Ukrainian media: between war and peace
23 Sep. 2015

While the conflict in Ukraine’s east and the impact on the media and information sphere is covered in relative detail by the western media, the impressive achievements and challenges in the media sector are largely overlooked. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

By Antonina Cherevko, Programme Manager, Ukraine

For nearly a year and a half, Ukrainians have been living in a dualistic reality where war and peace coexist and influence one another heavily. Since the conflict began with the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, the two realities have brought along their own specific demands on government and society. The country’s media is no exception.

Media and war

The striking intensity of Russia’s information war against Ukraine is one of the most widely discussed phenomena of the conflict. With the help of initiatives like the fact-checking website Stopfake.org, Ukrainians are developing a certain level of immunity against misinformation coming from the outside, but more subtle, ‘hidden’ propaganda from Ukraine-based media outlets represents a more serious threat.

Aimed at suppressing Ukrainian resistance and well-organised volunteer groups through a non-stop flow of messages like “Ukraine is weak. It won’t be able to win the war whatever it does” or “There is no point in continuing the resistance”, this softer propaganda comes from Ukraine-based media connected to the influential circles of ex-President Yanukovych who now resides in Russia. Efforts to counter this information warfare are taking place with organisations like Telekritika and their partners. For a comprehensive analysis of the situation, see for example the “Counteraction to Russian Information Aggression: Joint Action to Protect Democracy”

Ukrainian media experts often suggest that the media should play a more active role helping to re-build the lives of the now over 1.3 million internally displaced persons as well as cover the conflict with high quality reporting. Supporting this, IMS has joined efforts with the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine to develop a conflict sensitive journalism handbook for Ukrainian journalists, including case studies from the most experienced Ukrainian war reporters on how to avoid professional negligence and negative stereotypes.

Media and peace

While the conflict in Ukraine’s east and the impact of Russia’s information warfare on the media receives great attention, the achievements and challenges Ukraine’s media sector are largely overlooked, especially when it comes to those which happen gradually over time such as law reform. This includes the adoption of long-awaited media ownership transparency legislation and progress in pursuing a draft law on the privatisation of the state print press. Ukrainian media organisations are very keen on getting it adopted in the nearest future.

After about 17 years of hard work and advocacy from media organisations and civil society, 2015 saw the establishment of public service broadcasting in Ukraine. Another accomplishment, which is impressive by any measure. The Ukrainian state broadcaster will now be transformed into an independent public broadcasting institution with content production and budget safeguarded from illegitimate state interference.

The transformation is costly, time-consuming and often met with resistance from the workers of the former state broadcaster. Adoption in early August 2015 of the Government’s decree on transformation of the state broadcaster into a public service entity has been the next important step in the reform process which now comprises everything from the re-organisation of staff and inventory to the formal legal transformation. That is set to be complete by mid-2016, said Igor Rozkladay of the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute.

Once that is set up, the new broadcaster will be struggling with the high costs of getting the appropriate professional equipment and ensuring competitive salaries for media workers.

“The transformation process is painful and expensive but we all are dedicated to the idea that Ukraine deserves quality media independent from both government and oligarch groups.”

Join IMS’ debate Closing space for media and human rights in Copenhagen on 24 September for an in-depth discussion of the Ukrainian media environment, and state repression of civil society, human rights and media as a global trend.