This report, authored by RSF-Germany and already published in German, is titled “Facing reality after the Euromaidan.” It describes the fragile situation of a country in which journalists are generally able to work freely and engage in investigative reporting, but yet face immense problems. The main TV networks in the country are concentrated in the hands of a few oligarchs, who misuse them for their own political gains and business interests. The financial crisis makes it difficult for independent media outlets to develop functional business models. There are also large gaps in the training of journalists.
“The situation in Ukraine offers many prospects, but the bases of a pluralistic media landscape require our assistance”, said RSF-Germany board member Gemma Pörzgen. “After the initial optimism during the Euromaidan movement, many journalists have become disillusioned. They are faced with the triple challenge of the war in the Eastern part of the country, the economic crisis and the digitalization of mass media.”
With financial support of the Robert-Bosh Foundation,Pörzgen conducted research in Ukraine in January and February and interviewed more than 30 journalists and media experts. The study is limited to the Ukrainian government-held part of the country.
Private television networks in the hands of oligarchs
Despite all of its restrictions, Ukraine - which is ranked 107th out of 180 in RSF's latest World Press Freedom Index - has a vibrant and diverse media landscape. In general, journalists are allowed to engage in investigative journalism, report critically, and develop media projects without government influence.
Nonetheless, the influential private television networks are still controlled by oligarchs. The dependence on the funding of businessmen like Dmytro Firtash, Ihor Kolomoysky, Viktor Pinchuk or Rinat Akhmetov is greater, as the Ukrainian advertising market is in further decline. The billionaires do not need to earn money through their media networks: they run them only as a kind of PR department to protect their other businesses, and finance their media outlets as a sideline. Viewers are increasingly witnessing full-blown “information wars” in which competing oligarchs fight out their private feuds via their television channels
RSF has been deepening its research on the ownership structure of the Ukrainian media since June, with its partner-organization in Kiev, the Institute of Mass Information, in the framework of the Media Ownership Monitor project. The results of this study will be published in September.
The challenge of war and propaganda
The war in the East of the country and the massive amount of Russian propaganda against Ukraine have also led to controversial countermeasures in Kiev, which partially restrict media freedom. In August 2014, the Ukrainian government blocked the signal of 15 Russian television providers. The broadcasting of numerous Russian TV-shows and movies was banned the following year. Many foreign journalists and bloggers are banned from travelling in Ukraine. Some media professionals are tempted by a form of "patriotic journalism".
RSF asks the Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko to:
- Put into practice the law on greater transparency of media ownership.
- Break up President Poroshenko’s control over private "Channel 5" news network.
- Clearly distance themselves from the controversial Ukrainian website Myrotvorets and other attempts to discredit and intimidate journalists for their reporting from Eastern Ukraine.
- More strongly support the conversion of the Ukrainian state broadcaster into a public-service broadcaster.
- Revoke the ban on Russian books and films and remove all journalists from travel ban lists.
RSF recommends that Ukrainian journalists critically examine the obvious relationship between commercial and editorial content, and have an open debate about patriotism and journalism.
RSF calls on the OSCE presidency to oblige the conflicting parties in Eastern Ukraine to grant journalists free access to the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk and People’s Republic of Donetsk.
Any closer association between Ukraine and the EU should be made contingent on the Ukrainian government refraining from obstructing the development of a pluralistic media landscape and guaranteeing media freedom.
RSF appeals to foreign governments, charities and donor organizations to more actively and lastingly support reform efforts of their Ukrainian colleagues.