BBC - Blogs - College of Journalism - Ukrainian media staging own revolution in face of Russian 'propaganda':
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The Euromaidan protests have delivered a huge lesson for Ukrainian society: citizens have learned to take responsibility for their lives, politicians have learned that they mean nothing without people’s support, and the government has learned that people’s patience is not unlimited. The country’s media have learned their lessons too, and we keep learning.
During Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency the Ukrainian media experienced constant pressure. All major TV channels are owned by oligarchs who were friendly to the Yanukovych regime, so they were censored by their management. It wasn’t classic censorship where the state controls all media and checks output before it is printed or broadcast. This censorship was in the hands of executive editors and producers whose decisions were controlled by the owners they served.
The situation for rare independent media was deteriorating with every year - with legal moves to silence certain journalists or media companies blocking legitimate journalism and access to information. And when the regime could not silence a newspaper or broadcaster forcefully it would just buy it.
Ukrainian Media Holding - including serious analytical magazines like Forbes Ukraine, Korrespondentand Focus, which dared to publish investigative journalism and decent analysis of government activity - was the last outpost of the independent press. Last year it was bought by Sergiy Kurchenko: a 27-year-old oligarch from within the closest orbit of Yanukovych. Thus in four years Ukraine has dropped 37 points in the Press Freedom Index issued annually by Reporters Without Borders (from 89th position in 2009 to 126th in 2013). By the time the Euromaidan protests broke out the Ukrainian media had already been tamed by Yanukovych and his government.
But these protests that have been called ‘the revolution of dignity’ awoke the dignity of Ukrainian journalism too. Although the major media were controlled by their owners and served the regime, a number of smaller ones stood up, providing accurate and detailed coverage of the events. It was an extremely difficult time for journalists - not only because they were subjected to pressure by the authorities but because they risked they lives too. About 100 journalists, mainly cameramen and photographers, were seriously injured covering the violent events. Most were severely and deliberately beaten by the Berkut, the riot police, and their cameras and other equipment destroyed. JournalistViacheslav Veremiy was killed. The regime did not need any witnesses to its actions.
However, even in this atmosphere of pressure and fear, some wonderful examples of excellent journalism emerged. One of the discoveries has been internet TV project Hromadske.tv - public internet television created by the group of journalists who left major media companies because of the censorship and pressure. Supported by international donor organisations and crowd-funded by Ukrainian viewers, they produced live-streaming from the streets, interviewed activists and politicians, and investigated large-scale corruption and money laundering. Hromadske’s ratings have grown dramatically and are still growing.
After Yanukovych was ousted, more and more media stood up and declared they had been pressured by the government. Even the biggest TV channel Inter claimed all of its journalists were censored or silenced. Ukrainian journalists have begun to understand the responsibility and role that the media has in society.
Now Ukrainian journalism is fighting against what it was itself not so long ago: a propaganda machine. During the protests, when the Russian media were depicting protesters as marginals, Nazis and fascists, we just laughed. It seemed ridiculous - blatant lies. We thought that all the misinformation could easily be confronted by the reality. All people had to do was go out on to the streets and see for themselves.
But when the conflict in Crimea broke out we weren’t laughing. The propaganda was working. People were not going on to the streets to get their own impressions; they believed what they were being told - they feared mythical warriors; they hated Ukrainians from the western parts of the country. What is happening in Crimea now is to a large extent attributable to the success of Russian propaganda and the past failure of the Ukrainian media to fight it.
The Regional Press Development Institute is a leading Ukrainian NGO supporting investigative journalism in the country. Kateryna Ivanova was awarded an Ochberg Fellowship in 2011 from the Dart Center, Columbia University, for her coverage of violence and trauma.
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