How to minimize threats: the media community talks what is critically important to do before the election

Фото: Надія Федорова

Read in Ukrainian

On September 17, the IA Ukrinform hosted the round table "Self-regulation and journalistic standards during election campaigns" organized by NGO "Detector Media" and "Institute of Mass Information" (IMI) with the support of Internews.

The organizations presented a manual "Media and Elections. Self-regulation, safety, laws" by Ihor Kulias, Roman Holovenko and Irene Zemlyana under the general edition of Natalia Lygachova.

The authors of the publication sought to look at those purely practical and specific issues placed before a journalist's by the pre-election topics in terms of adhering to the standards of the profession. In particular, the manual describes for journalists how not to start knowingly or unknowingly campaigning for candidates and secure themselves during the coverage of the election.

Natalia Lygachova, Head of the "Detector Media" NGO, called the publication "a very good work of the colleagues who should help the mass media to qualitatively pass two election campaigns that will be held in Ukraine next year".

"My colleagues described the ideal of how the campaigns should be covered," she said. - We understand that the Ukrainian media are now extremely far away from this - so far that I feel bitter about it. The situation reminds me of 2004, when there was also a lot of challenges and a tangible presence of Russian influence. Then slogans on billboards divided Ukraine into three parts - that was the work of Russian technologists. And Putin came to give interviews to several TV channels. Today we expect an even greater Russian influence. Unfortunately, we still have the same oligarchic media model four years after the Revolution of Dignity. There is a big influence of media owners on editorial policy. And - what worries me the most - the impact of journalists themselves on the policies of large media even declined. We remember that the Maidan in 2004 was preceded by the so-called journalistic revolution. Now we want to find shoots that would allow the media to say their word during these elections. However, I do not see strong journalistic teams among the large media holdings that can withstand the pressure of the owners. I would better be wrong."

Ms. Lygachova invited all present colleagues - media workers and representatives, parliamentarians, the Journalistic Ethics Commission (JEC), the Independent Media Council (IMC), the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting to express their views on "what the main problem will the Ukrainian media have during the two election campaigns and whether there is a possibility of its solution and if so, how?"

Natalia Lygachova is convinced that the media must be united around several principles, which each of them will agree not to violate, including with the attraction of top management and owners to this process. She recalled the experience of the election campaign in 2012, when a Memorandum of campaign coverage standards was signed. Although media owners and non-governmental organizations apparently had different motives for signing this document at that time, it allowed the audience to get more pluralistic information. According to Natalia Lygachova, it is necessary to strengthen the role of the JEC and IMC in media processes. Head of the Detector Media NGO believes that the current legislation does not adequately protect the independence of media editors from the influence of their owners. In her opinion, a wide PR campaign of the Public Broadcaster, which adheres to journalistic standards and deprives those interested in winning the elections, would also be a good step.

Two dozen round table participants expressed their vision of the situation and proposals during the round table. "DM" noted their main theses.

Oksana Romaniuk, Executive Director of the Institute of Mass Information NGO:

We are currently seeing two key issues. First, this is the growth of physical aggression against journalists: since the beginning of the year, the number of attacks has increased by 20%. This is related with the unofficial start of the election campaign. People with political ambitions in regions are not interested in the honest work of journalists. What should we do with it? It is important to worry about security at the personal level, solidarity and publicity are needed.

Second, we have a cluster of problems with content, where there are many manipulations. We fix the highest level of the paid materials over the last five years in the online media. I have the impression that almost 98% of the media have taken the political package. The main reason is the economic situation on the Internet media market and the pressure of the owners. Over the past two years, the media, which have been the leaders by quality, have further improved it, while those that were the worse have worsened. So, the content polarization increases. "Obozrevatel" and "Strana.ua" trigger the most questions. The first one publishes a lot of yellow content and paid materials, and the second one publishes news where thoughts are presented as facts. Five years ago, fakes in the Ukrainian media space were a rarity, immediately caused outrage and active conviction. Now this is perceived to be almost normal.

The solution is to start a professional discussion. After all, we lose the journalistic profession. Qualitative media influence the audience less and less, so they will vote based on manipulations, paid materials, emotions. Media should unite based on basic principles.

Andriy Kulikov, Head of the Journalistic Ethics Commission, and Chairman of the Board of the Hromadske Radio NGO:

We need a body, some kind of advisory council that will "measure the level" of the situation every 2-3 weeks. A new body or on the basis of the existing - IMC, JEC, IMI and other organizations. The findings can be published at "Detector Media" and, perhaps, "Hromadske Radio". To do this, we can use the emotions of our audience in a positive sense. After all, I have listeners coming to me during half a year who say the journalistic initiative is crucially need. They remember the campaigns "Stop Censorship", "It's Better not to Lie," the journalistic revolution of 2004... It makes impression on people and thus we would have the opportunity to influence. We must take care of this – there is no time to spare.

We also need a fund of journalistic solidarity and training courses for another qualification. I have always said that the duty of a journalist to himself and his relatives is to have an additional profession. To be able to leave the profession at a time when it is not possible to work by ethical and professional standards.

Kateryna Sergatskova, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Zaborona edition:

Most of those who are here already share the same values. The question is how much we can practically implement it. The election campaign has actually started; there are many fakes that many media spread. Even those generally working by standards. Because there is lack of professionalism in a particular journalist. It seems to me that the problem is also that everybody lives in the bubble - in their edition, and sometimes do not want to pay attention to others. To tell colleagues "Today, you have published something similar to a paid material, or a fake, or insufficiently checked". In my opinion, we need to communicate this way every day.

And one should stop publishing news based on posts in Facebook. Because we've stopped working normally.

Oleksiy Matsuka, Head of the Donetsk Institute of Information, founder of "Hromadske TV of Donbass" and site "Donbass News":

Another significant challenge is the audience's request. It, unfortunately, concerns black and white, emotional content. That is always the case. Former bloggers have already become TV presenters, and others are on the way to this. Everyone from the audience selects the person he trusts. The question is whether these media makers or bloggers, TV presenters are aware of the responsibility for what they deliver to the audience... People think that this is journalism, but it's just a personal opinion of a blogger or publicist, which is often not confirmed by the facts. We have to decide who is a journalist.

Technologies for defaming professional and independent journalism are also coming from the election headquarters, because they do not need independent media. They are also not needed here by Russia operating through the so-called "LPR" and "DPR". The latter, under the guise of very patriotic media, launch campaigns to discredit independent Ukrainian journalists. These new hybrid forms of destabilization in the Ukrainian society are aimed at ensuring that people do not trust and quarrel with anyone.

We need to find the ways to the respect of journalists, recognition by them of their mistakes. There is no discussion and reflection about what we have already done, which would allow us to move on. It is necessary to strengthen self-regulation and co-regulation. For us, the authority is the JEC and we have repeatedly stressed to readers that if they have a question to us, they should contact the experts of the commission. But, unfortunately, the society does not have knowledge of this body. And about co-regulation ... It is necessary that I could send Katia (Sergatskova - DM) an article on the question of whether everything is okay, and she could send me. It is not about competition - this is an attempt to make the content more authoritative and balanced.

Zoya Krasovska, an author of the monitoring of the news on Ukrainian channels for "Detector Media", Lviv:

The big problem of TV news, besides violations of standards, is inertia. In my opinion, the media and journalists lack the desire to undertake a complex task and explain what is really happening in the actual topics: in medicine or gas prices, for example. Meanwhile, these are the topics that will be highly speculated by politicians at the elections.

I see the solution in supporting journalists who do a good job. It became more interesting for me personally to work on monitoring, when I began to mention not only violations of standards by journalists, but, on the contrary, a good professional work that is actually carried out by journalists on all channels, at least in some topics. Hope that such public acknowledgment will demonstrate to their colleagues how it is possible to work according to standards, honestly and conscientiously.

I think editors should also create joint high-quality projects that would become visible to the society, and support each other.

Tetiana Lebedeva, Head of the Supervisory Board of the NPBCU, Honorary President of the Independent Association of Broadcasters:  

The elections will be an ordeal for journalists or even the last bastion.

We need self-regulation and the creation of responsible media, as well as media literacy and the consolidation of the efforts of all right forces. The last one is very timely and there is a need for it. This is what depicts the situation before the Revolution of the Dignity. Then there was not enough of those who understood what the media were and why they were important and could become a fatal instrument in the information war.

We must finally give definition who is a real journalist, and who is a manipulator and propagandist. The main feature has to be responsibility for the information that a person spreads. I agree that it is necessary to create a circle of people who will agree not to do certain things, for example, not use hate speech, and publish paid materials and black PR. We must write such a memorandum and involve people in regions where the situation is more horrific.

We can not yet say that the Public Broadcaster has already become a significant player in the information market. However, according to "DM" monitoring, the broadcaster does not violate any journalistic standards, though I have enough questions to the subject, the number and range of their news. At last, the Ukrainian TV audience has got an alternative which was never before. I think people will notice this soon and will start watching the Public TV more. And the Ukrainian Radio is already showing great success in attracting listeners' attention.

Svitlana Ostapa, deputy editor-in-chief of "Detector Media":

The large broadcasters will face a question of how to balance the election coverage, if the owner is interested in the promotion of one force. They will have to have the courage to protest against a one-sided coverage. If such attempts happen, they will need our support and perhaps the strengthening of editorial board rules and non-interference with editorial policy in the new draft law “On audiovisual services”, which is already registered and is at the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy.

If we feel the responsibility before the society for our work, we need to strengthen compliance with journalistic standards to do everything possible to prevent the extinction of professional journalism despite the development of the Internet. By doing your stuff, always see a consumer of information before yourselves and not an owner or politician. I have high hopes for the Public Broadcaster about this.

Hryhoriy Shverk, Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, member of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy:

According to the Ukrainian legislation, editorial teams have the opportunity to create editorial boards, defend their independence, apply to the court because of pressure and make public information about it. Can legislators somehow strengthen this? In my opinion, the less the influence of the state, the better - in any sphere. And in the media - the more so.

Frankly speaking, we should not expect that with the approach of elections the parliament will adopt something that would lead to greater independence of the media groups. I think that self-regulation is much better way to achieve compliance with journalistic standards. However, now there is no self-regulatory organization that would be influential. Compared to the owners' influence.

I do not expect major changes to the legislation before the nearest elections. Unfortunately, the elections will take place under conditions that are now. But our committee is well aware of any proposals from the journalistic community and will consider them all.

Olga Bolshakova, Independent Association of Broadcasters (IAB) and the member of the Committee:

We have been working on the concept of co-regulation for the past three years. But for full implementation, amendments to the Law "On Audiovisual Services" are needed and we are now waiting for the bill. There is little chance that we will make it to the elections.

In order for the owners not to look at the media as a means to win elections, they must be financially viable. Whenever a certain type of advertising is forbidden in Ukraine or, let’s say, language quotas introduced, this cuts the media budget. I am not a political scientist and I can not assess what is more important for a society at the moment: the prohibition of Soviet films or better financial capacity of the channel, language quota or better financial capacity of radio stations... But always, when legislators make certain restrictions for the media, they have to think about it.

A big problem is that we do not have the definition of advertising as such. This is the root of evil. So far, in fact, every material can be called advertising, so there is no concept of a paid material. Nobody wants to do this. Experience has shown that a paid material can be distinguished either by the criterion of payment - and this is an additional work for law enforcement agencies, or compliance with journalistic standards - and this is a burden on expert bodies.

There is a huge demand from the society for simple recommendations. On who to vote for. And it receives them from emotional messages of low-quality media. So journalists should prepare a simple and understandable unbiased analytics for an ordinary citizen.

It is worth starting with yourself. For example, think of some "labels" for materials and social networks. When writing a post in Facebook, indicate whether this is a personal opinion, witness testimony, or unconfirmed information. If they become widespread with conscious bloggers, this will have an effect.

We also need a single press card. It was a wonderful mechanism that should be implemented despite the negative experience.

The minimum that everyone has to accept is not to post counter-propaganda and treat all political forces equally.

Another mechanism, but not a panacea, is an expert council before the election to meet certain requirements of the media. We need to remind about it the National Council and the CEC.

Tamara Kravchenko, Head of Communications Department of the National Council with Mass Media, Non-Governmental Organizations and Public Broadcasting:

Since the law has not changed, the National Council will have the same capabilities in this election as before. We have a working group on elections, which includes independent NGOs and international organizations.

We have repeatedly said that we have few regulatory functions, especially regarding content. But we are monitoring by the very successful system developed by the European expert, Rasto Kuzhel, and now he is improving it. The methodology allows you to show what manipulations were, in which the broadcasters had more invitees on the one hand, what the tone of speeches...

We can not influence our licensors under this monitoring, but we at least publish it. I believe that the path of self-regulation and co-regulation is the best.

Yevhen Radchenko, Director for Development of NGO "Internews Ukraine":

The main enemy of freedom of speech is not the state, but the owners of large channels. The second problem is uncritical attitude to the sources of information by journalists themselves. In addition, it is the greed of the media and the desire to earn money in the elections. The media must understand once and for all that not elections work for journalists to enrich them, but journalists work for society.

Legislators finally have to determine who is responsible for media activities during the election - the National Council or the CEC. These are small changes in the legislation that we can still make – if there will be political will.

The regulator needs to be strengthened. At least by the deputies not passing the resolution on a moratorium on media checking. There should be a ban on political advertising on television and radio.

I am a great supporter of restoring public campaigns like "Better not Lie". They have a stronger influence on the journalistic environment than mere monitoring.

Let us consolidate the media’s and state’s efforts! After all, the external threats are now much stronger than the internal ones.

Dmitry Horkin, General Producer of "Ukrainian Radio":  

For the first time, we will cover this election as an independent broadcaster, rather than a voicer of a communist party or state who appointed our heads. And this is a big responsibility.

There will be no political advertising at the Public Broadcaster in the inter-election period. Our journalists are guided only by an editorial charter, nobody presses on them. But, unfortunately, only 20% of the audience listen to the first channel of the Public Radio and one more spoken - "Radio NV" according to the research. And everyone else listens to music ones, where the news tells that the rating of one candidate has increased, while the other has presented a cow to a village. DJs who read news there are not aware of the importance of their work.

A big challenge is also the choice of the editors of experts, especially political analysts, because they often work for political forces. We need to look for independent ones and inform that someone from the invitees advises certain political force.

Dmytro Zolotukhin, Deputy Minister of Information Policy:

I also believe that the state should be as far from regulating the media as it can not only before the elections, but also in general. I am convinced that the issues of the JEC and IMC should be wider represented in the public space.

But I do not think that the JEC, IMC and all other organizations will be able to provide fast results. Besides, they are sometimes discredited by those they criticize - because they are often popular media representatives who have more opportunities to do this. Therefore, the further development of self-regulatory institutions and the development of existing ones is not the only way out.

Open letters, petitions of experts, media NGOs are required - such as, for example, sometimes written by them about bills or certain actions of the state. But there is a lack of those who give a joint assessment of the activities of, for example, "RIA NovostiUkraina" and whether Kyrylo Vyshynsky is a journalist, or not. In some situations, there are such letters and statements, and in others there are no. Why? Writing them does not require the creation of new institutions.

Natalia Bolkhovska, "Vinnytsia Press Club":

Since September 1, when the analogue TV was turned off, a quarter of the population was left without TV. There is a positive moment in this - they are no longer under the influence of oligarchic media. Digital TV costs about UAH 600 - this is a half-pension of a rural pensioner. The regions and the countryside will largely determine the results of the vote - and this market is free. The regional press has a circulation of 1-4 thousand copies. I think there will be a lot of free party press that will fight for the voices of these people.

And in terms of self-regulation... In Moldova, where three million people live, there are many complaints to the Ethics Commission. 40 thousand requests about the possibility of closing the Catholic radio have been delivered to similar body in Poland. Our people do not know about the JEC, but it is necessary they know. It is worth contacting the regions, creating centers there.

Serhii Guz, a journalist, ex-Head of the newspaper "City 5692" (city of Kamyanske), a member of the Journalistic Ethics Commission:   

It is necessary not to determine who is and is not a journalist, but what can be considered a pluralistic position in the media, and what - separatism. Now there is no limit. And then, we will already evaluate the situation according to this - who should be called pro-Kremlin, separatist. We hang up these labels without justification, based only on our thoughts. Such criteria are also very necessary for regional editors to pursue editorial policies without exceeding these limits.

The protection of journalists and editors in regions is required. Being independent regional media is fantastic. An owner can stand this, but the closer the election the more likely he will start pressing. Independent editorial policies do not work - an owner simply breaks the contract with the editor and changes the editorial policy. How to protect the editor? Perhaps, it makes sense to think about a new trade union or association of journalists.

Natalia Kurdiukova, co-founder and Head of the Kharkov edition "Nakipelo":

The problem is, first of all, in the journalists themselves and their interest in discussing these issues. The problem is not censorship, but self-censorship, especially in the regions. No one canceled "yielding". In Kharkiv, we have practically all media materials about how our governor opened something or was present somewhere. There is no interest in being independent. And another problem is whether the audience understands what standards are and is interested in getting materials made in accordance with them and ethics.

We do not take any political advertising in our edition, none, because we have the luxury - international support. I support ban on political advertising, because our society does not have such a level of development that would allow properly respond to it.

Viktor Tregubov, Editor-in-Chief of the site "Petro and Mazepa":  

Many of these problems are contingent on objective factors. Therefore, we will not be able to simply agree and solve them. Not only because there is no Dubinsky, Vlaschenko or other "respectable" people. For ten years, we have been saying that the problem is that all large media are dependent on the owners. But new large projects appeared – financed by grants as "Hromadske TV", and it turned out that it is not enough to be independent to become both high-quality and mass media.

The credibility of the media falls all over the world - even there, where there are no problems with financing or interference in editorial policy. Because people after the appearance of social networks want to hear only the opinion that they like. This, on the one hand, gives impetus to the development of author's journalism, and on the other - destroys the objective and balanced journalism.

I doubt that the supervising bodies will help. Or public authorities - because they will not be them for a large part of society. We will not find people who would become such authorities for everybody.

We have to accept the idea that this is a modern stage of evolution, and not our lack of development. This is how the economic, democratic and technical situation with regard to the media has developed.

All we can do is to tell the truth and not be shy to name surnames and scold colleagues. Not being shy to say that what they do is not journalism, but paid material or content aimed at destroying our country.

Valeriy Kalnysh, Editor-in-Chief of Radio NV:  

First of all, leave ordinary journalists alone. They do not need such protection you talked about. We have to go talk to top managers and owners - and this will be a conceptual conversation. Even law enforcement officers sometimes meet "crime bosses" to solve the problem.

The second is that we have a lot of structures that defend the interests of journalists, and journalists sometimes do not know about them. We can not agree with each other who is more legitimate.

Let's go back to what was in 2000s. Let’s get back to Western structures. So that there would be such "Internews" and IREX, as then. We will conduct courses for journalists who will be trusted by everyone.

A good idea is also the press card: it is necessary to distinguish who is who, because everyone wants to be journalists. Even if this can be realized after the elections.

The minimum that we all can agree with the owners is not to publish counter-propaganda, but to give different political advertisements.

Oleksandr Martynenko, General Director of Interfax-Ukraine Information Agency:

Many media live from elections to elections. Finally, there is a year, happy for many of them, when you can compensate your previous activities. And for media owners and the oligarchs, this is the opportunity to replace their own cash deposits with candidates by TV air time. The contribution of the national channel reduces the potential contribution to the candidate's pre-election fund by about 10-20 million dollars. It's all money - and we will do nothing about it.

At the same time, through the example of Trump, everyone realized that it is possible to completely remove the journalist as an intermediary between the politician and the people. Such a trend already exists among our parliamentarians. It's just about their interviews, and channels are just a platform for their placement. Politicians only speak when there are dozens of cameras - this is what my journalists say. There is a direct appeal to voters without the participation of journalists.

The profession of a journalist now exists in three pillars: copywriter, editor and presenter. There are no posts of correspondents. Editors rewrite social networks, because it's easier and they pay for it. I have no recipes about this.

It is necessary to fight with the news-butterflies, which appear in the morning, are gaining maturity in the afternoon, and in the evening they die. There are five such news every day. Professional journalists should ignore them.

There will be counter-propaganda; it is a sign of the election campaign. But the fake damaging material against competitors is really a problem, we must fight this.

It is necessary to create fact-checking platforms with the help of donors. There is no other recipe in the world. The people who will work there should forget about their position and check both friends and enemies alike. And it will be hard to find them.

There is already a technology for separating the country from the southeast and northwest, which will unfold during the election campaign. Those who think of participating in the dissemination of these ideas must imagine the place of a resident of Donetsk, which is currently in Donetsk airport. If people do this, finally it will end with Donetsk airport in every Ukrainian city.

Kateryna Myasnikova, Executive Director of the Independent Association of Broadcasters (IAB)

Now we need to make efforts and announce the rules of work during the elections. Very specific list. If a public broadcaster had publicly agreed to work on these rules, it would be fine. Then we should invite all interested media to form a group of those who stand "for all good." And the National Council, "Media Detector" and other organizations should declare these rules and monitoring methodology in early December. And only then, we should assess the content according to them.

As soon as a new public council is formed at the National Council, it is necessary to initiate a new expert council before the elections.

Liubov Naydionova, media psychologist, Doctor of Psychology, head of the nationwide experiment on the implementation of media education

I am happy that this talk about the coverage of elections in a country in a state of war has begun. We need to go to the owners, tops and ordinary journalists, to act everywhere.

All of these problems can be solved only through addressing people. It is necessary to increase their media literacy. People do not know what high-quality and poor-quality journalism is. Our educational experiment is all-Ukrainian, schools of each oblast take part in it. Based on these schools, media workers could speak to educators, share knowledge, and they will continue to carry this information. This could give a very positive move on the eve of the election. I invite everyone to do it.

comments powered by Disqus