature) as a “state-aggressor or state-occupier” are prohibited from establishing, owning or operating TV and radio organizations or programmes (Library of Congress, 2015).
Nowadays print media are financially largely dependent on their wealthy owners, because of falling advertising revenues and the ongoing economic crisis. In 2014, the Ukrainian advertising market halved in a size and, in 2015, was expected to shrink by approximately 50 per cent again (Paskhover, 2015). As a result, the so-called “jeansa” – Ukrainian slang for corruption and paid materials disguised as news – is widespread and “weakens the credibility of journalists” (Freedom House, 2016b). Online media outlets face less economic pressure and are less constrained by owner interests than traditional media. Social networks such as Facebook or VK are often used by journalists and other media workers for disseminating their opinion and promoting their content. As a result, different viewpoints are available, although journalists sometimes practice self-censorship in reporting on topics of separatism, terrorism and patriotism (Freedom House, 2016a).
One more notable feature of Ukraine’s media system is the bilingualism. Even if Ukrainian is the country’s only official language, some TV channels show news programmes in Russian or invite Russian-speaking interview partners. Nevertheless, regional differences, especially in print and online media sector, can be observed. For example in Lviv, Ukrainian-language media are much more common, while in Odessa the media mostly publish in Russian. Many online media outlets offer their content in both languages (RSF, 2016: 7).
Media access and consumption
Television is the most popular news source in Ukraine. As the Gorshenin Institute in Kiev reported, in 2016, 88 per cent of Ukraine’s citizens mainly used television to keep up with current affairs (RSF, 2016: 12). As in many other countries, print media are in crisis, content is reduced, investments are cut and newspaper kiosks disappear. The reasons for this are, inter alia, slow postal delivery, the small advertising market as well as the fact that there is no factory that produces the high-grade paper. According to the Gorshenin Institute, in 2016, only 12.5 per cent of Ukrainians still read newspapers to stay informed about news. Oksana Romanyuk, director of the Institute of Mass Information, says that “the press is in freefall” (RSF, 2016: 22). Since 2014, many newspapers and magazines such as Kommersant Ukraine, one of the leading business newspapers, completely disappeared from the market or have appeared only online. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU, 2016), 49 per cent of the population used the internet in 2015, and the internet penetration continues to increase (ITU, 2017). However, an “urban-rural divide” still exists due to the differences in infrastructure development. Internet access in the country is generally unrestricted and the use of online media outlets as news and information sources has increased (Freedom House, 2016a).
As mentioned above, during the conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian government banned the broadcasting of most Russian TV channels through terrestrial and cable transmission. However, those channels are still available via satellite and the internet (Freedom House, 2016d). Transmitters of the Ukrainian media in the rebel-held areas did not work since the war broke out and pro-Russian insurgents retained control over broadcasting facilities. Thus, they could regulate and in some cases even disrupt access to telecommunications (Freedom House, 2016a, 2016b). More than one hundred Ukrainian news websites which supported the new post-revolutionary government and reflected conflicting views on the status of these territories were blocked in the People’s Republics of Donetsk (ZN.ua, 2015) and Luhansk to “protect citizens from the ‘destabilizing’ influence of Ukrainian media” (Global Voices, 2016). Instead, new media outlets which only support separatists’ views appeared (ECPMF, 2016b).
Journalism education at Ukrainian universities has not significantly changed since Soviet times. It is very academically oriented and “no longer keeping with the times”, as Otar Dovzhenko, a journalists and lecturer at the Ukrainian Catholic University, put it (RSF, 2016: 45). He also complained about widespread corruption at almost all of 71 Ukrainian universities that educate journalists. Although nowadays journalism is an increasingly multimedia-based profession, training programmes have not been adapted to changing conditions. The main focus is on the history of journalism, while new fields such as data journalism are mostly ignored. Katya Gorchinskaya, CEO of Hromadske TV, also complained about the “lack of practitioners as teachers” (ibid.: 45). As a result, the training system fails to provide students “with adequate training in either the classic tools of journalism or in dealing with the new technological challenges they face [in practice]” and poses obstacles to high-quality journalism education (ibid.: 11). Nevertheless, “two flagships of journalistic training in Ukraine” – the Catholic University in Lviv and the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kiev – are setting new standards in training programmes such as the Digital Future of Journalism Program, whose aim is to train young journalists through engaging them in the digital culture of the new media.
Ukrainian media companies also complain that it is hard to find “good journalists and suitable young recruits” and train journalists to suit their particular needs. For example, the TV station 1+1 offers its employees training programmes (RSF, 2016: 45). Thanks to their good financial position, media outlets owned by oligarchs are attractive employers for journalists and pay well (ibid.: 15). However, media watchdogs criticize that, due to the ownership structures on the Ukrainian media market, “editors become nothing more than marionettes in the battles waged by the owners [of the media outlets]” (ibid.: 14). Some good journalists who wanted to change the Ukraine’s future in a different way switched to politics after the Euromaidan (ibid.: 9). Journalists’ working conditions
Ukrainian journalists reported in interviews to RSF (2016: 8) that they “can report freely and carry out investigations and media projects without interference by the state”. Several positive legislative changes which improved the working conditions of Ukrainian journalists as well as some obstacles which hinder the information access were already mentioned above. In general, journalists are free to pursue their journalistic profession due to the absence of “burdensome restrictions” (Freedom House, 2016b). There are a number of groups and associations which support journalistic interests, such as the National Union of Journalists – “the voice for journalists and journalism” – or the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (2016), one Ukrainian journalist – Pavel Sheremet, who wrote for the independent news website Ukrayinska Pravda – was killed in Kiev in 2016. Even though violence against journalists significantly decreased relative to 2014, media workers still faced “intimidation, threats, and attacks from both state and non-state actors in the course of their work” (Freedom House, 2016b). In 2014, five journalists were killed on the territory of the Ukraine: one Italian photojournalist and four journalists who worked for Russian media. The self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk remain one of the most dangerous places for journalists. The NGO Institute of Mass Information (2017) recorded 30 cases of assaults and 108 cases of impeding journalists’ activities in 2016, mostly committed by non-state and unidentified actors. In 2015, the government adopted amendments to the criminal code which “increased penalties for crimes against journalists, including attacks, threats, abduction, murder, and the destruction of property”. The legislation also guarantees financial support for journalists who were injured performing their professional duties as well as for families of those who died. However, many attacks against journalists and editorial offices remain unsolved, so that impunity for crimes remains a problem (Freedom House, 2016b).
Journalists’ role perceptions and reputation of media and journalism in society
Speaking about Ukrainian journalists’ role perceptions, especially during the war, Valery Ivanov, Professor and President of the Academy of Ukrainian Press, uses the term “loyalty journalism” and portrays it as the main difficulty. Supporters of loyalty journalism are convinced that they have no right to criticize their country and its government during war or “allow publications which can weaken the fighting spirit” (ECPMF, 2016c). Obvious consequences are trends of distortion and manipulation, hiding facts and incorrect terminology, hate speech and, finally, lack of trust in the media (ECPMF, 2016b). However, even in wartime, many journalists “continue to consider it obligatory to fulfil professional standards, including the reliability of information, its balance, completeness and factual accuracy” (ECPMF, 2016c). Ivanov also complained that Ukrainian journalists unfortunately often reply to Russian propaganda with pro-Ukrainian propaganda, but seldom answer by the true and reliable information.
People’s trust in the media increased in 2015 compared to the previous year (RSF, 2016: 4). According to KIIS (2016), 32.3 per cent of Ukrainians trusted the country’s media in 2015, while 38.9 per cent said they did not. Although Ukraine’s media landscape was long strongly influenced by the dominant Russian media after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 2015, the level of confidence in them was extremely low – only four per cent of Ukrainians trust them. According to RSF (2016: 9), “Ukrainian journalism is going through a difficult post-revolutionary phase in which its own role within society need to be redefined”. The economic and political crisis, the war in the east of the country and the “media oligarchy” are making it difficult. However, Valery Ivanov claims that strengthening the trust can be only achieved if journalists strictly follow journalistic standards in piece as under the war conditions, report reliable and relevant, full and unbiased, verified and balanced information to the audience, because die audience turns to media nor for propaganda, bur for “information that appropriately reflects the reality” (ECPMF, 2016c).
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- Committee to Protect Journalists: Ukraine
- Constitution of Ukraine
- Freedom House: Ukraine – Country Report: Freedom of the Net 2016, Freedom of the Press 2016, Freedom of the World 2016, Nations in Transit
- Reporters Without Borders: Ukraine
- The law on mass media of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic
- The law on mass media of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic
- National Union of Journalists
- Wikipedia: Ukraine
Recommended Citation Form
Daria Gordeeva: Ukraine. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/ukraine (access date)
Euromaidan in Ukraine Source: BBC News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ib7EkJD08e4