Seven expert opinions on the role of media during 2015 local elections

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During elections, the majority of media offer a plethora of hidden advertisement instead of quality analysis. Ukrainian media outlets continue covering elections process in a superficial and subjective way. The reason for this is the influence of media owners and imperfections of the electoral law. In its turn, it leads to poor knowledge about the electoral process among population and lack of public trust towards media. The NGO ‘Lviv Media Forum’ within the project ‘Political education for regional media journalists’ supported by the Media Development Fund (US Embassy in Kyiv) asked leading experts to analyze the work of Ukrainian media during local elections.

‘Media paid a lot of attention to elaboration of parties’ programmes and positions of candidates. It means that media had a small impact on general knowledge of people about elections, Natalya Ligachova, the head of the NGO ‘Telekrytyka’ says.

‘We need electoral changes which will strengthen the system of media self-regulation, a timely reaction of institutions to law violations. In addition, the law about the transparency of media ownership has to be actually implemented. People do not completely understand why they have to know about who owns which media outlet in Ukraine. It means that we need a proper explanatory PR campaign. In their turn, journalists have to learn how to say ‘no’ to media owners, who want to have an absolute control over editorial policy. This influences their professional reputation and decreases trust towards media’, says Nataliya Ligachova.

Local elections have to be covered, first, by the regional media. Dr. Marta Dyczok, a political expert from Canada, underlined this. Regional media contained little information about the electoral process, and many materials did not meet a criterion of objectivity.

‘Local elections were covered superficially. To some extent, political parties and candidates were deciding on their own what had to appear in media. Such situation was possible because of the quality of regional media work. These media have financial difficulties and journalists lack proper professional training’, says Dr. Dyczok.

Experts of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) discovered the biggest number of paid political advertisement in Dnipropetrovsk. Zaporizzya holds the second place and Mykolaiv is third. Lviv region was in top ten regions’ list. Most often, UKROP.

Opposition Block and Vidrodzennya, Nash Krai parties ordered paid materials.

‘Media worked not for people, but for themselves. There was a very little amount of thought-provoking information in regional media. Journalists have to be more critical when it comes to the quality of their texts’, comments Oksana Romaniuk, the executive director of IMI.

Debates are the indispensable element of political culture, and they have to take place, regardless whether people like them or not, – says Zurab Alasania, the director general of the National Television Company of Ukraine.

‘According to our estimations, 86% of Ukrainians get news form TV. This is absolutely intolerable. Some 30-40% already use Internet for this purpose; however, they watch TV at the same time. This demonstrates weak critical thinking. Television is the source of advertisement, emotions, but not information. Thus, TV journalists have to be more responsible for products they create.’

Media expert Andriy Kulykov also underlined the need to have debates.

‘We need TV debates in order to let people see their candidates not on billboards and posters. The level of trustworthiness offered by debates is good enough. An elector can evaluate whether a person from a poster can roll with the punches and fight for the cause, or whether she/he runs at the elections only for the purpose of self-promotion.

Ukrainian journalists are not active in changing conditions in which they work. In result, they play according to the rules imposed by the system. They have to fight against the resistance of owners, politicians and the public, to some extent.’

More work is needed in order to address the issue of quality of journalistic work during electoral period. Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, the expert of the Reanimation Package of Reforms point this out.

‘During this year’s campaign electors lacked time in order to learn about all the peculiarities of electoral process. In their turn, journalists had little time for producing quality materials. My advice for regional media journalists is to concentrate on corruption schemes the candidates are involved in and their readiness to work in an open fashion. Of course, journalists have to be sharper in their questions and analysis.’

Journalism, as sociology, have to explain pre-elections and elections process. It means that journalists bear the responsibility for presenting quality sociological data in their materials, indicates Mariana Malachivska, the head of the sociological agency ‘FAMA’.

Political ratings when made available for public have a contradictory effect. On the one hand, they could cause a ‘bandwagon effect’, which means that those people who are not certain about their choice will support the leaders of ratings in an attempt to belong to their group. On the other hand, the effect could be different: people might decide to support those in the very end of the list, being afraid that their candidate/party will not pass the threshold. Therefore, it is very difficult to predict the effect the sociological research on electors. It is very naive to think that adding a couple of percent to actual popularity of a political party or a candidate has agitation effect, Mariana Malachivska says.