“A public broadcaster is one of the pillars of democratic society; it must counteract political power abuse, not the reverse. At the moment, we are actually close to the establishment of public broadcasting as never before. We cannot waste time; it’s high time to act,” David Stulik, the press attaché of the EU Delegation to Ukraine.
The EU calls the Ukrainian deputies to support a new bill on public broadcasting. On March 16, the EU Delegation issued a statement with a clear message for the Ukrainian power: public broadcasting is an international commitment of Ukraine to the EU and the Council of Europe, and there is no time to put it off. The EU Delegation has written it in the statement:
The EU Delegation also reminds: “Public broadcasters play a significant role in strengthening democracy and social unity, especially under crisis.”
However, the problem of public broadcasting has been delayed for years in Ukraine: the Western partners have been hearing promises about public broadcasters since 1996. Thus, current power is not the first to delay final resolution and impede the process.
“It [the law on public broadcasting] has been on the go for many years,” David Stulik, the press attaché of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, notes. “The EU has spent a good deal of financial and expert resources in order to help Ukraine resolve the law and transform state media into public ones. This is a European practice, a European standard to have public media, while Ukraine itself has declared it wants to be a European country.”
Starting public broadcasting: de jure
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine must examine the bill on March 19. However, it is still not known whether the bill will have enough votes. There is no unanimity among the deputies, and Petro Poroshenko Bloc, on which the results of voting significantly depend, hasn’t announced its position openly yet.
The amendments to the law on public broadcasting had overall support from Ukrainian and European sides: they were approved by Ukrainian media experts and public organizations, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy, and the Council of Europe.
Mr. Stulik stresses that the ball is just in politicians’ court now: “The idea of public broadcaster establishment has been discussed for many years. All pros and cons have been repeatedly voiced during this time. The people who are behind public broadcasting establishment have a clear idea of what it should be like. The national consensus was found long ago.”
What is more, Mr. Stulik is convinced that there’s a sporting chance for the law on public broadcasting in Ukraine to be resolved rather quickly:
The bill on public broadcasting is opposed by regional state television and radio stations. They refuse to enter into the National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine and prefer to operate autonomously as regional public broadcasters financed by local power. Some of the deputies support them.
Mykola Tomenko’s [non-staff counsellor of the President of Ukraine] proposition not to include regional channels into the general structure of public broadcasting was not approved by Mr. Stulik: “It casts doubt on the very logic of the reform. It is intolerable for the state channels to continue working in the regions as long as they are information tools or personal media for local political elites. A public broadcaster is one of the pillars of democratic society; it must counteract political power abuse, not the reverse.”
A similar opinion is shared by Byorn Eriksen, a Danish media expert and a former director of the European Broadcasting. He has been working at reforming the post-Soviet media environment for more than 10 years. Today, by the initiative of MYMEDIA, a Danish program for independent media development in Ukraine, the states of the Eastern Partnership, and Turkey, Eriksen will consult the leaders of the First National on the required inner reforms. In his view, public broadcasting will help to overcome bribery.
David Stulik explains that the resistance of the regional state television and radio stations to the reform is caused by the fear of the leaders to lose their jobs and unwillingness to cut down the staff. However, the latter seems to be inevitable in the perspective: “In Europe, there is no channel with so many employees as the national TV channels in Ukraine have. The job for one is fulfilled by ten in Ukraine.”
Starting public broadcasting: de facto
Resolving the amendments to the law will facilitate legal transformation of state broadcasting into public one. In the meantime, there will be an actual transition of the former state television and radio channels to the standards and principles of the European public broadcasters.
Byorn Eriksen has arrived in Ukraine to help the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine to work out a format for a new multimedia newsroom, the principle of which will be fundamentally different from the old pattern: “Within a multimedia room, the same story is published at all the platforms at once, so in one hour it is delivered to more than a million of people: some people will see it on TV, others will hear it over radio sitting in their cars or over student radio, still others will learn about it from the newsfeed at Facebook or at the web-site.”
But the process is long and uneasy.
The first and foremost challenge for the newly created public broadcaster is to win the audience’s trust, Mr. Eriksen states: “Today, the First National has only 0.9% of the audience [while in Denmark the portion of the audience of public broadcasting makes up 67%]. It is actually out of the market. The best way to return into it is to produce a proper news product. If you have no competent news, you’d better forget about entertaining or children programs, as you will have no audience for them.”
David Stulik explains why there is no trust of the audience:
But recently, the situation has changed to a certain extent. In summer, the prime-minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk and the director general of the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine Zurab Alasania turned to Mr. Eriksen with a request to help them reform the First National into a full-value public broadcaster. “Of course, Denmark is not able to take responsibility for reforming the entire National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine. That’s why we were looking for specific problems we can help to solve. In this way, we generated the idea to create a multimedia newsroom on the basis of the First National,” Eriksen informs.
In fact, public broadcasters in Denmark are so good at making news that commercial channels have almost refused to produce it, as it is too difficult to compete. Hence, creating strong news content is the practice Ukraine can adopt from Denmark.
This MYMEDIA’s initiative has been supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and the implementation of the initiative has already begun.
At first, the Danish experts who have enough experience in multimedia editorials will study the infrastructure of the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine, its equipment facilities and human resources. Next, they will work out the structure and principles of the future newsroom together with the representatives of the First National. Finally, the editors of the Ukrainian public broadcaster will be trained in Denmark for two weeks.
Apart from that, Denmark and other European countries with the assistance of MYMEDIA are going to provide the Ukrainian public broadcaster with about 600 hours of high-quality media content free of charge: children programs, documentaries, reports, programs on art and history. These programs will be broadcasted by the First National in the Ukrainian language for two years.
Byorn Eriksen reports in what way he is going to attract the European states to help Ukraine: “We understand that there is a war in Ukraine; you have no funds to buy the programs on market conditions. That’s why I will go to Sweden and ask whether they will join the initiative of Denmark. I think, they will agree. Then I will go to Norway and say: “Sweden and Denmark have joined the initiative, why not you?” After that, I will come to the European Broadcasting and say: “Three little Scandinavian countries have given 300 hours of content, so maybe Germany, France, and Great Britain will join as well, won’t they?”
Thus, the European countries are ready to facilitate the introduction of public broadcasting in Ukraine as much as possible, but until there is no support of the Ukrainian power, their efforts will be in vain.
In the statement, the EU emphasizes that Ukraine cannot waste time. It is one of the last countries to enact the law on public broadcasting. In addition, it is noted: “In the context of the war with Russia, the establishment of a well-financed and competent public broadcaster is an absolutely indispensable condition of building a unified Ukraine.”