Ukraine: RSF calls on government to put an end to telemarathon

Created the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 to counter the wave of Russian disinformation that swept through the country at the start of the war, the "United News Telemarathon" is now being heavily criticised in Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for this grouping of six major channels co-producing a 24-hour news programme to be abolished and for a return to competition in order to strengthen media pluralism.

Nearly two years after its creation, the so-called “National Information Marathon” or “United News Telemarathon” has viewer ratings that have peaked at around 10%, enjoys low levels of trust and is criticised by civil society, according to a recent survey by the Foundation for Democratic Initiatives and the Razumkov Centre think tank. Just over 20% of those polled thought it was still relevant.

Co-produced by Ukraine’s leading TV channels since 24 February 2022, what is also called the “Edyny Novyny” (United News) programme aimed to provide reliable news reporting in the face of Kremlin propaganda at a time of much confusion when Russia launched its large-scale invasion. But its format is the subject of much debate. Organisations specialising in the media such as the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) – RSF’s local partner – and Detektor Media say it is too lenient on the government, accuse its journalists of censoring themselves and, as RSF did in 2023, deplore the absence of opposition TV channels.

“The ‘United News Telemarathon’ was useful and effective in combating the unprecedented wave of Russian disinformation that swept the country in February 2022, but it has become obsolete and, above all, is now undermining media pluralism. In the past two years, Ukrainian TV channels have managed to reorganise and improve their staffing, and are now able to provide more verified and sourced information. Today, they are all able to combat Russian propaganda at the Ukrainian level, while maintaining their pluralism and editorial independence. We therefore call on the Ukrainian government to end the ‘United News Telemarathon.’ Increasing financial support for public and independent media is now the priority.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

Launched by the TV channels themselves before being formalised by a government decree, the “United News Telemarathon” is produced by four privately-owned channels, Inter, 1+1, We Ukraine and ICTV, and two public channels, Suspilne and Rada, with each given its own production niche.

The same round-the-clock news programme is transmitted on all of these channels, making jamming by the Russian armed forces more difficult. Sometimes broadcasting from underground car parks transformed into bomb shelters, journalists comment on the situation at the front, and on political, diplomatic and economic news. The “United News Telemarathon” also has its Russian-language equivalent, “Freedom,” which was launched by Inter, 1+1, Ukraine (now We Ukraine), and the StarlightMedia group that owns ICTV.

The “United News Telemarathon” has its defenders at the highest level, including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but presidential spokesperson Serhiy Nikiforov acknowledged last December that it needs reforming. The participating TV channels envisage a new format and are supposed to submit proposals. Meanwhile, it continues to have a budget of more than 1.5 billion hryvnias (more than 37 million euros) while the public broadcaster Suspilne has only 44 million euros to fund several national and local TV channels, radio stations and news sites, and employ more than 4,000 people.

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