British journalist Tim Sebastian has made Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko jitter. During an interview for Deutsche Welle, the journalist has asked him many challenging questions. The video has got over a million views online, but none of the top Ukrainian channels mentioned this interview in the news.
The interview also did not appear on the official website and Facebook page of the President. Among internet media, only "Novoye Vremya"and a dozen of smaller resources have written about the resonant interview. MYMEDIA tried to figure out why it happened.
After all, Tim Sebastian is a respected journalist who was conducting the interviews with the high-ranked politicians for a long time. Deutsche Welle is an influential European media; and during the actual interview, the journalist asked important questions for Ukraine which has long been in the air, but not often voiced by Ukrainian media-professionals.
Tim pressed the President trying to get an answer on how Ukraine was going to deal with Crimea.
"You promised to be different from the rest of the oligarchs who own the TV channels... What other European Presidents still own a TV-channel?" he continued. "The reality is that Russians have established a framework for you. You will not have full EU-membership and full NATO-membership because the Europeans will never take the risk to do it..."
The whole conversation was conducted in the format of "hard talk." Sebastian did not let Poroshenko avoid giving the answers, interrupted him when needed and asked harsh questions. There were no compliments or "flirting" with the President. The latter was frankly annoyed, and that was evident from his facial expressions.
On Youtube, the original English version of the interview got more than 80,000 views which is many times more than the other videos of the program Conflict Zone [the interview with Poroshenko was filmed for this program]; the interviews on this channel usually get around 1.5-10 thousand views. A week later, Deutsche Welle had to publish an interview with Russian dubbing; it has already received more than a million views, and then, there was a Ukrainian version with more than 40 thousand views.
Among Ukrainian channels, the excerpt from the interview was showed only on the new channel of Savik Shuster called 3S TV. It is available only on the Internet and some of the pre-paid packages of cable television (by the way, the video of the program which mentioned the interview with Poroshenko in its title also got many hits on YouTube: more than 200 thousand).
The top Ukrainian channels did not speak about the interview with Poroshenko. This is confirmed by Iryna Andreytsiv, an expert in media monitoring who writes weekly analyses of television newscasts for the NGO "Telekrytyka." She also said that Ukrainian journalists do not ask the President the questions voiced by Sebastian very often.
The journalists on TV-channels were reluctant to answer why they ignored the interview which made so much noise on the Internet.
The anchor of evening news on "UA: First" Olena Bondaruk explained that the "translation of the interview made by another media channel is not interesting for us."The journalists on Channel 5 could not say whether they mentioned the interview because of the large number of news programs; they added that it was hard to remember everything they were airing.
"I think, some of the reasons are self-censorship and ownership structure of the media since most channels are still controlled by the oligarchs, including Poroshenko himself," states Brian Bonner, editor of the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post.
Executive director of the NGO "Telekrytyka" Diana Dutsyk agrees with him. "Most of the TV-channels show criticism of the government whenever the owners benefit from it. A good example is "1+1". As long as its owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi was the governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, the channel was quite loyal to the central government. As soon as he was fired, it started criticizing the government, and after the arrest of Korban, the criticism has gotten even stronge."
This is one of the reasons why the formats of "hard talk" which have been popular in Europe for a long time are not thriving in Ukraine yet.
It is not necessary that other channels would have shown the parts of the interview either out of financial reasons or because of exclusivity, but they would definitely have mentioned the important statements of the President," explains Heiko von Debschits, international media analyst with the German public broadcaster ZDF.
Diana Dutsyk says that it is still significant that Poroshenko did have the interview with Tim Sebastian, one of the founders and masters of the "hard talk" format.
"The fact that Poroshenko has agreed to take part in Conflict Zone also says a lot about him. This format does not scare him."
"The real test for an honest and respected leader is willingness to engage in an intellectual debate with a journalist who asks critical questions. Ukrainian leaders do not pass this test, and many behave as if they have something to hide. This is not a single phenomenon," says Brian Bonner.
That is the reason, he adds, that politicians prefer to give the interviews to foreign journalists, who are not very well-known in Ukraine, or find loyal local journalists. The latter are often kindly requested to send a list of questions. This turns the interview into an exchange of pre-written statements.
Poroshenko gave one of such interviews a few days after the meeting with Tim Sebastian to three Ukrainian reporters: Dmytro Anopchenko of "Inter", Khrystyna Stets of channel "24", and Tetyana Vysotska of STB.
The tone of the interview (which, by the way, was announced both on the website and social media channels of the President) is very different from the "forbidden one" because the journalists were extremely polite. For example, Dmytro Anopchenko asked for a permission to "intentionally sharpen the question" when talking about the quality of American military radars that were ordered by Poroshenko, and whose quality was criticized in the foreign press.
And Khrystyna asked for forgiveness from everybody who thought that her question about the delay in the investigation of murders on Maydan was "not fitting the format of the conversation between the journalist and the President or too emotional." She finished her statement with a compliment: "I very much hope that you, as a President of my country, know the answers if not to all, but to most of the questions. After all, the President of my country is smarter than me, more experienced, and more knowledgeable. What would you say if you were in my place?".