Ukrainian media, unfortunately, consider elections as an opportunity to make money – Internews Ukraine’s representative

54% of Ukrainian residents do not trust the media, while 18% still trust them. Our conversation with the representative of Internews Ukraine Vitalii Moroz about media, censorship and the role of the media in the pre-election period in Ukraine was hosted by Hromadske Radio in Kyiv on December 5 2018. Hosts – Iryna Slavinska and Larysa Denysenko.

Vitalii Moroz moderating the session at Days of Ukrainian Internet 2018 – photo by Eugeniy Maloletka

– On the 4th of December we had a conversation at the Internews about elections and the media, in particular we were talking about trust and distrust to the Ukrainian media. Vitalii, do you trust Ukrainian media nowadays?

– In general, a lot of Ukrainian citizens have a skeptical attitude towards the media. I think this is partly due to the fact that elections are approaching. Ukrainians are those voters who seem not to trust, but after all they go and vote all the same. The research, presented by Iryna Bekeshkina from the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, shows that this year 54% of Ukrainian residents do not trust the media, while 18% still trust them. But all the figures have to be studied in their dynamic development. Last year there were for 10% more people who trusted the media and 4% less people who didn’t. The dynamics are not very optimistic.

Last year there were for 10% more people who trusted the media and 4% less people who didn’t. The dynamics are not very optimistic.

– What’s this all about? Do people explain this distrust by the fact that they start to understand who owns the media and try to analyze the content?

– I believe that a lot of Ukrainians realize that major national media are corporate, they belong to oligarchs, that is, the key five TV channels are oligarchic. I think that Ukrainians understand quite well that there is great news about some human stories, there are success stories, very impressive reports from the front line. Oligarchic channels produce it as well, but after all this news there will always be stories that protect the interests of oligarchs. Ukraina TV channel will support Akhmetov and his monopoly, Pinchuk’s TV channels will clean up Kuchma’s reputation.

On the other hand, there are more and more sources of information. It seems to me that we live in the time when an ordinary user, an ordinary viewer have so many sources of information that this democratic choice becomes rather confusing.

We live in the time when an ordinary user, an ordinary viewer have so many sources of information that this democratic choice becomes rather confusing

Ukrainians still use the media, the media perform huge democratic function, because there is a lot of news one cannot make money on, but they should be reported.

There is a certain skeptic feeling about it. It is partly due to the fact that Ukraine has been going through a very difficult period, we live in a rather stressful society. This stress is a common narrative, because even those people who try to abstract from politics in the time when Crimea has been annexed, the war has been continuing, people have been dying in this war, receive these negative vibes effecting their mood. But I would prefer more optimistic point of view, because Ukrainian society remains more democratic, the function of media remains extremely important, because it is a diversified market, we have a variety of media sources. The issue of improving the quality of news and reports is a cornerstone, but there are many people who manipulate it.

The issue of improving the quality of news and reports is a cornerstone, but there are many people who manipulate it

The major issue of Ukrainian media is that it is difficult for them to make money. Now we are on air of Hromadske Radio, which has been conducting fund-raising campaign, it asks its listeners to help this radio to go on broadcasting. This issue of economic viability concerns everybody. We may consider the possibility of the media to make money on advertising,  but very few media are able to build a strategy based on this factor.

If the new websites appear, they have to make money. How do they do it? There are some of those enthusiastic people, who put faith in their journalistic vocation, but there are also those who develop websites for politicians, business groups, create a resource to make dirty money on it (for example, by blackmailing with materials, when one has to pay to avoid its publishing). There have been some researches explaining the way such websites are created, how they are passed around on the Internet, but it is very difficult to trace who has registered some particular website.

 

— Is there any censorship on the part of the authorities?

– The term ‘censorship’ is primarily used within political meaning. When it comes to the Internet, the terms ‘blocking’ and ‘filtering’ are more relevant here. I would say censorship is a pretty big word. In some contexts, it reminds me of an attempt to attract attention. Let’s take a look at the ratings and we will see that Ukraine has been for several years a semi-free country in respect of the media. International organizations note that  we have partially oligarchic media, and the incidents with bloggers. Human rights organizations put issues in the Crimea and Donbass together with the general Ukrainian issues.

In Ukraine there is no such censorship as some people assume. We have certain dangerous tendencies and a very aggressive civil society. This government understands that present day journalists have more powers than the previous government could have imagined.

In Ukraine there is no such censorship as some people assume. We have certain dangerous tendencies and a very aggressive civil society

Yesterday in Kyiv we had an event where Ukraine was put on a pair with China in respect of the issue of Internet freedom. Such a headline is nothing but direct manipulation. We need to be responsible for what we dump into public space. If the experts do it, they get massively quoted by the media. It does not mean that everything is perfect, but I think it is an exaggeration to paint it so black.

It seems to me that the situation is most clearly seen by people who have left the country or by Western researchers. They often say that Ukrainians are not able to move forward, because they are so negative about what is happening, this energy provokes more negative things to happen. I try to consider both negative and positive things, and I can see that there are many things in Ukraine we can be proud of. For example, counteracting propaganda. Western analysts come here and learn by our example how we try to respond it.

I try to consider both negative and positive things, and I can see that there are many things in Ukraine we can be proud of, for example, counteracting propaganda

— What should we be ready for in 2019?

– One of the problems of Ukrainian media is that they consider the election period as the time to make money. It is nice in case of political advertising, but the practice of many regional media shows that they are ready to take materials that are not labeled, which are presented as an editorial material. It’s kind of non-obvious paid-for advertising. I have been working with a lot of editors in our regions, there are editors adhering to principles, who make a note that this is a political advertising. If we assess media’s credibility on the last day of the elections, perhaps the figures will be lower, because readers, listeners and TV viewers will be dumped with allegedly editorial messages, but these are the messages of politicians, messages often failing to meet any standards, it’s just manipulation.

The practice of many regional media shows that they are ready to take materials that are not labeled, which are presented as an editorial material

Another challenge for the media is how to provide equal opportunities to all candidates. In Ukraine, there are small political parties built on the basis of active citizens who do not have their own media resources.

 

– Are there any standards in our context for the choice of information?

– It seems to me that more and more users are able to see the invasion of fakes and false information they easily buy, they start to have a little understanding that in this case conscious and unconscious manipulation takes place. I know users who post false information simply because it emotionally affects them. It is much worse when you become someone who is being manipulated consciously. There is a term ‘democratization of disinformation’, technologies get cheaper. It has become very cheap to buy ads, target messages, create fake profiles.

It is much worse when you become someone who is being manipulated consciously. There is a term ‘democratization of disinformation’, technologies get cheaper

Present technology will easily help you to produce fake videos. That’s the future, it will be more difficult to distinguish true things from fake. And what are we going to do in this situation? You need to take into account your friends experience, who did not allow others to manipulate them, to check the sources of information, take a second look at front pagers and give it all a deep thought.

Original publication in Ukrainian was published by Hromadske Radio.

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