Politics, Businesses and the Media – three Pillars of Ukrainian Oligarchs' Empires
The most influential media and largest media groups in Ukraine are owned by the same people that are in the list of the richest Ukrainians: Rinat Akhmetov, Victor Pinchuk, Dmytro Firtash, Ihor Kolomoiskiy, Serhiy Kurchenko. An interesting detail is that the President of Ukraine and owner of Channel 5 Petro Poroshenko is one of such oligarchs.
All these people are incorporated into the country’s political life: they fund political parties or individual politicians. Rinat Akhmetov constantly supports one political force – the Party of Regions and its successor, Opposition Bloc. And Victor Pinchuk is involved in politics every now and then, supporting a politician or a party that seems the most beneficial for him at any given moment. Ihor Kolomoiskiy can support several political projects at the same time and can have his “agents” even in the forces that are publicly opposing his political interests. Nonetheless, the common trend for the oligarchs in media is that they use their own media outlets to back up their political influence, and the political influence helps them to safeguard their positions in business. For this reason, they are generously investing into their media outlets.
One way or another, the channels’ ownership structure indicates that the owners are companies or holdings or financial-industrial groups owned by an oligarch. In the structure of “1+1 Media”, there are companies from the “Pryvat” structures owned by Kolomoiskyi; “Media Group Ukraine” and the holding “Segodnia Multimedia” are a part of Akhmetov's System Capital Management (SCM), and the ownership structure of “Starlight Media” and “Tavr Media” leads to the holding EastOne owned by Pinchuk. That is, mass media are a component of the oligarchs' business empires.
Naturally, each oligarch has an influential national-level channel in his media group. Based on the research of U media, in 2016, the audience of national TV channels is over 80%. The television is watched by the most active voters, so from the point of view of political leverage, the interest in TV is quite justified.
Apparently, the same oligarchs have much less appetite for print media. Research shows that the most influential press belongs to Kurchenko and Akhmetov. They are close to the ousted former President of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych and the current Opposition Bloc. The voters who elect these politicians belong to the older generation, brought up in the Soviet Union, who are most susceptible to the influence of the press.
Kolomoiskiy’s holding instead ceased to publish the printed magazine Glavred and only retained its online version. The group “1+1” is actively working on its online projects. For example, the website tsn.ua started as an online platform for news and became an independent media outlet – one of the most popular websites, with its own projects and approaches to growth. Also, the analysis of voters shows that Kolomoiskiy’s political team is supported to a greater extent by younger people, who primarily receive information from online sources. The peculiarity of the Pinchuk’s media influence is that he owns radio with the largest audience: Hit-FM, Russian Radio, etc.
While only one half of Ukrainians knows for certain, who owns the main national media outlets, the content analysis of news programs indicates use of media resources for political purposes. Akhmetov's channels advertise his charity and focus on politicians affiliated with him. Kolomoiskiy’s channels support his allies and smear their opponents. Given some time, they do both, as it happened for the President Petro Poroshenko and former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. A change of the owner’s political course was very vividly reflected in the tone of "1+1" in relation the the mentioned politicians.
There is a threat that the society begins to identify journalists with the relevant political and business groups, and to force them into becoming a part of the stand-off between them. For example, in the last year the Inter TV channel got involved in scandals several times and was accused of being pro-Russian; it also suffered from repeated attacks. The most dangerous of those was an arson of the office of the channel’s information company in September of 2016.
August 2016. USAID U-Media annual media consumption survey (UKR). Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/umedia/usaid-umedia-annual-media-consumption-survey