Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins Ukrainian civil society in condemning plans to halve state funding for public broadcasting in the 2018 budget that the prime minister will submit to parliament tomorrow. This is not only illegal but also jeopardizes one of Ukraine’s great achievements of the past few years – independent and professional public broadcasting.
The government can claim to be respecting deficit targets set by the IMF but it is about to deal a massive blow to what is only a very recent accomplishment.
The National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC) was originally allocated more than 1.5 billion hryvnias (47.5 million euros) for 2018 but the government now plans to cut this to 776 million hryvnias (25 million euros).
Already this year, the UA:PBC is only getting three quarters of the funding it was supposed to have received. These cuts contravene Ukrainian legislation stipulating that the UA:PBC’s funding should be the equivalent of 0.2% of the previous year’s state budget.
“Independent public broadcasting has only just been established and already it is being undermined by budget cuts,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Its existence is nonetheless essential to the rule of law and the democratic debate, especially in the run-up to next year’s elections. We call on the government to fulfil its obligations and to fund public broadcasting in accordance with Ukrainian law.”
Formally registered in January, the UA:PBC is the outcome of a long-awaited overhaul of the former state radio and TV broadcaster. After overcoming legal obstacles, it now has an independent supervisory board and is broadcasting seven investigative current affairs programmes. The state continues to be the public broadcaster’s main source of funding.
Public broadcasting reform has been one of the key advances in Ukraine since the 2014 revolution, along with the law on media ownership transparency. This progress is all the more important in a media landscape still dominated by all-powerful oligarchs who use their TV channels to promote their business and political interests.
Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.