Oligarchs strengthen grip over TV

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Aug. 18, 2011, 6:21 p.m. | Business — by Kyiv Post Staff
Ukraine’s state television and radio regulatory body on Aug. 18 doled out 28 nationwide licenses for digital broadcasting, mostly to companies controlled by oligarchs who are seen as being on good terms with President Viktor Yanukovych. The licenses were distributed ahead of the switchover from analog planned for this autumn.

This as one of the final steps towards establishment of an authoritarian regime backed by loyal oligarchs.
Critics said it represented a big step toward further monopolization of Ukraine’s media by domestic oligarchs that are loyal or friendly in their coverage of Yanukovych’s administration.

“This as one of the final steps towards establishment of an authoritarian regime backed by loyal oligarchs,” said Mykola Kniazhytsky, general director of TVi.

TVi did not get a license. “We applied, but didn’t get any license, without any explanation,” Kniazhytsky added.

According to media watchdogs in Ukraine, TVi is one of the nation’s few channels that dares to scratch below the surface in its coverage of Yanukovych’s administration.

Asked why he thinks TVi was turned down, Kniazhytsky said: “We adhere to honest and investigative journalism. So, it seems that this got in the way, as it did for many regional channels that also try to report objectively. We got no licenses. Instead, the channels of oligarchs loyal to the presidential administration got nearly all the licenses.”

Without a digital license, TVi will through existing cable and satellite networks have access to about 45 percent of Ukraine’s population, while the selected channels will have more than 90 percent nationwide coverage.

Licenses were granted to eight channels within Ukraine’s largest television holding, U.A. Inter Media Group. It is owned by billionaire Valery Khoroshkovsky. He currently heads Ukraine’s SBU state security service.

Four licenses went to channels owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and a longtime Yanukovych backer.
Three licenses were granted to the channels of Viktor Pinchuk, the billionaire son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma.

Channels 1+1 and TET, owned by billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, were also handed licenses.
Petro Poroshenko’s channel 5, whose reporting is known to be balanced but less aggressive than TVi, got a license.

Even the National Bank of Ukraine got a license for a newly launched banking television project, as did an ice hockey channel reportedly owned by Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov.

Left out is TVi, a channel whose news coverage stands out for digging deep and hitting hard in times when much of domestic news coverage has been either dumbed down or spun in favor of Yanukovych.
We all know that there is no independent judiciary in the country left anymore.

TVi was set up by two exiled Russian businessman: Vladimir Gusinsky and Konstantin Kagalovsky. They split due to a business dispute.

Today, Kagalovsky controls and continues to fund TVi. The channel pledges to fight and report on, despite recent attempts to muzzle its reporting by pulling licenses handed out in prior years, and not granting fresh ones.

Kniazhytsky said TVi plans to appeal the fairness of the license handouts. But, he added: “We all know that there is no independent judiciary in the country left anymore.”
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