Anyone who relied on Ukraine’s leading media outlets for coverage of Ukraine’s Oct. 31 election would have come to the conclusion that the contest was democratic and blessed internationally.
Serious criticism from the nation’s most reputable domestic monitors, OPORA, as well as international organizations and governments were all but ignored.
Leading television channels, controlled largely by oligarchs loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych, primarily aired the views of election monitors from Russian-controlled missions who are notorious for seeing no problems. Russia, after all, has not had democratic elections in a long time.
See also the table 'Who told the truth about Ukrain's local election?'
The same pro-presidential spin came from reports by Interfax-Ukraine, Ukraine’s leading news agency.
The business is run and co-owned by Oleksandr Martynenko, who served as press secretary to former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the media-stifling authoritarian who ruled the nation from 1994 to 2005. The Kyiv Post is a subscriber to Interfax reports.
Media analysts said the slanted coverage demonstrates that Ukraine’s news media are moving closer to Russian-style journalism, in which the Kremlin line is obeyed, at least by the major national TV networks.
In other cases, comments were distorted.
Apart from the long lines that people had to stand in, there were no other problems.”
- Pawel Kowal, European Parliament member.
For example, the conclusions of European monitors – such as European Parliament member Pawel Kowal – were presented selectively.
Citing Kowal and other monitors, leading TV channels and Interfax-Ukraine left their audiences with the conclusion that Ukraine’s elections were fair.
Kowal was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine saying that he and colleagues personally saw no major violations while monitoring a handful of voting stations on Election Day.
Kowal was similarly quoted by Inter TV channel, owned by Security Service of Ukraine chief Valery Khoroshkovsky: “Apart from the long lines that people had to stand in, there were no other problems.”
But other relevant comments by Kowal were ignored. For example, Kowal expressed concern that “big problems” that affected the election and that a final assessment would come later.
“Changing election rules months ahead of the vote is clearly a big problem. It’s also a problem when a party cannot take part ... in several regions,” Kowal said.
The quote made it into London’s Financial Times, but was nowhere to be heard on Ukraine’s major TV channels or Interfax-Ukraine.
“Preliminary reports from election monitors suggest that Ukraine’s Oct. 31 local elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness set by the presidential elections earlier this year.”
- U.S. Department of State statement.
A tough statement by the U.S. Department of State was made public on Nov. 3, which began: “Preliminary reports from election monitors suggest that Ukraine’s Oct. 31 local elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness set by the presidential elections earlier this year.”
Reports by international media focused on this conclusion, but Ukrainian television ignored questioning of the fairness of the vote.
Instead, the TV stations focused on the last part of the statement, where the U.S. reiterated its eagerness to help Ukraine develop better election laws.
Interfax-Ukraine’s short report on the U.S. statement, for example, had the following headline: “The U.S.A is ready to help Ukraine reform its election laws.”
The U.S.-funded OPORA, which fielded the largest and most professional group of election monitors nationally, found their conclusions downplayed by most Ukrainian news outlets.
The organization found that the election was not fair, democratic or open – a finding ignored by Interfax-Ukraine and the nation’s largest TV channels.
Ukrainian television news programming is becoming just like in Russia. This became evident in the first days of this new leadership.”
- Natalia Ligachova, head of the Kyiv-based Telekritika media watchdog.
When asked by the Kyiv Post why comments challenging the fairness of the election never made it into its reports, Interfax-Ukraine declined to comment. But media experts said there is an explanation.
“Ukrainian television news programming is becoming just like in Russia,” said Natalia Ligachova, head of the Kyiv-based Telekritika media watchdog.
In such a model, Ligachova said the news media’s role is to praise the nation’s leadership, refrain from criticism and leave citizens with the impression that everything is well.
“This became evident in the first days of this new leadership,” Ligachova said. “It is very clear now that the quality of news reporting at almost all television channels has noticeably worsened. Reports are to be positive about the group in power, or not reported at all. In contrast, the opposition is to be reported on with a negative twist, or not at all.”
Considering that billionaire oligarchs backing Yanukovych own many of the nation’s top media outlets, Ligachova said the situation on TV was unlikely to change soon.
“What is important is to raise awareness of this situation to citizens,” and direct them to alternative sources of news, Ligachova added.
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Kyiv Post staff writer Roman Feshchenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.