Public broadcasting in Ukraine: a model and tasks for the information direction of reintegration | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Public broadcasting in Ukraine: a model and tasks for the information direction of reintegration

The solution of the key reintegration tasks is closely related to the development of the public media as a tool for mass civic education. The existing content of national TV channels does not contribute to the solution of the occupied territories’ reintegration tasks, in general, and the formation of civil identity, in particular. Therefore, it is public broadcasting, functioning on the principles introduced in democratic countries, which should promote democratic values ​​in Ukraine and form an informational ground for reintegration.

Public broadcasting has been already launched. To what extent does its model correspond to the principles and standards that ensure the effective functioning of public channels in democratic states? Is public broadcasting contributing to the tasks of ensuring freedom of information, the spreading of democratic values ​​and the education of civic identity in the process of reintegration? The answers to these questions will give a comparison of the basic principles of the functioning of public broadcasting in democratic states and in Ukraine, as well as the analysis of the content of public TV channels.

The role of public broadcasting in resolving reintegration problems

In democratic countries public broadcasting has existed for 90 years. The idea of its creation arose in the process of searching for an effective mechanism for ensuring freedom of information. The content of the idea was determined by the need for such information sources that would not depend on the state, business structures or “political enterprises”, would meet the needs of civil society and local communities. Since, from the point of view of ensuring independence, the key issues are property, management and information policy, these ones were decided as priorities. The functioning of public television and radio broadcasting is based on clear principles ensuring the effectiveness of truly independent broadcasters. The level of their popularity today in many countries is much higher than that of other media.

The main tasks of public broadcasting in democratic countries are:

  • To reproduce the democratic values in the minds of citizens;
  • To provide a counterweight in the information space for private media;
  • To ensure the functioning of a permanent public platform for discussing the vital problems of society and ways to address them.

These tasks are equally relevant for Ukraine either, however, they need to have some clarifications. If in democratic countries we are talking about the reproduction of democratic values ​​that have already been formed, to a certain extent at the genetic level, then in our situation it is necessary to explain and inculcate these values, turning them into life norms and principles. In democratic countries the system of civic values ​​is the permanent basis of civil identity. In Ukraine it is necessary to solve simultaneously two tasks: the formation of a modern system of values ​​and education on its basis of civil identity. That is, the scope of goals and tasks is much larger.

In its latest report the worldwide organization “Reporters Without Borders” highlights the growth of threats to freedom of information, even in countries that are considered to be a model of democracy. In Ukraine, this problem is particularly acute. In 2017, Ukraine ranked 102nd in the rating compiled by the organization “Reporters Without Borders”. On the map segmented due to results of the study, our country is marked in orange. The shade is closer to red. Red color, as it is known, signals a high level of danger. In our case, the saturation with red tones indicates the actual presence on the edge of the “stop freedom of information”. Although compared to the rating of 2016, Ukraine has risen by 5 steps, this does not indicate an improvement in the situation with media freedom. As noted in the report, in absolute numbers it became even worse. The increase in the rating occurred against the backdrop of other countries, where the level of threats and non-freedom is even higher. Therefore, these relative indicators should not be regarded as evidence of real positive shifts. “Reporters Without Borders” also noted the main problems of the Ukrainian media: the hard grip of the oligarchs and editorial dependence. Public broadcasting, created on the basis of the relevant principles, can greatly contribute to the solution of these problems.

The results of a survey by Kiev International Institute of Sociology ordered by the NGO “Detector Media” conducted during December 3-12, 2016, demonstrate a decrease in the level of trust to Ukrainian TV channels from 50 % to 40.4 % during the year. More and more citizens point to media oppression by the authorities. 16.2 % completely agree that there is an attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine, and 32.2 % are more likely to agree. In fact, half of the citizens do not perceive the Ukrainian media as independent of the authorities. This is one of the reasons for the decrease in the level of trust towards them. One can also state an increase in the number of compatriots who, in private conversations, point to the extremely low quality of television content, to its socially-depressive, politically and socially polarizing character. This also causes a decline in trust and even refusal to watch the programs of most national private television channels. Therefore, public service broadcasters should not only create a competitive space, but also occupy a significant niche in the information market, ensure a high level of citizens’ trust.

In democratic countries the system of basic values and principles is not only the basis of civil identity, but also a consensus platform for solving social problems and contradictions. If citizens live by the rule of law and perceive only legal coercion, they are not inclined to seek illegal ways to solve problems or to positively perceive “politically expedient” coercion. If the political culture is dominated by a persistent conviction that it is necessary to constantly influence and control the power, then the society does not have hopes for a “messiah”, but seeks mechanisms of influence through the institutions of civil society. Therefore, on platforms provided by public broadcasters, there are discussions on finding ways to solve specific problems on the basis of universally recognized norms and principles. In Ukrainian society a system of values that is compatible with the democratic regime has not been formed, there is no agreement at least regarding the key domestic and foreign policy vectors. In such conditions the search for acceptable solutions is significantly complicated and public service broadcasting is again entrusted with a double burden.

The main tasks of public broadcasting in Ukraine to solve the problems of reintegration can be determined in the following order:

  • To establish a broadcaster, independent of the state and political business structures, which would form a space for freedom of information.
  • To work as an instrument of civic education, civil culture and the formation of civil identity.
  • To create a dialogue platform for seeking public consensus on the solution of important problems for the state and society: domestic and foreign policy of the state (because this is an important factor of influencing regional identities that impedes the formation of civil identity), to find compromises on ways and means of reintegration of the occupied territories (which are absent today) and solutions to other problems.
  • To form a fundamentally new information discourse. In the context of solving the tasks of reintegration, this means: to facilitate a comprehension of the current situation; to produce new meanings, including ones considering the common future, to fill them with real content; promote the development of socially acceptable compromises for the implementation of the joint future project. That is, public broadcasters should create not only a public, but also an intellectual dialogue platform.

Information policy for the implementation of the main tasks of public broadcasting

All of the above-mentioned tasks of public broadcasting in either event reflect its key mission in a democratic society. The difference is that in Ukraine specific problems are imposed on general democratic goals, conditioned by the needs of the formation of a modern value system and the simultaneous unification of society on the basis of these values. Therefore, the analysis of tasks set by public broadcasters in democratic countries, the principles of their implementation makes it possible to determine the basis for the effectiveness of models that have passed the test of time. Comparison of goals and organizational bases of the public broadcasting functioning in Ukraine with models in democratic countries allows to reveal the degree of implementation of certain tasks and inconsistencies that make the effective functioning of public broadcasters impossible.

Analyzing the example of the British BBC, the Norwegian NRK and the Danish national TV2 and DR1 channels, it is possible to identify the tasks that public broadcasters set to fulfill, in order of priority:

  • Development of civil society. Therefore, on public channels, the projects of public organizations are presented and discussed, public activists most often become the guests of the studio. The most common format of programs is public discussions.
  • Spreading of knowledge and popularization of education. Therefore, actually half of the airtime is occupied by educational programs. The lion’s share is made up of civic education programs for adults and children, as they are focused on several tasks.
  • Promoting the development of culture and creativity. To implement this task, as a rule, separate channels are created.
  • Presentation in the information space of the whole country of its regional, national and cultural communities. This task directly concerns the strengthening of civic identity, the formation of a feeling among the inhabitants of different regions of joint participation in ensuring the progress of their country, a sense of community in the presence of diversity.
  • Presentation of the country to the world, and the world to the country. Public broadcasters “look at the country and the world” through the eyes of citizens, not politicians or businessmen who pursue their own selfish goals.

In fact, the same tasks in different interpretations have been formulated by other European public broadcasters. The best evidence of the effectiveness of the information policy that ensures their implementation is part of the information market held by public TV channels: 56.4% in Iceland, 44.7% in the Germany, 43.2% in the UK, 41.9% in Finland , 41.3 in Norway. Most Eastern European countries, including Poland, have taken the BBC standards as the basis for the establishment of public service broadcasters. Obviously, this has become one of the prerequisites for the effectiveness of the information policy, the growth of the popularity of television channels and the achievement of a significant share of the information market. In Poland, it overcame the 30% mark.

Even a not too thorough view on the information policy of the Ukrainian public broadcaster through the prism of the indicated tasks reveals a number of cardinal differences, as a result of which public broadcasting cannot be de facto considered in these terms. Analysis of the programs of the TV channel “UA:First” shows that a significant part of the airtime is occupied by television series, animated series, documentary series. Certainly, there are news releases, topical interviews, so the channel is performing an informative function to a certain extent. Public discussions, educational programs that occupy the “lion’s share” of time on public channels in developed countries, are absent and have not even been planned. The general director of National Television Company of Ukraine, Zurab Alasania, noted before the broadcast that the first television channel would be informational, and the second one would be analytical. Therefore, in terms of providing information and entertainment, the channel obviously has some usefulness. However, in solving the problems of the development of civil society, political and legal education and the formation of civil consciousness and identity it does not help. The tasks of reintegration through the program policy of the channel are not realized. The set and content of programs do not correspond to the purpose of the public channel.

From the provided list of tasks set by public broadcasters in European countries, the third function is most realized in Ukraine. On the TV channel “UA:Culture” there are programs that introduce the audience to the news of culture, talk about the development of culture and art in different periods. There are also documentary films and programs dedicated to outstanding personalities, in particular, human rights activists, Ukrainian dissidents, etc. This, of course, indirectly influences the formation of certain ideals and values, historical and political assessments. However, this is clearly not enough and the programs lack the systemic nature, so that the effect of indirect influence is strengthened.

The program policy of the TV channel “UA:Crimea”, apart from news, entertainment, culture and infrequent analytics, is also aimed at covering the events in the occupied Crimea, turning over the pages of the history of Crimea, which were not paid attention to before the occupation. Certainly, this creates a certain bridge between the mainland and the peninsula, enriches viewers with certain knowledge and prompts to ask questions that they have not thought about before. In some programs, in particular “War and Peace”, the authors raise the issues of the prerequisites for occupation, adequacy/inadequacy of the actions of the authorities and power structures during the seizure and others. However, the public dialogue on attitudes towards the problems of the occupied Crimea, on the de-occupation strategy has not yet unfolded. That is, through the information policy of the channel to a certain extent tasks are being implemented to promote the development of culture and to represent regional, national and cultural communities, filling some gaps in historical knowledge. Partially the bases for the development of public dialogue are laid. However, in general, the program policy of the channel does not contribute much to solving the problems of information support for reintegration.

Principles of public broadcasting in democratic countries

The effective information policy of European broadcasters, which enabled a retaining of a large segment of the information market, has also been the result of the introduction of relevant operation principles. It is possible to identify the most important standards followed by public broadcasters in European countries:

  • Public broadcasting is introduced at the initiative of members of society, and not authorities.
  • It does not require special laws for implementation and regulation.
  • The channels do not belong to the state, they are not financed by the state.
  • Sources of funding: prepayment for use (subscription fee); funds from the private sector (as a means of strengthening reputation, demonstrating social responsibility); advertising, except political; grants. Subscription fee is not high: in Germany – up to 20 euros, in Poland – 18.5 zl, in the UK – 12 pounds. In rare cases, there is a three-component financing scheme: subscription and donations; advertising; receipts from the state budget. There is no direct budget financing.
  • All information about the funding and financial expenditures is public, placed on the websites of companies.
  • Unpoliticized program policy, depoliticized supervisory board.
  • Administration process is carried out by a representative body, which is formed of people who are respected in society: politicians, recognized specialists in various fields and social activists. The principle of quoting participation in management has been introduced, which ensures independence and impartiality.
  • In most companies the post of ombudsman – a public representative – has been introduced, which fulfills the mission of the “internal critic”. He processes comments from viewers, provides professional coverage of events. His activities are one of the main means of ensuring unpoliticized program policy. It also helps maintain a high level of trust in the channel.
  • Compliance with the unbiased principle in the coverage of political events.
  • Non-participation in political and electoral PR-actions.
  • The main products are news, analytics, educational, cultural, public discussion programs in various formats.

Public broadcasting in Ukraine: a new form of dependence

Ukraine has undertaken a commitment to the Council of Europe and the European Union on the creation of public broadcasting. Accordingly, the key role in this process was taken by the state. However, since 2014 discussions on the basic principles of the creation and operation of public broadcasting have intensified. In this respect, based on the results of the International Conference and a number of expert discussions, it is possible to single out recommendations, the introduction of which, according to experts, should contribute to the formation of an effective and politically unbiased public service broadcasting. Among the priorities were defined: limiting political influence in the supervisory board and creating for the coordination of the activities of the working group with the involvement of experts and the public representatives. Regarding the system of financing, it was proposed to provide by the law the possibility of introducing a subscription fee and the distribution of advertising quotas for public broadcasting. Important recommendations in the field of program policy also concerned the determination of the share of regional content, the creation of favorable conditions for the broadcasting of communities. In fact, most of the recommendations reflected in one way or another the key principles that ensure the effective functioning of public service broadcasters in democratic countries.

On April 7, 2015 in Ukraine, according to the commitment, public broadcasting was launched. Since the main initiator and executor of the project was the state, this already violates the first of the above-mentioned principles. In addition, according to the Law “On amending certain Laws of Ukraine with regard to Public Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine”, public television and radio broadcasting of Ukraine is legalized in the form of a public joint-stock company “National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine”. At the same time, 100% of the shares belong to the state. What is a violation of the following two principles. In addition, there are at least two issues: on a public joint-stock company and the ownership of 100% of the state; on the independence of the broadcaster and journalists from the authorities in such a situation.

The budget of public broadcasting, according to the Law “On Public Television and Radio Broadcasting in Ukraine”, is 0.2% of the expenses of the general fund of the State Budget. Does the information space have a well-known rule: “who pays the piper calls the tune”? Obviously, yes, and much more than in other spheres. So can there be a politically unbiased channel, which is fully funded from the state budget? Can journalists who receive salaries from the state be accountable only to citizens? The experience of democratic countries, tested for decades and distributed in “new democracies”, points to financial independence from the state as the main prerequisite for political non-engagement. Citizens who realize the value of freedom of information are ready to pay for it. This is what makes public channels independent of the authorities. In Ukraine, the aforementioned law does not provide for this, although experts have repeatedly noted the need to provide for the possibility of a gradual introduction of the subscription fee.

The results of a study conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation jointly with the Kiev International Institute of Sociology from October 23 to November 5, 2017 showed that 46% of Ukrainians watched public TV channels during the last month. The largest amount of views got the TV channel “UA:First” – 32%. Regional public television channels were watched by 13% of respondents. Such indicators point to the significant competitive potential of the public broadcaster. In the situation of a rapid drop in the level of trust in private television channels, their inability to provide information support to the reintegration process, it is public TV channels that have all the chances to significantly increase their share in the information market and play a key role in the implementation of the information reintegration strategy. 29% of respondents are willing to pay up to 10 hryvnias per month for the opportunity to watch or listen to unbiased news and analysis on public broadcasting channels. The fact that almost a third of Ukrainians agree to pay indicates an increase in the level of awareness that society itself must pay for objective information for society. Certainly, a fee of 10 hryvnias in today’s conditions does not look enough. However, given the increase in content inherent to public broadcasters, and also interesting for the viewer, the latter will quickly switch to watching public TV channels. At the same time, the readiness of the audience will increase.

Meanwhile, some experts insist on state funding. And there is international pressure. The EU demands to allocate at least 0.2% of GDP, according to the Law, for public service broadcasting, as well as its establishment as really independent of the state was repeatedly voiced by the Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli. The ambassadors of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France and other European countries addressed to the representatives of the highest institutions of power of Ukraine with such a request for funding. However, such statements and appeals, obviously, should not be regarded as a manifestation of the belief that with public funding and uder the conditions of the oligarchic system in Ukraine, public broadcasting will indeed become independent of the state. Rather, it is about pressure to comply with the rule of the Law, because the acuteness of this problem is obvious. Since there are currently no other sources of funding for public service broadcasting, it is necessary to demand at least budgetary funds. At the same time, it is worthwhile to understand that, with state funding, there will be no really independent public broadcasting.

According to Article 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Public Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine”, the Supervisory Board of the National Public Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NOTU) includes: one representative from each of the parliamentary factions and groups of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the current convocation, as well as nine members from public organizations and associations, acting in the spheres of: education and science, ensuring the rights of national minorities, physical education and sport, journalism, human rights law, in the creative sphere, in the field of protecting the interests of children and youth, local government, protection of the rights of persons with special needs. Formally, this corresponds to the logic of the formation of similar bodies of public broadcasters in democratic countries. But there such logic has direct correlation with the set and content of public broadcasters programs. In our case, this cannot be traced.

Public broadcasting as a segment of the information market: the example of Japan

The Japanese “market” of information products is chosen as an example because of the presence of features that allow to draw some parallels with Ukraine:

  • The state acted as one of the initiators of the introduction of public broadcasting.
  • Public broadcasting was given a key role in spreading democratic values in society, which at that time were alien to the Japanese.

In Japan local identities harmoniously coexist with the civil one with the unconditional priority of the second. The channels of public broadcasting play not the last role to fulfill that.

The assertion that today’s Japan belongs to the club of democratic countries is not debatable. At the same time, its political system is very different from the Western ones. Accordingly, the “information market” fully reflects the features of the “political market” and its segmentation. In Japan the traditional distribution of spheres of political influence, built on a family hierarchy, is preserved. Therefore, it is impossible to talk about a political market in the European sense. The “information market” is also divided into spheres of media influence. In the eastern part, the media of the Tokyo group dominated, and in the western – the Osaka group. It is also possible to draw some parallels with Ukraine according to that. Apparently, taking into account the different nature of the distribution. Differences in the content of media programs and information messages are predetermined by the different level of economic development of the prefectures of the Pacific coast and prefectures of the Sea of Japan, as well as the interests of groups of political influence. However, the public broadcaster implements the strategy of prioritizing the civil over the regional one.

The public broadcaster – the corporation “NHK” has today the most extensive broadcasting and television network. The supreme body is the Board of Directors, which includes 12 members appointed by the Prime Minister with the consent of both Houses of Parliament. 8 members of the Board of Directors represent the interests of each region; 4 – are selected from the people most authoritative in the field of education, science, culture, economics. This principle of the governing body formation clearly reflects the traditional Japanese desire to ensure the authority and their understanding of the democratic principles of representation of interests. Councils for radio and television programs, which include qualified professionals, meet once a month and develop proposals for the content of programs for the next period. Civil educational programs are aimed at reconstruction the features of the “Japanese national uniqueness” and on the formation of the idea that the Japanese are the “carriers of democratic values.” Other educational programs cover those areas of knowledge, the development of which is important for the state and society.

The content indicates the priorities of the information policy. Broadcasting of the corporation consists of two program areas – general and educational. Out of 168 hours a week, a total of about 40% of the time is occupied by news, 24.5% – culture, 24% – entertaining programs, 11% – educational programs. Out of 165 hours 53 minutes of educational broadcasting, 81.1% of programs are devoted to education, 16.3% to culture, and 2.6% to news. The sum of the two program areas is dominated by educational and cultural programs, which corresponds to the notion of the Japanese about themselves as an educated nation. To ensure the financial independence of the campaign from business structures, advertising activities are banned and from the owners of TV sets under the contract a charge is taken for watching the programs.

Experience in the functioning of the public broadcaster in Japan demonstrates:

  • harmonious combination of regional and national aspects when submitting information;
  • the dominant aspiration to strengthen the political unity of the nation under the conditions of having clearly distributed spheres of influence;
  • dependence of the principles of information policy and the formation of content on the strategic goals of the state and society.

All these issues are relevant for the development of Ukrainian public broadcasting and the Japanese experience of providing effective solution deserves attention.

Conclusions

Reintegration requires a value basis, which should include the values of a modern democratic society. The way to its formation lies through a wide civic education and upbringing within controlled and uncontrolled territories. Public broadcasting should be one of the main tools of education. For uncontrolled territories, given that retransmission is provided, it can be the only effective channel for broadcasting democratic values. To ensure this, public service broadcasting should be consistent with the model and principles introduced in democratic states.

Public broadcasting in Ukraine in its present form cannot become a counterweight to oligarchic channels and be independent of the authorities. The key reason is its actual state ownership and state financing. This practice is not present in democratic countries. With state funding, the public broadcaster becomes a supplement to private oligarchic channels. The only difference is that it is financed by taxpayers. In addition, with state funding, inefficient management and a weak motivation for development are remained.

Many reasons for the impossibility of introducing the subscription fee could be provided – impoverishment of society, psychological unpreparedness and others. But while society is not aware of the value of freedom of information, there will be no real public broadcasting.

The main principles that have guaranteed independence of the public broadcaster and the political impartiality of the information policy were ignored or laid down formally through the developing of the regulatory framework. Therefore, the mission inherent in public broadcasters in democratic countries in Ukraine cannot be fully realized.

In terms of addressing the key tasks of reintegration, the role of the public broadcaster is minimal. The content of TV channels “UA:Culture” and “UA:Crimea” to a certain extent contributes to enriching knowledge about cultural diversity and the history of Ukraine. On the TV channel “UA:Crimea”, attempts are being made to create an interactive platform for discussing, in a narrow circle, the problems of the occupied Crimea. Program content of the TV channel “UA:First” is the most far from both public content and information support for the reintegration process.

The main components that determine the information policy of public broadcasters in democratic countries – programs aimed at the development of civil society, civic education and civil culture, the formation of public dialogue – are not yet presented in the content of the Ukrainian broadcaster.

Recommendations

The first necessary steps on the way to the participation of the public broadcaster in solving the problems of information reintegration should be:

  • Establishment of the broadcaster as public in its essence, and not just by the name. This implies a transition to the principles of functioning inherent in democratic countries.
  • Formation of special reintegration content on public channels. Its specifics should be determined by the state reintegration strategy and the information reintegration strategy. The task of the public broadcaster is to ensure the implementation of the educational, cultural and other vectors of the information strategy, to organize a public dialogue on the reintegration strategy.
  • Provision of retransmission of public channels to uncontrolled territories.

For the establishment of a public broadcasting independent of the state the following actions are necessary to be performed:

  • To reject actual state ownership and state funding. This indicates the need to develop a new funding mechanism, which includes the introduction of the subscription fee and the development of a business project to receive advertising funds. The most optimal is a three-component financing scheme. It provides for: the existence of the subscription fee and the possibility of receiving donations, however, with certain restrictions; incomes from advertising, at the same time, bans should be established for certain types of advertising, primarily political; receipts from the state budget. Information on the receipt and expenditure of funds must be public.
  • To transit from the channel management model as a state enterprise to the management model of a socially oriented and socially responsible business structure.
  • To change the purpose and values of the functioning of public broadcasting. The first means a transition from government service existing on the taxpayer money to serving the society with funds from citizens’ contributions and channel profits. The second is the focus on improving the information space through creating the necessary conditions for freedom of information; to create a platform for a nationwide civil dialogue; on the formation of civil identity and culture of citizenship through informing and education, carried out through the media.
  • Intrinsically, the public broadcaster should become the main institution of civil society in the information sphere, which activities are aimed at supporting and developing other institutions.

Specialists in the media sphere should be more actively involved in explaining the essence of public broadcasting to citizens, improving its model on the basis of the principles according to which public broadcasters function in democratic countries.

On public channels much of the airtime should be allocated to educational programs. Considering the tasks that Ukraine faces in relation to the upbringing of a citizen, the reintegration of uncontrolled territories and the formation of a political nation, every TV channel requires the launch of educational programs’ cycles – civil, political, legal, historical, cultural.

Svetlana Topalova, Elena Ukrainets

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

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