How Old Values Clash with New Rules in the Ukrainian Media
In 2004, a disputed presidential election in Ukraine sparked a two-month series of economic and political protests known as the Orange Revolution.
The U.S. Department of State reported in 2006 that Ukrainian media outlets were freer and politically diverse than any time since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; in contrast to 2004, the authorities generally respected these rights in practice. Unlike the previous year, there were no reports that the central authorities attempted to direct media content; however, intimidation of journalists, often by local officials, as well as continued media dependence on government resources, inhibited investigative and critical reporting and sometimes led to self-censorship.
Individuals could, and did, criticize the government both publicly and privately without reprisal. The government did not attempt to impede such criticism.
“Unfortunately, not all the hopes we had about that event really came true,” said Anastasiia Grynko, the Deputy Director for Research at the Mohyla School of Journalism at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. She says Ukraine still has a state-owned, regional media system, as well as private outlets owned by wealthy political and business leaders.
“We call them oligarchs,” Grynko said. “They also intrude into editorial policies. So they challenge our freedom of speech, too. So I would say that Ukraine is a country which combines both post-Soviet heritage - old values, and new Western values of free market.”
Even though Ukranian government stopped directly interfering in political coverage after the 2004 Orange Revolution, the U.S. media rights watchdog organization Freedom Watch reports conditions worsened after the 2010 election of President Viktor Yanukovych.
From the Freedom in the World 2011 report:
The media watchdog Telekritika reported that television coverage of the opposition was decreasing, and inMay journalists from Channel 1+1 released an open letter complaining of censorship. Personnel changes in early 2010 left the opposition with no representatives on the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. In June, a court striped the independent stations Channel 5 and TVi of broadcast frequencies they had won in January; the stations competed with Khoroshkovky’s Inter media group, and he was accused of engineering the ruling. Journalists who investigate wrongdoing at the local level face physical intimidation, and local police and prosecutors do not energetically pursue such cases. Vasyl Klymentyev, a journalist who investigated local corruption in Kharkiv, disappeared in August and is presumed dead. Internet access is not restricted and is generally affordable; lack of foreign language skills is the main barrier.
Grynko described political divisions in her home country that fall along geographic lines - similar to how the Iron Curtain divided East and West during the Cold War.
“Western Ukraine supported [Yulia] Tymoshenko, for example, and they are not supporting [President Viktor] Yanukovych right now,” Grynko said. “They're more of an opposition right now, so at the same time, Eastern Ukraine [is] supporting the current president. They're more likely to support Russian integration.”
From the Journal of Diplomacy:
[Georgiy] Gongadze’s own Web-based publication, Ukrainskaya Pravda, had carried on despite his murder and remained a critical (in both senses) source of news and analysis about the Kuchma regime. By the end of the Orange Revolution, this Internet publication was the most widely read news source of any kind in Ukraine. During the critical hours and days after the second-round vote, Ukrainskaya Pravda displayed the results of exit polling, detailed news about other allegations of fraud, and provided all sorts of logistical information to protestors. Text messaging via cell phones or handheld digital devices was a great tool for spreading information among the large crowds of outdoor protestors in Kyiv and its tent city.
Grynko teaches courses on journalism ethics and media transparency at NaUKMA, and says she advises her students to avoid careers in the state-run and private publications.
“We encourage them to open small internet projects, like blogs or social networking, to start something new,” Grynko said. “Because the internet provides a free platform for that, and we also teach them how to work with these instruments. There are some examples that really manage to do that well, and I think this is the way to move forward, and this could bring us to a better democracy in Ukraine.”
On how state-run and privately owned media outlets can influence coverage
"I used to be a public relations manager at one of the non-governmental organizations in Ukraine. We had a lot of really interesting, important events related to human rights and a civil society. Every time I sent out a press announcement about the press conference on any event like that to the journalists, I started to get the calls from them, saying, "We will come to your conference, if you pay money for that." It also means that not only oligarchs pay or influence [the coverage], but it also happens from the side of the news outlets. They also ask news sources to pay money for coverage. They also try to get such profits to place specific coverage."
On the challenges of reaching traditional audiences in a new media landscape
"I'm reading news on Facebook, and just having a news feed, and having friends and communities you're connected to, specific media networks, community pages. But that doesn't mean a majority of Ukrainians do the same. People still watch TV, and the main national TV channels are owned by those oligarchs. So they still get the messages, which someone wants to impose on them. Of course my friends, my colleagues at the university, my students, they prefer internet. Ukrayinska Pravda, this website I told you about, this is one of the most honest, I would say. But that doesn't mean a majority of Ukrainians do the same."
SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Dr. Anastasiia Grynko, welcome to World Views.
ANASTASIA GRYNKO: Thank you.
GRILLOT: You study media relations in Ukraine, but first I'd like to ask you a little bit about the political situation in Ukraine. We know that not in the too-distant past we had what was called the Orange Revolution. We've had some political instability. Of course, Ukraine used to be a part of what was the Soviet Union. It has been on its own now for the better part of two-to-three decades. It has had some transition periods to democracy. Would you consider Ukraine today a stable democracy, or what is your perspective on politics in Ukraine today?
GRYNKO: Well, I would say we are a young democracy. We're only a 22-year-old democracy, which was founded, we became independent in 1991, so we really came through a long path of transformations and change and challenges. You were definitely right about the Orange Revolution. 2004 was a great time for Ukrainians and for journalists too. To say "no" to corruption, bribery, to the challenges, to the problems with rule of law, human rights, and things like that. So that was a time when we were fighting for transparent elections. And we actually won, and our journalists also won, to cover topics which they found really important, and crucial for Ukrainian society. Unfortunately, not all the hopes we had about that event really came true. Now we have many problems, still, with our democracy and our freedom of speech. Just because Ukraine still works as a post-Soviet country, we still have state-owned media, regional media system. We also have private media, which are owned by political or business elites. We call them oligarchs - rich people who are business and political leaders. So they usually own the media, and they also impose the policy, and they also intrude into editorial policies. So they challenge our freedom of speech, too. So I would say that Ukraine is a country which combines both post-Soviet heritage - old values, and new Western values of free market. So now they coexist together. And of course it doesn't mean we are free enough, but we are moving to that direction.
REBECCA CRUISE: Well, you mentioned the media obviously, in that there are these owners, or oligarchs, as you're calling them, and that there's this odd relationship between them and the reporters. Can you maybe talk a little bit more about what that relationship is? How are they intruding? How are they dictating, or influencing stories that the average person is hearing about?
GRYNKO: Sure, it happens in different ways. The one thing they can do is, just the fact that journalists know that he's working for a certain media, which is owned by a certain person, he or she understands that specific topics should not be mentioned in a specific way. So they avoid criticizing someone, or they just avoid saying the truth about certain things. I used to be a public relations manager at one of the non-governmental organizations in Ukraine. We had a lot of really interesting, important events related to human rights and a civil society. Every time I sent out a press announcement about the press conference on any event like that to the journalists, I started to get the calls from them, saying, "We will come to your conference, if you pay money for that." It also means that not only oligarchs pay or influence [the coverage], but it also happens from the side of the news outlets. They also ask news sources to pay money for coverage. They also try to get such profits to place specific coverage.
GRILLOT: So it sounds to me, though, that journalism in Ukraine can sometimes be dangerous. You mentioned that if they're critical of somebody in particular, if they're critical of an industry, or certain individuals in politics or business, that it could be actually a dangerous activity. Is this something that you've experienced or that you've seen happen with journalists in Ukraine?
GRYNKO: Yeah, I understand what you mean. We had this case with Georgiy Gongadze, who was murdered in . The founder of one of the most prominent and outstanding internet media outlet - Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth). So he was murdered after he started to work like that. He started to tell the truth, to do investigations, things like that. But I wouldn't say that this is a widespread trend in Ukraine. After that, we had the Orange Revolution, and now we have many journalists saying no to the censorship, and they're at least not murdered for that. I wouldn't say they can really change the situation a lot, because those protests are happening sometimes, and in different parts of Ukraine, so it's not like a movement which could cover all the media outlets. But no, they're not killed for that, but they cannot change a lot for now, unfortunately.
CRUISE: Though you focus on Ukraine, would you say that this is something that is unique to Ukraine, or is this something that's kind of a post-Soviet situation? That communist legacy mixed in with capitalism?
GRYNKO: Of course there are many similarities between Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. We have the same challenges, and we come through the same challenges. But at the same time, Ukraine has a very interesting geographical position. We are between Russia and the European Union. So the influence of Western values is strong enough in the country. European Union standards, American standards are present in the country. We have a lot of NGO projects. We have a lot of training, things like that. It also helps our journalists to perceive the reality in a different way. To understand that there are other ways to work, and to value people for whom you write, and they understand it in a different way. Another point is since the country is bigger now - we have a west and eastern part of Ukraine - Western is more Ukrainian-speaking. They support European Union integration. The eastern part is Russian-speaking. They are more pro-Russian. So it also creates pluralism inside the country. So there was a dialogue, a discussion, and it's not like in Russia where usually everything goes in one line. So here you always have this political discussion, and through those political discussions you also get discussions on media freedom, on issues of media. So it doesn't mean everyone thinks the same way. So since we have a dialogue, discussions, and plural points of view and opinions, it also helps in establishing democracy, I think.
GRILLOT: I was going to ask you, along these lines, about the division in Ukraine between Western Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine, and how one was more Eastern, and one was more Western. It sounds to me like there's a significant influence that the European Union and the United States, trans-Atlantic organizations, have in Ukraine. But do those only go so far? Is there really still this divide that you're mentioning? A hard and fast divide between East and West, to the extent that, depending on where you are in the country, depending on who you're talking about, or what the issue is, you could have a perfectly professional media response in one setting, but a very corrupt response in another setting.
GRYNKO: It's more about political values, and values of language, for example. When you look at the media, or media articles, how they are covering topics in Western and Eastern Ukraine, you will find out that of course they have their political color. Western Ukraine supported [Yulia] Tymoshenko, for example, and they are not supporting [President Viktor] Yanukovych right now. They're more of an opposition right now, so at the same time, Eastern Ukraine are more pro-Eastern. They are supporting the current president. They're more likely to support Russian integration. So I would say it is visible when they are covering the topics like political life. Topics like language - Russian or Ukrainian. So this division is more visible, and you can feel it clearly. But when it comes to the media transparency, or media freedom, or topics like that, or discussions like that, I would say that this is almost the same discourse around Ukraine. It doesn't matter if you're in the Eastern or Western part of the country.
CRUISE: Would you say that there's still this active civil society that we experienced in 2004 during the Orange Revolution? I've been thinking are there people in the streets, you mentioned, there's a dialogue, and what about the role of the internet in countering some of this media control?
GRYNKO: I would say we have some really nice civil society initiatives, which work, and which are successful. The problem is that they're not strong enough to cover all of Ukraine, to make a really important change in the country. But at the same time, even smaller examples can work. I will give an example of just what we have at our university. I'm teaching journalists, and I'm teaching ethics, and we're trying to talk to our journalists that even though we are discussing some normative topics during our classes, and afterwards to go into the field, and you can face real bad problems and hardships. Just because our society operates like that at the moment, we encourage them to open small internet projects, like blogs or social networking, to start something new. Not to work in these oligarch-owned media outlets, not to work in the state-controlled regional outlets, but to start something new, small and individual on the internet. Because the internet provides a free platform for that, and we also teach them how to work with these instruments. There are some examples that really manage to do that well, and I think this is the way to move forward, and this could bring us to a better democracy in Ukraine.
GRILLOT: Are you seeing a real growth in the number of blogs, and bloggers in the country? Is that really a source that a good number of people are getting their news these days, from bloggers? As opposed to mainstream media, whether it's state-owned or privately-owned? Like in this part of the world, where a lot of people get their news from non-traditional sources. They read peoples' blogs.
GRYNKO: Yeah, I do that. I'm reading news on Facebook, and just having a news feed, and having friends and communities you're connected to, specific media networks, community pages. But that doesn't mean a majority of Ukrainians do the same. People still watch TV, and the main national TV channels are owned by those oligarchs. So they still get the messages, which someone wants to impose on them. Of course my friends, my colleagues at the university, my students, they prefer internet. Ukrayinska Pravda, this website I told you about, this is one of the most honest, I would say. But that doesn't mean a majority of Ukrainians do the same. Of course internet is growing. It's getting more popular, especially among the young audience. But it's not the main media source for people right now.
GRILLOT: It's definitely a generational thing. I would imagine that you'll see that grow. But do you see any censorship of these types of websites? Are the state-owned media, or anybody trying to block these sites at all?
GRYNKO: The blogs are OK. If you have a blog, you can post whatever you want. The question is if you have enough readership. Another point is that we don't have enough stars, like journalists who are respected, because of the hard profession, and the hard life of journalists. A lot of really promising people left the profession. But to be a blogger, you also need to be bright, famous. You need to have your audience. There are some start-ups, but they are not popular enough for now. So I guess it must take time to make them more popular. They also don't get money for that, so it's also the question of money. Do they just do goodwill? Doing it because they understand that some people need transparent and true information on the internet. But it's not like a general trend, unfortunately.
CRUISE: It sounds like that might be one way to deal with this media situation, to encourage more people to access the internet, to blog. What other options are there to counter the mainstream media, and the control from the government, and other entities?
GRYNKO: Yeah, that's a hard question, how to deal with that. We've had so many training programs for journalists in recent years. So when we try to teach them how to act ethically, a Western and normative approach to journalism. What does it mean to be honest, transparent, and objective? I wouldn't say it wasn't helpful, but we still need some really fundamental changes in the political situation in the country. A lot depends on the president, on the government. Of course civil society can initiate a lot of things, but since people are afraid sometimes, or they don't get enough support among each other. I can give you a nice example. Ukraine hosted an international global newspaper forum this year, in September 2012. We had so many European journalists there. When the president started to talk from the scene, he was saying hello to people, and saying how the Ukrainian media situation is. And he was lying. He was saying that we have such good media, and democracy is developing. Of course presidents usually say this. But during that time we had a lot of journalists, Ukrainian journalists, who stood with signs saying this is not true. In English and Ukrainian they were writing that 50 percent of coverage is unbalanced because we're censored. There were so many people around standing with that, and at first police tried to attack them, but then they understood that it's impossible, because a lot of people were standing in different sides. So I guess a lot of media in the European Union took this as a news story. Not what the president said, but all the protest, and I think this is a positive thing, too. Ukrainian journalists were brave enough to see, and just because police understood there are not only one or two people doing this, behaving like that. There are many people protesting, so it's really hard to stop that. So I think this is what can help Ukraine, and if we all understand that by standing and protesting, you can always get support from our peers who are experiencing the same challenges. We can change, and we can do something with the country.
GRILLOT: Sounds very interesting, Dr. Grynko, thank you so much for joining us today on World Views to talk about what's going on in Ukraine. Thank you.
GRYNKO: Thank you.
Copyright © 2013 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.
KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.