The Media in Post-Orange Revolution Ukraine
Point of View by Wilson Center Fellow Marta Dyczok, from November 2005 Centerpoint
Monitoring developments in Ukraine is anything but dull; the situation changes regularly and often unexpectedly. Nine months after the inspiring Orange Revolution, accusations of corruption precipitated a crisis that ended with high-level resignations, dismissal of the entire government, and an abrupt alliance between President Viktor Yushchenko and his former adversary Viktor Yanukovych, whom he defeated at the polls last year.
Amidst the upheaval, one achievement of the Orange Revolution seems untaintedrenewed freedom of speech. Heavy-handed state censorship ended which is, without a doubt, positive. However, the question remains whether most journalists or the new elite have a clear understanding of the role media generally plays in a democracy.
Few journalists have experience working in a democratic environment, coming from a legacy of Soviet, then Kuchma-era, censorship. In those restricted settings, journalists responded in one of three ways: some submitted and even profited; others resisted, at great personal and professional cost, but most put their heads down and tried to survive. As a result, journalists divided into two broad groups: those who served the establishment and those who opposed it. In this new era when the demand for conformity largely has disappeared, few understand that their role as journalists is to neither serve nor oppose the state, but to provide objective information, be a watchdog of the state, and reflect public opinion.
Similarly, the elitewhich came to power after the Orange Revolutioncontinues to consider media in old terms. They understand censorship is unacceptable, but continue to perceive the media as an instrument of influence. Yushchenko has not kept his election promise to end state ownership of media outlets, and two of his closest allies, former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko and former Security Council head Petro Poroshenko reportedly were maneuvering behind the scenes to purchase the two most successful private TV stations in the country, INTER and 1+1. The lack of censorship has meant that information circulates freely, but so do rumors, and the elites are not heeding the media's words. Allegations of corruption and wrongdoing appear in the press but often are ignored and certainly not investigated.
All of this has serious implications for democratic development in Ukraine since it is well known that without a free media, democracy is not possible. As the spring Parliamentary elections approach, it will be interesting to watch how journalists and politicians behave, and this will be an indicator of whether things have really changed in Ukraine.