Censorship in Ukraine Intensifies- Journalists Fight Back
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Marta Dyczok, Professor of History and Political Science, Western Ontario University, discussed the role of the media in Ukraine. She explained that because the media situation in post-communist countries is constantly changing, very little scholarly analysis has been done on the media sector in Ukraine. Dyczok explained that most of the models that have been used to analyze the development of media sectors in democratic countries do not apply to post-communist Ukraine. She stated that four principle actors compose the media issue in Ukraine: the state, the journalists, the owners of the media groups, and the public or society. She suggested that while these four groups are influenced by the old Soviet political culture, outside forces such as globalization are causing change.
Dyczok explained that the Ukrainian government has three main institutions that regulate and govern the media sector and construct the legal and regulatory framework for media issues: the State Committee for Information Politics, the National Council on Questions of Television and Radio Broadcasting and the Parliamentary Committee on the Freedom of Speech. She noted that although the legal and regulatory framework is quite extensive and comprehensive the real power of regulation resides with the President and the presidential administration. Dyczok noted that one of the most striking changes in the media sector since the collapse of communism has been the privatization of the media sector. She explained that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian media outlets are privately owned, however very little documentation explaining who these owners are exists. Dyczok argued that owners have a complicit and active role in the censorship issue.
According to Dyczok, Ukrainian journalists are the key actors in the censorship issue. She explained that that most journalists work in very difficult conditions, and many have been threatened, assaulted or even killed. She noted that while there are many good journalists in Ukraine, there are serious problems with the journalism sector as a whole. Dyczok contended that that absence of high professional standards and solidarity makes journalists easy targets for censorship.
Dyczok stated that it is clear that the dynamic exhibited in Ukraine is not one of a free and independent media in a democratic society. She explained that while the institutions for an independent media exist, peoples' behavior continues to be largely shaped by the old communist system. She argued that state still feels that the power to regulate lies with the presidential administration rather than the institutions that have been created. Political elites and owners continue to perceive the media as an instrument to be manipulated for their own goals. Dyczok contended that even journalists are in fact part of the problem to a large degree, behaving much as they did under the Soviet system. Finally, the public continues to exhibit the same tendencies as it did under Soviet rule, largely ignoring what journalists are saying. Dyczok emphasized however, that political culture is not static, and that the forces of globalization are counteracting the forces of the old Soviet political culture in Ukraine.
Dyczok concluded that the role of the media in Ukraine remains in flux. She suggested that fundamentally this is a Ukrainian issue, and "the state, the owners, journalists and the public must make changes before progress can be made." According to Dyczok, external factors such as better monitoring and direct financial support for education and legal aid could help move Ukraine toward a more free and independent media.