A supporter of Ukrainian election winner, Viktor Yanukovych, reads the front page of a newspaper portraiting his defeated rival Yulia Tymoshenko and reading "Yulia Tymoshenko decided to bang the door" during a rally in front of the Central Election Commission in Kyiv on Feb. 10, 2010. Ukraine's triumphant presidential election candidate Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday called on his defeated rival Yulia Tymoshenko to resign as prime minister to avert a new political crisis. AFP PHOTO/ VICTOR DRACHEV
As a newspaper, we’re quite aware that we should strive to be balanced and present competing points of view to the best of our ability. But what do you do if the job is extremely difficult, bordering on impossible?
It seems that the Kyiv Post’s relationship with the pro-presidential Party of Regions would be a good illustration of the struggle that goes on behind the scenes to get to the original sources and our inability at times to do so.
As the campaign kicked off for the Oct. 28 parliamentary election, the Kyiv Post editorial staff made a list of priorities for political coverage in the months coming up to election. Talking to the leaders of major political forces was very high on that list, and so we started.
Of the leaders of top five parties capable of making it to parliament, Natalya Korolevska was the first person who agreed to talk to us. Arseniy Yatseniuk, whose press service had previously demanded to see the story before it was published, eventually conceded to giving us an interview with no strings attached. Vitali Klitschko has invited us on the campaign trail.
No such luck with the Communists and the Party of Regions. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko and his underlings simply refused to talk to the Kyiv Post, seeing no benefit in it. The Party of Regions, however, is negotiating.
The Regions’ formal leader, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov talked to us last November, so the chances of interviewing him again anytime soon are remote. Instead, we knocked on the door of most of top 10 candidates on the party list, only to find ourselves in a Kafkaesque situation of going round in circles.
Oleksandr Yefremov, leader of the Regions’ faction, was the first on our list. His spokeswoman Olesya Chepurna demanded to see the text of the interview before publication. The Kyiv Post, unlike many news organizations in Ukraine, regards pre-publication review by anybody other than journalists as an infringement on our editorial independence.
Kyiv Post reporter Denis Rafalsky, who negotiated for
the interview, told her that Azarov did not review the story before
publications. Surprised, Chepurna did some fact-checking and realized it was
indeed the case.
Then for weeks, we were hearing “come tomorrow,” which eventually ended with a refusal. We have approached presidential adviser Iryna Akimova, ambassador Leonid Kozhara, chief of headquarters Andriy Klyuev and his deputy Volodymyr Rybak with the same request and have gotten nowhere. Deputy Prime Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy (who is not running for the Rada) promised us an interview in Yalta, only to back off in Kyiv on the agreed date.
Representatives of the government and the Party of Regions are either too busy to talk to us, or don’t want to do it for a number of reasons. The same thing happens when we try to solicit op-eds. While representatives of the opposition immediately jump at the opportunity to present their point of view, Party of Regions speakers often don’t even bother to call back or even reply to SMS messages.
Those few younger people who are entitled to speak and have something to say, like the president’s representative in parliament, Yuriy Miroshnychenko and deputy Olena Bondarenko, are often too over-worked to write and not senior enough to form and affect the Regions’ policies.
Worse still, the number of speakers in the Party of Regions is amazingly small, considering the size of the political force and the impact it has on the nation. This is a real problem for the media, and no amount of spin from foreign consultants has managed to fix it over the last few years.
It is partly because of a shortage of speakers that the Regions seem to have an idea that they can talk to the press on their terms and even dictate our editorial policy. Chepurna, the Regions’ spokeswoman, told our journalist Oksana Grytsenko that faction leader Yefremov won’t talk to us because of our editorial policy. The deputy does not want to spend a lot of his time talking to us, only to see individual quotes in the story, rather than the preferred format of questions and answers. particularly if he is not going to see the story at the end.
“You’ve got to change your editorial policy,” she told our reporter.
As a matter of fact, we are proud of our editorial policy, by which we have been governed for the entire 17 years of our existence. Parties come and go, often rising and falling on the strength of personalities, but our good reputation remains. That’s why we will continue seeking quotes and on-the record sources to the best of our ability, but only to the extent that it does not compromise our integrity.
We’re not alone in this. The New York Times recently ran a long editorial comment, explaining to readers and sources that they are going to stop the practice of sending quotes back for approval. The editors said they are quite aware that they will lose out on interviews, but they believe they will gain on quality and ethics. They owe it to their readers.
We’re on the side of The New York Times in this debate, rather than the side of the Party of Regions. The Kyiv Post will simply not change its policy because we value independence, the trust of our readers and advertisers above all. We will lose this trust if the newspaper becomes a subservient tool of its sources.
In fact, we campaign among the Ukrainian news media to adopt the same ethical practices and standards so that all journalists can present a united front.
At the same time, we do talk to sources in the Party of Regions. Each of our editors and many reporters have a pool of reliable contacts who can verify tips, help out with fact-checking and even give an occasional background quote. But they often have to remain behind the scene because they are not allowed to speak publicly for attribution, or for other reasons that we usually explain when we run the story.
If the Party of Regions is confident in itself and truly believes in freedom of the press, its representatives should start acting that way – and one good first step is to have honest give-and-take with journalists.
Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.