Kyiv, November 27, 2015. In democratic countries printed media are privately owned. It is not just about reforming – not only changing the name, but about changing the philosophy – media as the “fourth estate” controls three other branches. It happens not because being in power implies being strong and able to suppress but because it is a counterbalance to official authorities, said Taras Shevchenko, Director of the Media Law Institute at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center held in the context of the Law on reforming state- and municipally owned printed media adopted on November 24. “Such control can be exercised only when media are privately owned, even by oligarchs. Even the fact that media are owned by various oligarchs is better than when they are owned by the state, but it is even better when they are owned by journalists, creative teams and small editorial teams,” said Shevchenko adding that the law gives opportunity for such editorial teams to transform.
The Director of the Media Law Institute said that the Law on reforming of state- and municipally owned printed media foresees two stages. Within its first stage, over the first year – 2016 only those printed media are to be reformed that feel they are capable of becoming independent outlets. The law provides better opportunities to get the property, keep the name, become independent, be getting state support over a certain time period, he noted. Within the second stage that is to last for two more years all other publications will also have to decide whether to get privatized or to turn into official journals or even close down. According to Shevchenko it is a question now how to reform current parliamentary newspapers “Golos Ukrainy” (Ukraine’s Voice) and “Viche” magazine: “a total of UAH 13 million is spent on these printed media annually.”
Heads of the above media outlets do not understand how they will go on without state support, noted Svitlana Ostap, media expert at Telekrytyka NGO, member of the steering committee of the National Public Radio and TV Company. “Revenue of the ‘Golos Ukrainy’ newspaper is equally split, meaning UAH 11 million is provided from the state budget and almost the same sum is earned through advertising and subscription. This almost UAH 22 million is spent to print 60 thousand copies of the newspaper. Both representatives of commercial media and MPs said that the newspaper with such a print run can easily cover its own needs, no additional subsidies are required,” said Ostapa. She said that the state must support only printed media in villages and towns that cannot cover their needs and are only printed media in their areas, without them local population will remain without local press. However the Cabinet of Ministers has to design a support mechanism for them and put it down into a law. Rest of the state- and municipally owned media need to be privatized. They do not have to be influenced by authorities as, firstly, the journalists working in these media will never be critical towards the authorities. Secondly, “it creates unequal working conditions for journalists, as those who work in commercial media have to earn the money with their work in market conditions, working for the audience and society while others may sit and write whatever the authorities like and get paid for this,” said Ostapa.
Roman Golovenko, lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, explained that as the state bodies or local self-government are founders of such media, editorial board and journalists are dependent on the authorities in terms of state financing as well. The money can be not disbursed into the outlet’s budget or be re-calculated. “It is a tool for pressure that in many cases makes journalists praise local officials,” noted Golovenko. It is the reason behind the need to reform such publications. They need to turn into independent private companies based on private property. Journalists are to become their founders or they need to be privatized and the journalists will be working in the media purchased by a private investor. Other options include transforming the media into an official journal or closing them down, explained the lawyer of the Institute of the Mass Information.