Even in the internet age, television remains by far the favorite source of information for Ukrainian citizens – 74 percent of them get their news mostly from TV, according to a March survey by Kyiv Institute of Sociology.

But the news they get is filtered through the political biases of the oligarch owners of the TV channels, who use the airwaves to slant the news in favor of their favored candidates. According to a Kyiv-based think tank Ukrainian Institute of the Future, about 76 percent of all the television watched in Ukraine is controlled by four oligarchs: Victor Pinchuk, Rinat Akhmetov, Dmytro Firtash, and Kolomoisky.

could be interesting for you:

The list doesn’t include pro-Russian businessman and politician Victor Medvedchuk, who doesn’t own any TV stations officially. Yet his close ally Taras Kozak owns two news stations – Channel 112 and NewsOne, whose coverage is so favorable to Medvedchuk that analysts have been invariably claiming the channels are in fact his. Medvedchuk has been denying it.

Advertisement

Attitude towards the president

Watching Ukrainian TV for a number of days, it’s easy to see that TV channels most often act in line with their owner’s personal agenda.

Billionaire oligarch Akhmetov, owner of System Capital Management holding and TRK Ukraine channel, and pro-Russian oligarch Medvedchuk, have their personal favorites. But, nonetheless, President Petro Poroshenko still gets favorable coverage on TRK Ukraine, Channel 112, and NewsOne.

Firtash, who is fighting U.S. bribery charges that he denies from exile in Austria, owns one of Ukraine’s most-watched TV channels Inter. Inter positively covers presidential candidate Yuriy Boyko, nominated by Medvedchuk’s party Opposition Platform – For Life. Yet Inter also covers Poroshenko in a positive light.

Petro Dyminsky, the owner of ZIK channel and the co-owner of the Continuum business group, allows his channel to be used as a platform for some of Poroshenko’s allies who are under investigation, so they can tell their side of the story.

Advertisement

Although Poroshenko has his own news channel, Channel 5, he is also praised on Pryamii, a station launched in 2017 by pro-presidential ex-lawmaker Volodymyr Makeyenko. Pryamii roots for Poroshenko’s re-election and criticizes the president’s opponents so strongly, that like with Medvedchuk, many critics allege he is the real owner of the station – something his administration denied.

Three TV groups are plainly against the incumbent president.

The 1+1 media group, owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the former owner of PrivatBank, which was nationalized by the government in 2016, backs front-runner Volodymyr Zelenskiy, one of the oligarch’s long-time business partners and the star of 1+1.

Channel 24, owned by the family of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, who withdrew from the presidential race in favor of ex-Defense Minister Anatoly Grytsenko, also opposes Poroshenko.

And a newly-launched Nash TV channel, owned by Yevhen Murayev, a pro-Russian politician, supports Oleksandr Vilkul, a pro-Russian presidential candidate and a former prominent member of Party of Regions. Murayev used to run NewsOne before selling it to Kozak in 2018 – although Murayev says he negotiated the sale with Medvedchuk.

Advertisement

Standing apart from the rest is oligarch Victor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma and the owner of ICTV, Novyi Kanal and STB, who takes a rather neutral approach to all of the political candidates, giving a platform to everyone – including Poroshenko.

Here’s a summary of what the Ukrainian television has been like during the week before the election on March 31.

Medvedchuk’s agenda

Pro-Russian oligarch Medvedchuk, whose daughter’s godfather is Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, is widely believed to be the beneficiary owner of two Ukrainian news channels, Channel 112 and NewsOne, but has consistently denied his ownership. The channels are strikingly similar, with the same agenda, but a slightly different approach.

Medvedchuk is the leader of the rogue Opposition Platform – For Life political party, which is one of the two splinter parties of the Opposition Bloc, the successor of ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

At first sight, the channels have a straightforward agenda of supporting Boyko, a former deputy prime minister and twice energy minister under Yanukovych, who is now the presidential candidate from Medvedchuk’s Opposition Platform – For Life party.

Both channels showed Medvedchuk and Boyko’s visit to Russia on March 22, where they met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, placing an emphasis on how they can negotiate gas prices with Russia, seemingly forgetting to mention that Russia has invaded and occupied Ukraine’s Crimea and is waging war on Ukraine in the Donbas.

Advertisement
A typical scene on NewsOne showing presidential candidate Yuriy Boyko walking past an old house or government facility in Kyiv Oblast, promising to rebuild the place. Microphones of Channel 112 and Inter are seen as well.

The channels give lots of airtime to Boyko speaking on multiple issues, such as pensions, living standards, while showing schools and hospitals repaired or planned to be repaired by Medvedchuk’s party.

The channels share guests, with those supporting Boyko or Poroshenko migrating from one to another. But NewsOne is less toxic, more neutral and more expert-focused, while Channel 112 has a stronger presence of Medvedchuk himself, with multiple interviews turning into one-sided monologs and livestreams of Boyko’s visit to Russia.

The most outspoken presidential candidates on the two channels, excluding Boyko, are Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party, with 21 seats in parliament, and Poroshenko.

Lyashko, represented by his party member Ihor Mosiychuk, is frequently mentioned on Medvedchuk’s political talk shows, while Poroshenko is always mentioned in a positive light, with his speeches from all over Ukraine live streamed on Channel 112 and NewsOne.

The channels usually list his accomplishments as president, forgetting to report on issues where he has come up short, or the scandals to which he has been linked.

Boyko, Poroshenko and Lyashko are among these channels’ favorites as well, with other candidates largely being ignored.

Advertisement

However, on the latest political talk show aired on NewsOne on March 27, Serhiy Vlasenko, a lawmaker from the 20-member Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna faction in parliament, was invited to take part.

But the same talk show featured a 40-minute monologue from Boyko, with guests invited only after the presidential candidate left the studio.

Firtash follow-up

Exiled oligarch Firtash has the same message as Medvedchuk, yet has a much more powerful outlet, with his Inter TV channel among the most watched TV channels in Ukraine and its news segment the most-watched news program in the country.

While Inter is not purely news-based, the channel has hourly news programs, a daily hour-long news summary and a grand, once-a-week news program, aired each Sunday.

The average program features one or two segments with Boyko or someone from the Opposition Bloc – For Life political party talking about social issues, while the same program mentions Poroshenko in a rather neutral light, talking about his activities without giving an opinion about them.

Akhmetov’s Ukraina

A similar approach but with a slightly different agenda can be seen on Akhmetov’s Ukraina channel. The two main differences are that Ukraina is less news-based, with more reality and talk shows, and that Akhmetov supports the other pro-Russian Opposition Bloc splinter – the Party for Development and Peace.

Advertisement

Ukraina’s regular TV guide includes soap-operas and talk-shows remote from politics. Political ads do appear during commercial breaks, but they are marked as such and feature a variety of candidates, usually Poroshenko, Lyashko and Vilkul, from Akhmetov’s Opposition Bloc faction.

The channel’s news programs usually push a soft pro-Vilkul agenda, while having some positive coverage of Poroshenko as well. The news segment usually winds up with an item on Lyashko.

Presidential message

Poroshenko, who does not lack attention on channels belonging to pro-Russian oligarchs, has his own media, pushing an aggressive pro-presidential agenda.

The two channels owned by Poroshenko, Channel 5 and Pryamii have a distinct feature from all other news agencies. They slam Poroshenko’s opponents.

Pryamii channel is focused on Poroshenko. Press conferences and regional meetings are broadcast live, followed by panel discussions dissecting every move made by the president. The channel also defends the president when other media sources talk about corruption within the president’s inner circle.

The positive outlook of Poroshenko provided by the channels, is complemented by negative coverage of Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko, who according to various polls are the main competitors of the incumbent president.

Zelenskiy is usually mentioned with either the prefix clown, emphasizing that he is a comedian and not a serious politician, or in the context that he is a puppet of Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s top oligarchs, who opposes the current regime.

A poll on Pryamii channel, asking a question whether presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy is manipulating the audience through his TV series, with a graph showing that 90 percent of people voted yes.

Tymoshenko’s name usually comes in conjunction with the words “liar” and “populist,” and frequent mention of her being a politician of the “old system” who has held power for a long time in the country. Another common theme on Pryamii is Tymoshenko’s ties with Russia, which are presented as an objective fact, implying the viewership effectively has a choice between Poroshenko or Putin.

Channel 5, can be seen as a diet version of Pryamii, with slightly more Poroshenko and slightly less negativity for other candidates.

Kolomoisky’s support

Zelenskiy, of course, has no lack of media attention, being a famous actor and the face of 1+1, one of the country’s most watched TV channels, which is owned by Kolomoisky.

Zelenskiy, whom critics accuse of being a proxy of Kolomoisky, which both of them deny, has free reign on 1+1: Comedy shows and TV series featuring Zelenskiy took up from six to 10 hours of 1+1 programming every day during the week prior to presidential elections.

On March 30, the day before the election, when all campaigning is banned, 1+1 will run Zelenskiy’s shows most of the day, and in the evening will run a documentary about the former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who was an actor prior to his political career. To emphasize the parallel with Zelenskiy, the candidate will be voicing Reagan in the Ukrainian version of the film.

Concerning other candidates, 1+1 has a rather neutral, sometimes positive outlook of Tymoshenko, while usually speaking negatively about the current president.

A corruption scandal concerning UkrObronProm and Poroshenko’s circle, illicit enrichment and Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s attack on U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, were highly publicized, both during news reports and in comedy sketches by Zelenskiy and his team.

Pinchuk stays neutral

Pinchuk, an oligarch who controls the largest portion of highly popular TV channels, including ICTV, Novyi Kanal and STB, remains neutral.

While STB and Novyi Kanal are rather apolitical, specializing in TV shows and movies, ICTV broadcasts one of the top-rated political talk shows, Svoboda Slova (Ukrainian for “Freedom of Speech) on Mondays.

Svoboda Slova adopts a rather balanced approach, with Monday’s show featuring Tymoshenko, Vilkul and Grytsenko, while a Tuesday special featured Poroshenko and two other presidential candidates, nationalist Ruslan Koshulynskyi and former head of State Security Service (SBU) Valentyn Nalyvaichenko.

ICTV’s political advertising also features a variety of candidates, from nationalists to pro-Russian favorites.

ICTV also airs a number of investigative shows, which usually focus on war and corruption, but do not specifically target any high-ranking officials or presidential candidates.

Struggling for independence

Journalist investigations that target authorities run on two channels – Channel 24, owned by the wife of Lviv Mayor Sadovyi, and the state-owned UA Pershyi.

The news-based Channel 24 has a variety of political TV shows and investigative reports. The channel was the first to air the Bihus.info investigation into corruption in the state defense-sector holding company UkrObornProm, a scandal that was damaging to the president. Opposition lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko and Vitaliy Shabunin, the head of Anti-Corruption Action Center, have their own shows, and the channel’s several political comedy shows often strike at Poroshenko, Tymoshenko and Zelenskiy.

The channel broadcasts several investigative shows, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Schemes, CIA, Bihus.Info’s Nashi Groshi, Leshchenko’s Honest Politics, Pravo na Pravdu and others, with all the latest corruption scandals either being sparked by investigative reports on Channel 24, or being given plenty of coverage on the channel.

The channel’s go-to candidate is Grytsenko, who was supported by Sadovyi early in the elections, with members of Grytsenko’s camp appearing on the channel as experts, or having their own segments.

The channel permits ads of all political stripes, with an advertisement to vote for Poroshenko being shown just before an investigative report slamming corruption involving the president’s friends.

UA Pershyi, run by the state-owned National Public Broadcasting Company, also airs investigative reports by Bihus.info and Schemes, which are highly critical of the top officials, and often Poroshenko himself.

The channel was in the center of a scandal when its head was fired by the supervisory board – one of the board’s complaints was about the channel running too little coverage of the president.

UA Pershyi also decided to host presidential debates, inviting all top presidential candidates, three at a time. Of the top six candidates, only Grytsenko participated, with others being replaced by dummies.

Political advertising on the channel is open to all presidential candidates.

Marginal presence

Last but not least are two less-watched TV channels – ZIK and Nash.

ZIK, a channel belonging to Dyminskyi, is more popular in western Ukraine. It has recently become a convenient platform for government officials involved in political or corruption scandals to present their side of the story without the need to answer tough questions. This was the case for Serhiy Semochko, deputy head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, whose wife was found to hold a Russian passport, and Oleg Gladkovskiy, deputy head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, whose son was allegedly involved in top-level defense corruption.

Nash TV channel, owned by Murayev, gives the president negative coverage. The channel focuses on pro-Russian candidate Vilkul, but also shows National Corps rallies against Poroshenko and talks about high-level government corruption.

The channel has also a neutral approach to Tymoshenko and Lyashko.

Interestingly, Nash TV channel wasn’t allowed to receive its own license, so it bought out a low profile fashion channel and rebranded it into a political news channel, with the fashion channel’s logo still present in the top right corner of the screen.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Comments (0)

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Write the first comment for this!