Experts: If public television sets objectivity bar, all private TV-channels will also aim at fairness


The question of journalist standards and ethics is under discussion in both Romania and Ukraine, as there are many tricky situations with no clear bottom line. Experts discussed how to stay unbiased in the light of low public demand for objective news.

Kyiv, April 26, 2016. Ukraine and Romania share a common problem in mass media sphere – financial dependence of TV-channels and periodicals on political players who are their owners or sponsors. It is difficult, or even impossible for a journalist to work within this system and maintain professional ethics standards. Individual attempts to oppose it mostly result in failure, when the system either bends nonconformists to submission or pushes them out. “There is a media elite who do not accept such work and will never do it, (…) but not everyone is ready to take this step, due to family reasons or for instance mortgage. This means there are enough people who are ready to fulfill the owners’ orders, disregarding ethical norms and journalisms standards,” explained Tetyana Lebedeva, member of supervisory board of the National Television Company of Ukraine,
honorary head of the Independent Association of Broadcasters, ex-member of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine at discussion at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “We need to break this vicious cycle, and I believe that the future of Ukrainian journalism lies in journalists’ activity inside these big companies. We shall enhance development of trade unions and support those who are ready to oppose the system,” said Tetyana Pushnova, general producer of Ukraine Today.

Another problem for both countries is that Ukrainian journalists are activists at the same time. On one hand, as stated by executive director of the Center for Independent Journalism Ioana Avadani “there are events where journalists cannot be neutral. If you act in the interests of the society, you are not only a journalist, but an activist as well”. Nevertheless, professional standards envisage separating these two activities.

“Journalists here are a powerful part of civil society, but it’s not a journalist who must pursue opening a criminal case. A journalist’ work is to cover a fact. […] On the other hand, we lack serious activists able to take the information and consistently process it. Even the story about the offshores was presented by activists rather than journalists,” said Pushnova. “It is important that journalists started actively discussing their professional standards, following the investigation on offshores. […] A natural process of journalists and activists separation is taking place now, and it may be the first time when this discussion is not stimulated externally,” said Daryna Yurovska, deputy general director of the National Television Company of Ukraine. Increasing influence of social media will also support gradual separation of these two activities. Sometimes certain posts not only cause public outcry, but result in real dismissals, cancellation of some appointments and launching investigations,” emphasized Lebedeva.

Journalists’ qualification level also poses a problem. “Ukraine lacks factual journalism able to communicate various versions of what is happening,” said Roman Golovenko, head of legal projects at the Institute of Mass Information. Moreover, in fact there are “no mechanisms to influence those producing paid news – neither by journalist community itself nor by the audience which is not always aware that it is being manipulated”. According to the experts, the problem is unlikely to result only from the level of education. For instance, journalists in Italy are educated in compliance with the highest standards, but the situation with mass media is largely similar to the one in Ukraine and Romania.

The audience clearly expressing their demand of objective unbiased information is also crucial. The problem for both countries is that people are inclined to watch a TV-channel supporting viewpoint which coincides with their own, but not the one providing objective coverage of the events. Powerful media in Romania “are politically motivated one way or the other, and 100 percent motivated by those financing their activity,” explained Vlad Stoicescu, Romanian journalist, founder of online periodical “Romania de la Zer0″ and former journalist of leading Romanian newspaper “Evenimentul zilei”. “For a long time we believed that if people learn about these connections, they will withdraw from them, but no one paid attention to it. People are watching the media that support their own vision of the situation,” explained Avadani. She said that it can be partially explained by specific character of “Mediterranean journalism”, where a journalist not only covers the facts, but support certain viewpoint. “We are doing our best to be unbiased, but it’s extremely difficult. There are certain moments when we see that some topics failed only because we did not take up an attitude,” explained Stoicescu.

Independent journalism of northern countries should be an example followed by everyone. “It is totally different type of culture, but it is what we have to pursue,” emphasized Septimius Pârvu, expert in administrative reform, good governance and electoral processes. Ukrainian expert Roman Golovenko believes establishing public television might become a stimulus to progress in Ukraine. “If social television sets the objectivity bar, commercial mass media might follow the example,” said the expert.

Ukraine has only started the way of changing from state television to public television, and it is important to pay attention to Romanian experience. Romanian public television is going through the deepest crisis at present, having small audience and over 100 million euro debt. According to
Marian  Voicu, member  of  Romanian  public  television  (TVR) Board (2007-2010), project  manager  at  Radio Chisinau (2011), publisher  for  an  online platform  for  Romanian journalists , the root of the problem is in the fact that social television is almost totally controlled by the parliament: political party factions appoint none out of 13 members of the Board. Media experts repeatedly suggested amending the law, but the parliament overruled all the proposals. The future of public television is vague.

Simultaneously with creating public television in Ukraine, it is important to consider smart mechanism for regulating its activity, at the same time thinking over the mechanism for regulating private media’s work, so that “the government does not create new private media, like it happened when state broadcaster was created,” said Tetiana Pushnova from Ukraine Today.