History and Structure – an Overview of the Ukrainian Media Market
The Ukrainian media market, as it stands today, was formed under the influence of two important factors: 1) transition from a socialist, planned economy to a market economy, emergence of commercial mass media (or, in a historical perspective, its revival, as before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, there were Ukrainian mass media in both the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires); 2) severing the media dependence from the former imperial center in Moscow, which in some respects is still in process. Before the declaration of independence of Ukraine, practically all mass media outlets were state-owned, with the exception of newspapers of some party projects that emerged just before the collapse of the USSR. The quality of the existing Ukrainian newspapers and TV was low; there was little investment into them compared to the «central» mass media in Moscow, so in fact they had to start from zero.
Successful media projects of the first years of Ukrainian independence were built both based on existing facilities and from square one. An example of the former case would be the private TV channel 1+1, which took over the broadcasting niche of the state-owned channel UT-2, or the newspaper «Nezavisimost», which emerged based on the facilities of the newspaper «Komsomolskoe Znamia». An example of the latter case would be the newspapers «Kievskiye Vedomosti», «Ukrayina moloda», and the group of TV channels of Victor Pinchuk, an oligarch and son-in-law of the second President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma. Yet, there is also the third model: subsidiary Russian mass media outlets, which with time were changing either their equity capital or their brand. An example of change of capital would be «Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukrainie» (now, after the de-communization laws, it is called «KP v Ukrainie»), «Argumenty i fakty Ukraina»; an example of changing both the brand and the capital would be the TV channel Inter, which in the beginning was broadcasting on frequencies of the Russian First Channel and very often used its content (later, the share of this borrowed Russian content decreased).
On the break of the millennium, online mass media started developing in Ukraine – but they do not have any official status as mass media outlets (with exception of the portals that register as information agencies). Now, there are several thousand websites in Ukraine.
For a long time, the format of news radio channels remained the monopoly of state-owned channels UR-1 and UR-2 «Promin»; later, more independent Radio Era, Vesti, and Hromadske Radiocame to the news market. In addition, all musical stations and online radio do include news issues.
Private vs. Public mass media
In Ukraine, private mass media outlets quite quickly outgrew public ones regarding popularity. This was due to rapid accumulation of capital by oligarchs and former «red directors» (directors of large Soviet factories, who became factory owners) in the middle 1990s. Both were founding mass media outlets trying to get more goodwill, while the state that funded public mass media was in a deep crisis and shock, surviving hyperinflation of the early 1990s and other factors that stood in the way of normal development of mass media. One of the factors that exacerbated the problem was constant dragging out of the process of state-owned and communal mass media outlets changing their ownership pattern. Despite adoption of relevant laws, this process has been rather painful and is still not finished. Many media outlet staff members, especially the teams that work in oblast TV and radio companies, are afraid of being dismissed and laid-off.
On the one hand, the government and local authorities are reluctant to let go of mass media outlets that they used as their pocket agent and that they had all tools to completely control. On the other hand, many editorial offices fear that the state removing itself from the owners will push them to the edge of survival. It is a given that direct subordination to governmental agencies did not help to make the journalism objective and high-quality, yet sometimes private mass media workers are pressured by owners even harder. In Ukraine, the level of freethinking was directly dependent on the environment created by the central government: during the tenures of Presidents Kuchma and Yanukovych, the pressure of owners and the state on editorial agencies was growing, and after the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014, the pressure was reducing.
All main oligarchs were building their business on tax-dodging machinations with re-sale of Russian natural gas and oil products, for years enjoyed tax benefits when selling their goods to Russia (for example, metal pipes), so not surprisingly their mass media outlets, and those are largest TV channels, were supporting pro-Russian views. For example, before the planned signing of the EU Association Agreement, the oligarchs' mass media outlets were trying to intimidate the audience with «degeneracy», brought by the allegedly «homosexual Europe», and with loss of connections with Russia that would bring poverty to the Ukrainian nation.
The other side of the coin of large oligarchs owning mass media was such outlets turning to gutter journalism, tabloidization. They did not need an audience that can think, an audience that can analyze different options. So, mass media were focused on entertainment programs, and when they did air any political talk shows, they were designed to heat up emotions, to turn actual politics into empty talks.
Consequently, a situation emerged, where main owners of significant mass media outlets never treated their media assets as just business, instead seeing them just as a site to promote a certain political agenda. In addition, the editors and journalists got used to biased presentation of events, so being objective and upholding the standards of journalism is «unacceptable» for them from the very start. But this does not mean that TV channels do not make money: they do – from advertisement and crypto-advertisement (economic and political covertly commissioned advertisement from those who have views similar to those of the owner).
Digital mass media are mainly financially stable, they make huge money from advertisement, yet - and this is a paradox – they are not pure business projects, they promote business and political interests of their owners, just like traditional media do.
Some mass media outlets do exist as business projects – for example, the magazines «Novoye Vremya» or «Focus»; yet, they are not a rule, but rather an exception. Some other media outlets are funded mostly via grants, sometimes from abroad. Examples are Ukrainska Pravda and Hromadske.TV.
A confusing point of Ukrainian situation is that Ukrainian word suspilne can be translated both as «public» and as «community-based» (the latter has also a synonym hromadske). Also, mass media outlets Hromadske.TV and Hromadske Radio contribute to confusion in people’s perception of the role and place of public mass media.
Traditional vs. digital media outlets
Like elsewhere, traditional printed media outlets in Ukraine are losing the market to digital media outlets, except for some private projects. And the problem here lies not in the globalization of information and its shift to the Internet, frequency coverage, or Internet access, but in the economic situation in the country adverse for development of media outlets, when about a half of the entire economy stays in the twilight and taxes do not facilitate emergenceof new traditional media outlets. Most Ukrainian newspapers survive not by revenues through copy sales, subscriptions or advertisement, but by publishing crypto-advertisement, the so-called «dzhynsa». Its very presence compromises the media outlet’s quality, let alone its credibility. In printed and online media outlets, «dzhynsa» is more easily identifiable, than in a TV or radio news story, this may be one reason why the readership’s trust to printed media outlets is declining.