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National Media Talk 2021

September 16-17 – Internews, implementer of the USAID Media Program in Ukraine, and its partner, the National Association of Media (NAM), in coordination with Internews Ukraine, Detector Media, Suspilnist Foundation, Institute of Mass Information, Academy of Ukrainian Press, Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, and the public service broadcaster UA:PBC, hosted the 2021 National Media Talk at the Hilton Hotel in Kyiv. Participants included 200 journalists, media managers, public officials, bloggers, and media civil society representatives from all over Ukraine. Live-streamed panels received around 1,500 views on Facebook and YouTube. Key representatives of diplomatic missions in Ukraine, international companies, donor organizations, other prominent industry actors, and opinion leaders attended the event.

Keynote speaker Ella Libanova (Director of the Institute for Demography and Social Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Professor and Doctor of Economics) described some of the major changes in Ukrainian society over the last 30 years since independence: Ukrainians’ integration into the EU labor market (and out of the Russian labor market starting in 2012); self-reliance (instead of the hope for assistance from the state); and greater recognition of Ukraine as a nation (thanks in part to Russian aggression). Libanova also said that Ukrainians “still believe in fairytales” (where miracles are possible without hard effort); they believe they must migrate abroad to earn high incomes; they want both high social provisions and low taxes; and they maintain a high tolerance towards corruption. Libanova concluded that two actions are crucial for Ukraine: firstly, genuine assimilation of European values as part of integrating further with the EU; and secondly, more optimistic media stories that tell the story of what Ukraine is getting right.

USAID’s Acting Mission Director Susan Kutor expressed USAID’s commitment to the idea that a strong, healthy media environment is essential for government, civil society, and citizens to thrive, overcome malign influence, and meet the goal of European integration.

Internews’ Country Director Gillian McCormack asked media to play a role as a catalyst for improving the communities they serve, not just informing people about problems but bringing the right people to a discussion about how to resolve them.

Major take-aways from the discussions:

  • Society rejects substantive information in favor of emotional content. Emotions are more interesting than the truth (Yulia Mostova, editor-in-chief, Mirror Weekly).
  • It’s a problem that media present all information with the same degree of emotional intensity, and it gets hard for audiences to differentiate really important stories from less important ones (Roman Vintoniv, chief of Toronto TV).
  • We are back to the era of “temnyky” (instructions provided by the authorities to media on what topics to cover and how), because of the influence of political technology through Telegram channels. We are in danger of creating a society modelled by technology. However the number of journalists who are willing to work ethically and professionally has also grown (Natalia Ligachova, chief of Detector Media).    
  • To keep the balance between attracting higher numbers of readers (with lighter, more entertaining stories) and coverage of complex topics, Liga supports a department of “extremely high-quality journalism” that attracts smaller numbers but an extremely smart audience (Borys Davidenko, editor-in-chief,   
  • The UA:PBC supervisory board should hold a discussion about how to increase the public broadcaster’s ratings, because its function is to compete with commercial TV channels, among other things (Mykola Knyazhytskyi, MP, European Solidarity).
  • A winning strategy for UA:PBC is to produce programs focused on news, social, and political issues, and to outsource most of the entertainment shows, as many public broadcasters do in the EU (Svitlana Ostapa, head of the UA:PBC supervisory board). 
  • The number of advertisers shows the level of trust in certain media outlets (Olexandr Shvets, head of Kharkiv Press Club). 
  • Ukraine’s media community has not succeeded in creating effective self-regulation since 1991. Co-regulation, as included in the draft law “On Media,” is an attempt to teach media to trust each other (Igor Rozkladai, deputy director, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law). 
  • The law “On Media” is about creating common rules of the game for all types of media (TV, radio, online), because they all produce and distribute content. Advocacy efforts from the media community are needed to push parliament to approve the new media law (Mykyta Poturayev, chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Humanitarian and Information Policy).

    Photo: Facebook page of National Media Talk