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Internews Partners Host Discussion about Media’s Role during Local Elections 

October 27 – USAID Media Program in Ukraine’s (Internews) partner Suspilnist Foundation, in tandem with Internews Ukraine and the Independent Media Council, organized the online discussion “Media’s Role during Local Elections” for more than 60 journalists and experts. 

Moderators:

Dmytro Tuzov (journalist, Radio NV), and

Taras Petriv (president of Suspilnist Foundation, associate professor at the School of Journalism, National Taras Shevchenko University).

Speakers:

Oksana Romaniuk (Institute of Mass Information, IMI),

Natalia Ligachova (Detector Media, DM),

Olexandr Martynenko (Interfax Ukraine),

Olexiy Matsuka (Donetsk Institute of Information, DII),

Ilona Dovhan’ (Radio NV),

Volodymyr Noskov (journalist, Kharkiv),

Tetiana Yakubovych (Donbas Realities of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty),

Kostiantyn Kvurt (Internews Ukraine, IUA), and

Natalia Sokolenko (Ukrainian Radio, UA:PBC).

Among the major takeaways:

Oksana Romaniuk said IMI monitoring experts reported about four times more black PR during the local elections in comparison with last year’s Parliamentary elections. The For Future and Servant of the People political parties were the leaders in jeansa (paid stories) in the regions. Romaniuk mentioned that local candidates actively used anonymous channels of sharing information – social networks – as tools of influence on public opinion. Telegram channels were more popular in the regions, since they had already passed their peak of popularity at the national level.

Natalia Ligachova observed that it is obvious that television dropped to second position, as social networks now play the leading role regarding influence on public opinion. Even though the biggest national TV channels worked on behalf of the ruling Servant of the People political party during the pre-election campaign, this party lost to the incumbent mayors in regional cities who are not supporters of Servant of the People.

Ligachova maintained that there is a danger that decentralization of media may turn into feudalization, when local businesses influence local opinions through local media. Having a strong public broadcaster in the regions is the remedy for this problem, she said. It is unacceptable that the President’s press secretary Yulia Mendel admitted that the low ratings of UA:PBC was the reason why the public broadcaster’s TV channels were not invited to Zelenskyy’s interview with four commercial TV channels in late October (Inter, 1+1, ICTV, and Ukraina). Ligachova proposed UA:PBC regional branches be funded from local budgets in the future.

Ligachova said strengthening the role of the national regulator (National Council for TV and Radio Broadcasting) is among the priorities when countering Russia’s propaganda and Russia’s influence on public opinion in a time of war. She also mentioned that the decline of traditional media is a cue for media to transition to new modern formats while maintaining quality content and professional standards.

Olexiy Matsuka shared his observations that bloggers and influencers in social media had the most impact on public opinion during the local elections. The key triggers for these content providers are money and the number of likes, rather than professional standards and verified information. He mentioned that Facebook does a bad job of regulating such activities.

Matsuka said Donbas is isolated from Ukraine’s information flow, as Ukrainian TV signals are not available in Russia-occupied Donetsk and it is not possible for Ukrainian journalists to work in the non-government-controlled areas. Matsuka explained that online journalists in Donbas do their best to work for their audiences, but their influence is small compared to Russia’s expansive propaganda in the East.

Tetiana Yakubovych confirmed Matsuka’s message that Donbas does not have access to Ukrainian TV, and Russian media reached most voters there, even in Ukraine-controlled areas. She named the Opposition Bloc (former Party of Regions) as the most visible during the elections in Donbas through Viktor Medvedchuk’s 112 Ukraine TV channel and Rinat Akhmetov’s Ukraina TV channel.

Volodymyr Noskov talked about the importance of debates during campaigns and the absence of debates in Kharkiv region, except the ones aired on UA:PBC’s TV channel (UA:Pershy). He mentioned that the candidates were not ready to talk to each other in the debates, and that the information environment in Kharkiv was “cleaned up” by pro-Russian authorities.

Natalia Sokolenko supported the idea of debates and called for the mandatory participation of all mayoral candidates in pre-election debates. Sokolenko said it is a top priority to develop the National Council as the national media regulator. She agreed with Ligachova that state regulation of content is unavoidable during an information war, and that independent media organizations are ready to cooperate with the National Council in this regard.

Ilona Dovhan’ characterized TV news programs on major national and regional channels during the elections as stages for candidates’ speeches but not real news. Less content and more hype, according to Dovhan’, turns the media into entertainment instead of serving as real media for citizens.

Kostiantyn Kvurt concluded that the high level of jeansa [unmarked advertising] in the media during elections is directly connected to the economic problems of local media. Jeansa for them is a source for survival, just as bribes are for poor voters, especially in the regions. Kvurt identified the influence of Russia, which portrays Ukraine as a state which has not managed to succeed and could only survive under Russia’s auspices, as the key issue of Ukrainian media. He maintained that the inactivity of the national regulator creates the conditions for anti-Ukraine narratives that are distributed in an uninterrupted manner.

Moderator Dmytro Tuzov provided several examples of soft manipulations in media, e.g. emotional discussion programs on 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK and Ukraina channel about the need to renew economic ties with Russia, to support Ukrainians working in Russia, and to come back to strong connections between families/relatives in Ukraine and Russia.

More on the website of Suspilnist Foundation in Ukrainian.