Cloudy with sunny spells. Summary from experts on media participation in local elections
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On the occasion of the scheduled local elections, Detector Media decided to ask Ukrainian public opinion leaders about their views on media participation in the campaign, information threats and what to do about all that. We published the detailed answers of all participants of the poll in four parts: first, second, third and fourth. And in this material we summarized the most popular and the most interesting opinions.
What has changed in the media?
Experts named the strengthening of the social networks' influence to be the main change compared to the local elections in 2015. The candidates usually focused on outdoor advertising and television before, but now more and more politicians maintain pages on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok. In addition, the ability to target advertising on social networks is more useful than ever during local elections. However, the possibilities of such advertisement are not yet absolute. For example, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, a People's Deputy from the Voice party, argues that social networks mobilize voters more, but television channels still mold citizens' opinion. Viktor Taran, a political scientist and founder of the Eidos Center, noted that various videos increased the visibility of candidates, but did not motivate people to vote for them. In addition, the work of different politicians was very similar and, as a result, voters still supported those with whom they communicated in person. Halyna Petrenko, director of the Detector Media NGO, saw the growing influence of social networks as both positive and negative. On the one hand, politicians have been given the opportunity to promote their agenda, bypassing the interests of traditional media owners. On the other hand, it is easier to manipulate and spread disinformation on social networks.
Natalia Lyhachova, head of the Detector Media NGO, also noted that Telegram channels, due to their anonymity, do not even have reputational responsibility. "The anonymity of the influence on the minds of voters and of the society in general becomes to a trend," noted the expert. Zurab Alasania, chairman of the board of the Public Broadcasting, noted that the time to consume snack news will be subtracted from the time of traditional media. Oleksiy Matsuka, a journalist and chairman of the Donetsk Institute of Information NGO, noted that changes in the audience's tastes are especially noticeable in parties' newspapers: “Many campaigning teams printed newspapers, but it seems to me that they did it more out of habit [...] It seems to me that no one reads those newspapers anymore, because you should notice how even their format and design have changed: minimum of text already and maximum of photos and so on".
Returning to television, in five years, according to the experts, its party association has intensified. Information channels which can be easily affiliated with political forces have become popular. And the local campaign has once again demonstrated oligarchic pluralism, when there is no balance on one single channel, but at the national level it appears due to competition between the media of different oligarchs. Commentators also argued that the polarization of the audience and hate speech against opponents had intensified on television. Political talk shows showed an even lower level of discussion than before. Zurab Alasania also noted that the new government, which in 2019 publicly neglected traditional media, has now come to the usual methods and practices of "using" the information market. But Otar Dovzhenko, head of the analytics and monitoring center of the Detector Media NGO, added a little positive. According to him, covert campaigning and political advertising in the media before the election is losing its effectiveness. For example, the Ukraine channel staged "one of the ugliest advertorial stories in the last decade" in support of Oleh Liashko, while the names of his opponents did not even appear on the central channels. And still Liashko lost.
Many commentators specifically mentioned the so-called "Medvedchuk Holding", whose activities were aimed at spreading Russian propaganda, an atmosphere of absurdity, uncertainty and distrust of politicians and state institutions. Also, these channels enabled resuscitation and even the success of pro-Russian candidates. Mykhailo Basarab, a political scientist and member of the Capitulation Resistance Movement stressed on even more threats. According to him, the "Kremlin-TV" distracts other media to secondary nonsense and acts as a talent factory for future propaganda reproducers. Otar Dovzhenko, referring to the Detector Media study, pointed out that the audience's trust is being redistributed in favor of Medvedchuk's media. But at the same time, the influence of propagandists is not total and does not dominate even in those regions that are traditionally considered pro-Russian. According to Otar Dovzhenko, “We know who is behind this. Further the discussion should move to the "why-Medvedchuk-is-no- behind-bars? plane".
As for the local component of local elections, opinions were divided. Some respondents believed that the media supported the candidates in their desire to promote themselves using nation-scale slogans (language, NATO, tariffs), rather than talking about real local problems, plans and capabilities. Other commentators, on the other hand, noted that even the central channels were distracted from Kyiv this year, and journalists still forced potential candidates to talk about parking lots and street lighting. At the same time, the majority of respondents agreed that the regional press was engaged in "advertising harvests" rather than journalism during the elections. Nataliya Lyhachova claimed that it was during the local elections and with such a complicated voting system that outdoor advertising and electioneerers played an unexpectedly important role. They were the easiest way to get information about candidates in the election district. Andriy Kulikov, co-founder and journalist of Hromadske Radio, believed that the media did not give the public an idea ofthe prevailing sentiments in different regions of Ukraine before the election.
The coronavirus factor, according to experts, limited both the ability of candidates to communicate with voters and work of journalists on the beat. Angelina Karyakina, editor-in-chief of news of the Public Broadcaster, said that because of this, "the network of regional public broadcasters on television, radio, web and social networks has never been so important." At the same time, she said that the new election code "explicitly forbade journalists to analyze the election programs of candidates." This significantly affected the ability to highlight the relevance and realism of election promises.
As far as high-quality online media are concerned, they were praised by almost all respondents. Commentators noted their growing role and independence. And they claimed that it was there that you could find high-quality analytics and special projects dedicated to the election.
What was missing?
The two main complaints that experts have made about the media are the lack of information for voters about the new election system and the lack of explanation for the importance of local elections and why voters should take part in them. According to the Detector Media monitoring, the news of the central television channels started talking about the peculiarities of the election system just in the last week before the voting. According to Halyna Petrenko, such ignoring affected, in particular, the turnout. After all, the CEC, the media, opinion leaders and politicians have not told voters that even during an epidemic, voting is safe if the rules are followed, and that the address of voting is easy to change. Svitlana Ostapa, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Detector Media and Chair of the Supervisory Board of National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine JSC, added that the media should also be more active in explaining the powers of deputies of different levels and mayors.
At the same time, Valeriy Kalnysh, a media manager, television and radio presenter, believed that the media simply reflected the society: “Currently, there is no demand in society for the importance and understanding of the importance of local government. It is simply not formed. It is boring, uninteresting and not fashionable. This is confirmed by the low turnout in the local elections."
Many commentators mentioned the lack of fact-checking election projects as well as general rather lazy work of journalists: absence of backgrounds in the materials, of verification of facts, of refutation of manipulations. Oleksiy Matsuka also noted the low self-regulation in the media, in particular, the silence of most colleagues in response to each other's "native advertising".
The discussion in absentia between the commentators arose over the conditional "guilt of the media." Zurab Alasania blamed the media for not changing the usual "ordered native advertising" business model and not mastering the digital content model. Viktor Taran, on the other hand, argued that “Media operating in a distorted political system should not be criticized. It is like criticizing a mirror for showing a drunken face in the morning after a night out with friends." But Ivan Verstiuk, a journalist and columnist for NV, saw the problem in something else altogether - there are not enough people. Like, there are ideas for articles, but there are not enough people to write these articles. In addition, Mr. Verstiuk noted that Ukrainian journalists are increasingly willing to include their own position in the materials they prepare.
What is the main information threat for Ukraine?
Quoting Valeriy Kalnysh, "RussTV, pro-Russian channels in Ukraine, YouTube freaks and Russophile deputies." Most often, commentators spoke about the growing arrogance of Russian propaganda on the one hand and the inaction of the National Council and the SBU on the other. Natalia Lyhachova reminded that political will is not enough not only to create new tools to combat information aggression, but also to use the existing ones. It is despite the fact that the financing of pro-Russian resources from Russia is something that every barber knows about.
Several respondents also synchronously indicated the above-mentioned polarization as a threat. For example, a radically different image of the country on Priamyi channel and in Medvedchuk's media. Or a "sectarian" view of the world (everything that "our guys" do is good, everything that "not our guys" do is evil). Volodymyr Fesenko, a political scientist and director of the Penta Center for Political Studies, drew attention to television channels: "Everyone has their own audience; everyone works with the audience mainly in their own language, in fact manipulating and campaigning. The level of aggression, imperception and intolerance has also increased over the last two years due to fragmentation." Andriy Kulykov, in turn, was concerned with the "division into clans": "When this is transferred to our guild and we start to be at enmity with each other, not even because of beliefs and preferences, but because someone is working somewhere where we do not like, I think it is a big threat to the journalistic environment."
Antonina Cherevko, a lawyer, expert in the field of international development, and chair of the Independent Media Council, on the other hand, pointed to the problem of media monopolization. Pro-Russian and not only. "The monopolization of what we call another branch of power cannot be a good indicator," said the head of the IMC. Dmytro Nosykov, a former TVi channel producer and political technologist, saw the problem in the fact that the media were not ready to "recognize the true structure of Ukrainian society" and "take into account the interests of all participants in the public debate."
In addition, commentators saw a threat from social networks: bot farms, fakes, anonymous channels and pseudo-leaders of public opinion. Viktor Taran warned that the latter are able to localize supporters around them and use them for various aggressive actions: from cyberattacks to physical confrontation in the streets.
The situation is made worse by the fact that against the backdrop of the growing influence of uncontrolled and often dubious "new media", according to experts, there is also a decline in the quality of traditional media. As the respondents noted, there are more loud headlines and informational "white noise" in Ukraine, but fewer well-trained journalists. This is also supplemented by the weak position of the authorities, the incompetence of individual officials and the problem of media regulation (due to the inconspicuous line between regulation and censorship). Halyna Petrenko also warns about a potential problem on the part of the audience: "Due to the low efficiency of the domestic distance education system, we may well get an uneducated generation."
What shall be done?
Perhaps the most popular piece of advice by commentators was to support Public Broadcasting. Volodymyr Borodianskyi, former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, also suggested transferring the Ukrainian Media Holding to the Public broadcaster. The second most important initiative was to improve media self-regulation. The creation of a new effective trade union was also among the proposals as well as ostracism against those who work for the aggressor state or serve the interests of local oligarchs. Respondents called on the media audience to support independent media financially. And the media themselves were advised to develop crowd-funding platforms, to work honestly with local businesses, to form the core of their own audience.
In addition, many commentators raised the issue of media literacy. Zurab Alasania argued that the issue of media hygiene should be dealt with by any "classic media", at least in view of the "invigoration" of competition in the market "without rules": to teach rules if not competitors, then the consumers". Halyna Petrenko saw a way in convincing citizens that media illiteracy threatens their own security in the same way as, for example, financial illiteracy. She also called on the state to pay attention to the content of social networks and proposed to create a state center for monitoring disinformation such as EU vs. Disinfo.
Speaking of state participation. Oksana Romaniuk, executive director of the Mass Information Institute and a member of the Supervisory Board of the Public broadcaster, suggested considering the idea of fines for those election participants who knowingly spread fakes or hate speech. And also to work to ensure that social networks open national departments in different regions and respond more strongly to violations in political advertising. Natalia Lyhachova encouraged the authorities to show more political will and work with civil society. Like, "civil society, volunteers have a lot of ideas. If there only was someone to hear them and listen to them, to help to implement them."
A separate issue that commentators posed to the state was Russian propaganda. The Opinion leaders called for new laws that would fight the outspoken media of the aggressor, as well as to investigate the sources and methods of financing these media. Although commentators noted that Russian propagandists were very successful in hiding behind liberal laws and freedom of speech, Otar Dovzhenko proposed two solutions to the problem. First, to look for ways to fight not with the media, but with politicians and businessmen who finance Russian propaganda in Ukraine. Second, to agree with regional elites to abandon pro-Kremlin rhetoric and the corresponding policy of their media. This seems to lead to the informational ghettoization of the Opposition Platform - For Life party and - in the long run - to the marginalization of its rhetoric. In addition, several commentators suggested stopping tolerating propagandists and when it comes to them, not to pretend that they are ordinary media outlets that deserve the same treatment as real journalists or media.
And, of course, the commentators saw the solution to the problems of journalism in journalism itself. Zurab Alasania encouraged the editorial offices to invest the maximum possible resource (at least 30% of budgets) in innovative digital content, based on the fact that in 5 years this content will make up 70% of the business. Oleksiy Haran, Scientific Director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, suggested improving the quality of journalism at the basic level: through universities and courses. Ivan Verstiuk called for development journalism for more and more active and caring city-citizens. According to Mr. Verstiuk, such an audience needs information and advice on what it can do to join the changes. Gaigisiz Geldiyev, a senior partner at consulting firm Jnomics media, said that information was no longer enough, and that the media should take on new functions: "We need to become filters and interpreters of information, as well as explain to people their rights and how to protect them." Dmytro Tuzov, a journalist and presenter of Radio NV, reminded that even today "an ordinary person with a smartphone, the Internet and a computer as well as a well-organized editorial office are capable of many good deeds. Even today, such "guerrilla" units are challenging, for example, monster-like TV channels."