How to restore Ukrainian TV broadcasting in Donetsk?

How to restore Ukrainian TV broadcasting in Donetsk?

One of the main prerequisites of the reintegration of the uncontrolled areas of the Donbas and their return to Ukrainian jurisdiction is their return to the Ukrainian information space. The problem is topical for the frontline territory too as its residents are deprived of Ukrainian MM information.

The solution of the problem is impossible without the restoration of the old objects of broadcasting infrastructure and the construction of new ones. In case the conflict is fully frozen, new additional resources will be required to arrange stable TV and radio broadcasting for the uncontrolled territory.

The problem was paid attention to by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko who, during his visit to the Donetsk region on July 5, 2016, determined the term of 2 months for the restoration of TV tower “Kramatorsk” on Karachun Mount in Slovyansk. The tower was destroyed in the summer of 2014 during the battles in Slovyansk.

Despite the fact that the restoration of the tower requires several months, the work started only in June 2016, 2 years later. So far, this is the only “big” infrastructure project to restore broadcasting in the Donbas which has being implemented by the state. The second “big” project aimed at restoring broadcasting in the Donbas is the construction of a new TV tower in Pokrovsk (former Krasnoarmeysk). It is possible to determine problems which prevent residents of the Donbas from returning to the information space of Ukraine and the ways of solving them. It is also necessary to analyze strengths and weaknesses of the Ukrainian state policy aimed at restoration of broadcasting infrastructure and conduct a comparative analysis of alternative projects.

TV tower projects on the territory of the region

Interdepartmental Commission on providing stable functioning of the system of national television and radio broadcasting has been working at the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine for more than a year.

According to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, it is this commission that is responsible for restoring Ukrainian TV channels broadcasting on the uncontrolled territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as in the annexed Autonomous Republic of the Crimea.

Primarily, the Commission focused on installing additional transmitters for radio and TV signals. All in all, by August 2016, 61 transmitters had been installed in accordance with the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers. A considerable part of the transmitters were received from foreign states. At present, the Ministry project portfolio on restoring broadcasting in the Donetsk region contains only 2 relatively large-scale projects.

The first one is connected with “Kramatorsk” tower which is being restored on Karachun Mount not far from Slovyansk. Another one is the construction of the tower in Pokrovsk (former Krasnoarmiysk). Despite the President's directive, the restoration of the tower on Karachun Mount has not been completed on time though the restoration work is being continued, and the prospects to complete it in the near future are quite real. The second “big” project within the framework of the renewal of broadcasting on the territory of the Donetsk region is the construction of a new tower in the town of Pokrovsk (former Krasnoarmiysk). At present, the project is at the stage of coordination, and the money for its construction has not been allocated yet.

The construction of Pokrovsk tower has not started yet in spite of the fact that the price of it is relatively low — according to the preliminary calculations, it is 20 million hryvnyas.  

Pokrovsk is a hub and the biggest town in the central part of the Donetsk region. The town is under the control of Ukraine.

The town population is 60 thousand people plus 27 thousand IDPs registered there. Pokrovsk is the center of Pokrovsk agglomeration which unites mainly small miners' towns with total population of more than 300,000 people. Before the war, the biggest TV tower in the Donetsk region — the Donetsk one — broadcast Ukrainian programmes in the town. Today the tower is controlled by representatives of “Donetsk People's Republic”.

Now Donetsk tower is broadcasting Russian channels and the channels controlled by “DPR”. As it was stated in the previous investigations by “Donetsk Institute of Information”, TV “DPR's” channel “OPLOT” may be watched at HD quality in the town of Pokrovsk too. There is a 100-metre TV tower in Pokrovsk which is served by its own personnel. Theoretically those people may work to maintain the new tower. Taking into account the fact, that these people live in the agglomeration, it may be stated that the place for the construction of the new tower was properly chosen. The tower height is to be 180 metres. It will allow to expand the radius of broadcasting which will be 70 kilometres. The main weakness of the TV tower construction in Pokrovsk is inability to cover the uncontrolled territory with the signal.

The strengths of “Pokrovsk Tower” project are as follows:

  • it solves the problem of covering a huge Pokrovsk agglomeration with a quality TV signal;
  • the term of its construction is relatively short taking into account absence of stable financing;
  • absence of problems with personnel;
  • the new object is unlikely to be shelled by Russian militaries as the distance is relatively long.

Weaknesses:

  • only Donetsk will be covered with broadcasting on the uncontrolled territory;
  • problems with the project financing.

“Big Tower” project

Experts have repeatedly said that in order to restore broadcasting of full value on the uncontrolled territories, it is required to construct a tower with specifications similar to those of the tower left in Donetsk, i.e., the object should be 365 metres high, twice as high as the towers in Slovyansk and Pokrovsk. The implementation of such project is a challenge for state institutions. The best location for the construction of such a tower is an area close to hostilities — the towns of Maryinka and Krasnohorivka located in the area which may be targeted by the opposite side's artillery. The only positive factor supporting such a construction is the possibility to cover the major part of the uncontrolled territory with analogue as well as digital signals. “Big Tower” project strengths: -possibility to broadcast for a considerable part of the uncontrolled territory.

Weaknesses of the project:

  • Absence of the personnel who is to be transferred ;
  • Absence of adequate financing;
  • high risk of being attacked and destroyed by enemy militaries;
  • a long period of time required for the construction.

The anticipated implementation of the Minsk Agreements will make the project financially unjustified. If the uncontrolled territory is reintegrated, the Ukrainian authorities will have two TV towers with a similar radius of broadcasting. There is a risk that the new tower will not be needed. Discussions around the infrastructure project to restore broadcasting in the Donbass raise a number of questions the main of which is the dilemma: the high risk of covering the uncontrolled territories or concentration on less ambitious, but more realistic projects. However, if there is adequate financing, hypothetical “big tower” project and the one in Pokrovsk are not self-excluding.

The main problem with restoring broadcasting on controlled and uncontrolled territories of the Donetsk region is the absence of stable and sufficient funding, and constant search for financing. Financial problems with the project implementation As it was stated in the previous investigation of “Donetsk Institute of Information”, due to its structure, authority, and finance, the Ministry of Information Policy cannot solve the problem of restoring Ukrainian TV channels broadcasting on the territory of the Donetsk region by itself. However, this very institution is the coordinator of the project and is in charge of it.

The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Development do not coordinate the construction of the tower in Pokrovsk with the possibility to use the money of the state budget reserve fund.

In June, “Donetsk Institute of Information” sent an enquiry to the Ministry of Finance and got the answer that the 2016 state budget of Ukraine has allotted 109,2 million hryvnyas to budget programme 38001020 “Production and broadcasting of TV programmes for state needs; collection, processing, and distribution of official information production”. There is also financing of the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee — 748,3 million Hryvnyas for programme 1701080 “Production and broadcasting of TV programmes for state needs”. The committee did not clarify if it possible to use the money for restoring the objects of broadcasting infrastructure.

However, in accordance with the order of using state budget money allotted to broadcasting TV and radio programmes produced for state needs and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, the State TV and Radio Committee “ensures targeted and effective usage of the funds” which are directed by the national TV company “to the payment for broadcasting services offered by TV and radio companies.”

It is prohibited to spend the money on paying “for goods, work, and services not connected with providing TV and radio broadcasting.”

It means that the Committee has the right to pay to National TV Company for broadcasting, but the TV towers are under the jurisdiction of the Concern of Radio Broadcasting, Radio Connection, and Television (further — RRT), and the order about using budget money does not clarify whether the State Radio and TV Committee will pay the money to RRT Concern or any other institution which is not a National TV Company for services connected with broadcasting of TV and Radio programmes. There is no detailed explanation what may be treated as services and whether the construction of the tower for the RRT Concern is such a kind of service. That is why the position of the State TV and Radio Committee in respect to non-financing the broadcasting infrastructure in the Donbas is grounded. Though as late as in April 2014 the State Radio and TV Committee initiated the transfer of RRT Concern under its jurisdiction.

According to the State TV and Radio Committee, it would allow, in particular, “to find compromise decisions in condition of chronic under-financing, to ensure work without disruptions” and “to concentrate collection, processing, production, and distribution of information in one structure”.

A corresponding draft decree of the Cabinet of Ministers was developed. The restoration of “Kramatorsk” tower is financed by the RRT Concern. However, the concern does not have its own money to restore the other ones — the net profit of the business was 19,5 million hryvnyas during the first half of 2016. In its turn, the Ministry of Information Policy states that using the budget money under programme 3801020 does not include spending money on purchasing transmitting equipment, but includes spending money on some other things. When the Ukrainian President made a statement about the construction of the TV tower on Karachun Mount, the Cabinet of Ministers, according to the information of the Ministry of Information Policy, supported the initiative of allocating 40 million hryvnyas from the reserve fund of the state budget on the restoration of broadcasting. The Cabinet of Ministers ordered the MIP to develop draft joint regulations which will stipulate the financing of the tower in Pokrovsk too. Now the project is at the stage of coordination. Who is to pay for the restoration of broadcasting? In order to understand who is and have the right to finance the restoration of the tower in Pokrovsk, it is necessary to consider some normative acts which regulate activities of the bodies and organizations which are connected with its restoration.

In accordance with the Provision On the Ministry of Information Policy in Ukraine, which was adopted by the decree of the Cabinet of Ministers, “MIP is the main body in the system of central bodies of the executive power in the sphere of providing information sovreignty of Ukraine, of distribution of socially important information in Ukraine and abroad, and of maintaining the functioning of state information resources”. Under the Provision On the State Committee of Television and Radio Broadcasting on Ukraine, “the Committee is the main body in the system of central bodies of the executive branch which is responsible for the formation and implementation of state policy in the sphere of TV and radio broadcasting, information and publishing spheres”. This structure “elaborates measures to prevent inner and outside information influence which threatens information security of the state, society, and personality”, “participates in the formation of the single information space, and contributes to the development of information society”. RRT Concern reports to the State Service of Communication and Protection of Ukrainian Information whose functions refer to “the state policy in the spheres of cryptographic and technical protection of information, telecommunication, and usage of radio frequency resources”. The competence of the service comprises technical issues of protecting information.

This structure is not responsible for the formation of the information space or the provision of information security of the state, but it may finance the reconstruction of its components. Considering the problem of restoration of the infrastructure of broadcasting in the Donetsk region, it is impossible to avoid the role of regional military and civil administration. Under Military and Civil Administration Act of Ukraine, they are built to ensure the observation of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine, to ensure security and normalization of people's life”.

Heads of the military and civil administration have budget money at their disposal. Military and civil administrations enjoy the authority to compile and adopt local budgets and make alterations in them. It means that they have their own money. The decree of the head of the regional administration — the chief of regional military and civil administration of March 18, 2016 # 213 “The list of infrastructure objects”, approved the the list of regional infrastructure projects which are planned to be implemented at the expense of budgetary and extra-budgetary funds in 2016. The list has been renewed. It includes projects of repairing bridges, water pipes, schools, etc. Financing is quite considerable: Kramatorsk will get 200 million hryvnyas to conduct big repairs of the roads. On June 2, 2016, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted alterations to the Ukrainian Act On Alterations, subitem 4 of item 24, section VI which is “Concluding and interim provisions of “the Budget Code of Ukraine”.

Under the act, the remained money in local budgets of localities on the uncontrolled territory which had been accounted in the Treasury of Ukraine by January 1, 2016 go to a special fund of corresponding regional budgets of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and are directed to restoration of “social and transport infrastructure, housing construction, and systems of life provision including their maintenance and social and economic development of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

On June 4, 2016, the head of the chief of regional military and civil administration issued a decree on the list of objects and measures which will be implemented at the expense of the money left in local budgets of Donetsk region localities temporarily uncontrolled by state power bodies.”

The list includes more that 500 objects: schools, roads, parks. However, no money is allocated on the restoration of broadcasting infrastructure. According to Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of regional administration, the sum of money left in the budget is about 3 billion hryvnyas. He has called heads of local self-government to offer projects which will be financed from this source. What should be done? The only entity interested in the implementation of projects aimed at returning Ukrainian citizens back to the Ukrainian information space is the state. Its representative — President Petro Poroshenko claimed several times “that the stake is on political and diplomatic way of returning the temporarily occupied territories to the state sovereignty of Ukraine”. However, the Ukrainian power does not have any strategic vision of the returning process.The Minsk Agreements as an international plan of integration are not fulfilled though recognized by the parties.

The uncertainty of the situation makes the restoration of broadcasting on the uncontrolled territory considerably more difficult as its implementation considerably depends on strategic vision of the aims to be achieved and at what expense this can be done.

The analysis of the legislation shows that the formation of the single information space is the responsibility of the State TV and Radio Committee. The construction of broadcasting infrastructure in the Donetsk region will help solve this very task. However, the TV towers are under he control of RRT Concern. The Committee does not have the authority to finance their construction, but it made a proposition to subordinate the Concern to it to optimize the work of the two structures. The implementation of such a project requires a long preparatory work and will not solve the problem of financing the construction of the tower in Pokrovsk and of the other objects of broadcasting infrastructure. The faster and more realistic way to solve the problem is financing the projects from budget money which is at the disposal of Donetsk regional military and civil administration, in particular, using the money left in local budgets of Donetsk region localities temporarily uncontrolled by the bodies of state power. In the short-term run, it is necessary to consider the ways and possibilities for financing the broadcasting infrastructure restoration at the expense of the budget of the Donetsk region. The 2017 state budget should take into account the money to restore and construct the objects in accordance with requirements of authorized bodies of state power.

Vitaliy Sizov, NGO "Donetsk Institute of Information" analyst.

Oleksiy Matsuka, NGO "Donetsk Institute of Information"