The program DOBRE announced the winners of the journalist works contest “Decentralization: path to better results and efficiency”. They were 14 journalists of local media from six regions of Ukraine. The aim of the competition was to start a constructive discourse on decentralization for Ukrainians to have the opportunity to understand the essence of the reform and its progress in their region, learn about the achievements of the existing united communities, see solutions to problems, involve in the creation of new local governments in their community. The winners were awarded at Ukraine Crisis Media Center and discussed the challenges local media face covering the topic of decentralization and what was before: people’s interest in the topic, or its coverage in the media. “We are at a stage when we only start to talk about decentralization. We learn, acquire necessary vocabulary to talk about the reform. It is interesting to see how local leaders are born, how they communicate their positions, learn to plan the community development, acquire decentralization tools. Decentralization is about our communication, we have lost contacts and now we are re-collecting the country and bringing all pieces together. This is in our interests,” said Anastasia Rinhis, journalist, member of the contest committee.
Will decentralization change people’s mentality?
No matter how successful a reform is, we cannot achieve anything without changes in the minds of people. What role can local media play in this evolution of thinking? “People are skeptical about new things. How can we convince them that everything will be good? Show what their neighbors [neighboring communities] managed to do over a year. The mentality has not changed yet, people are not aware that we must take responsibility; all expect someone from above to decide, we prefer to go with the flow. I showed an ideological mastermind who shows by example how much can be done,” said Iryna Sytnik, journalist of the newspaper “Stepova Zoria”, Dnipropetrovsk region. However, often people’s interest is caused by fear of the unknown, a desire to get answers to a question what will happen next. “There were a lot of myths at the beginning of decentralization that schools would be closed, villages would disappear, etc. Our radio phones were exploding. But this craze stopped when people saw how the reform works. People began to respond to the decentralization process,” noted Zoiyna Byndas, journalist, Ukh- radio, Ternopil.
Failure stories and who is behind them
Not all works submitted for the contest were about the success of reform and achievements of communities. There were also many negative examples, and they should be mentioned. “Although my story is about unsuccessful examples, they should be mentioned, because they indicate who is hindering the process of decentralization and reform. First of all, these are officials. It suits them to do nothing, not to unite into communities and remain local power brokers,” noted Tetiana Filippova, journalist of the newspaper “Ridne Pribuzhia” (Mykolaiv). Every so often the acting village heads who do not want to lose their power also hinder the reform. “Village heads are the main factor of resistance, but the central government neither advocates decentralization nor agitates for it. The role of the media is to get the issue moving and to draw attention to it,” believes Ihor Terletskyi, journalist of the newspaper “Krai” (Gorodenka). Decentralization is changing the management culture, undermines the political relations established over the years.
The new community leaders come. “District officials used to manage the village heads that went cap in hand to them to ask for money. And now, when they start to manage their communities by themselves, it appears to be a catastrophe for district officials,” informed Iryna Zaika, journalist of the NSTU branch “Mykolaiv Regional Directorate”. “Decentralization disturbs politicians. It would be much better if all leaders regardless of party affiliation united and worked for the common goal,” added Nelia Zhelamska, journalist of the magazine “Persona” (Kropyvnytskyi).
Regional journalists have the advantage of a direct “access” to the decentralization source. Central media journalists cannot inform about it from Kyiv. “You have the advantage; you have people with a lot of stories. Your personal attitude always contributes to it. People forget how interesting they can make their native land,” says Andrii Kulykov, head of the public organization “Hromadske Radio”, chairman of the contest committee.
Winners of the contest received financial compensation and tickets for Lviv Media Forum. The contest was held by Ukraine Crisis Media Center under the program DOBRE with the assistance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).