Restoration of TV broadcasting on the occupied territory: the present situation and challenges

Restoration of TV broadcasting on the occupied territory: the present situation and challenges

Russian aggression in the Donbas has posed a lot of challenges for Ukraine in the areas which the state did not deal with and is not experienced in. One of them is information aggression and the Ukrainian population, especially the population on the Donbas, has become the object of it.  According to various estimations, the population of the occupied part of the Donetsk region is from 2 to 2.3 million people . As the results of the sociological research conducted by JfK Ukraine Company for UCBI /USAID in November-December, 2015 demonstrate that 88% of the population of the region watch TV. The Internet is popular with 51% of the population. The occupation of separate areas of the Donetsk region influences the media sphere. The information presented on the occupied territories is distorted. There is pressure on journalists; they may be even physically expelled from the territory. A lot of Ukrainian sites are blocked.

TV channels controlled by «DPR» organization broadcast even on the territory controlled by Ukraine. The number of people who have access to these channels is difficult to calculate. However, if to take into account the population of particular towns where these channels are accessible (Toretsk — approximately 30 thousand people; Krasnoarmiysk — 70 thousand people), then the number of Ukrainian citizens is several hundred thousand.

The problem is that broadcast of Ukrainian channels has not been restored on the occupied territory for two years of the Russian aggression. The main reason for it is insufficient financing of the development of the material and technical base of the Donetsk Regional State Television and Radio Company. The restoration of broadcasting is a political measure. There is no advertising market for private TV channels on the occupied territory. That is why it is impossible to restore broadcasting at their expense, and public initiatives do not have required resources. That is why the restoration of broadcasting is the state prerogative.

At the same time, it may happen that even the restoration of broadcasting will not help return the population of the occupied areas of the Donetsk region to the Ukrainian information space. This may be connected with the fact that the restoration of broadcasting per se does not guarantee that people will have technical capabilities to watch Ukrainian channels or they will be willing to watch them as there is no specialized content addressed to them, the content interesting to the people living in occupied areas.

Then a complex approach is required, for example, the Internet. The Internet is available and is not a resource-consuming instrument for information work on these territories. So, state bodies, Ukrainian MM  and state organizations should concentrate their efforts on spreading the content through the Internet and social networks.

Broadcasting in occupation

Analogue and digital TV in occupation

The specific feature of MM in occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is their dependence on local administration.  MM Act enacted by the so-called “people’s council of Donetsk People’s Republic” declares that there is no censorship and its imposition is inadmissible. However, the very next article of the document has a very eloquent heading “Abusing freedom of MM is inadmissible”, and there is responsibility, even criminal one, for abusing freedom of speech. MM activity may be stopped within the framework of “combatting extremism” .

In accordance with the above act, “the founders of TV, radio channels, and legal entities which broadcast there are the People’s Council of Donetsk People’s Republic, and executive bodies of the republic”. At present, all TV channels which broadcast on the occupied territory are controlled by the occupation administration. The “Act” also says that other physical and legal entities will be able to become MM founders in January 2017.

The information that all TV channels on the occupied territory are, in fact, under the absolute control of the occupation administration is confirmed by the so-called “DPR” “minister of information” Olena Nikitina. On January 29, 2015, when presenting her report about the work done during 2015, she said that 8 TV channels broadcast on the territory controlled by “DPR” organization, 6 of them were founded by the “ministry of information” itself (Incographics, p.16). The site of the so-called “DPR council of ministers” says that 7 TV channels work on the occupied territory .

The system of managing MM on the occupied territory is similar to that of Russia where all the channels directly or indirectly, through state companies, are controlled from the single center . Formally, all local channels are subordinated to the “ministry of information”. In reality, they are controlled by various local groupings and are, in fact, their private property. The content they broadcast is what the occupation administration wants them to broadcast.

These channels have an impressive material base at the expense of the main funds of Ukrainian regional TV channels (studios, equipment, offices). The main TV channels of the occupation power are “The first republican”, “UNION”, “Novorossia”, “Oplot”. For local MM, they have a good material base and make high quality content, from the technical point of view. They have talk shows and programs which they position as analytical ones. In their programs, loyal to the occupational power experts explain the essence of the events on the occupied territory in the way beneficial for occupants. There is also propaganda against Ukraine.

Cable TV

According to the main statistics department in the Donetsk region, the number of cable TV subscribers on the controlled and the occupied parts was 173.7 thousand people (October 1, 2014). One of the main requirements of the occupational administration to cable TV operators in Donetsk and other towns controlled by “DPR” was switching off those Ukrainian channels which presented political events.

Internet broadcast

Editorial offices of a lot of sites of occupied towns in the Donetsk region had to leave for the controlled territory because it was impossible to stay there due to constant direct threats to their employees. Despite that, these sites have become the only source of alternative information even about the events on the occupied territory. For example, www.gorlovka.ua which is read by militants. The majority of editorial offices of these sites were left without any financial support. The money got by them for advertising was not big even before the war. What to say about the time of hostilities? Local information covered by them and absence of experience do not allow them to get grants from international donors. So, they have to close.

In conditions of total censorship on occupied territories, it has happened that MM the editorial offices of which had to leave present more topical information about the life in occupied towns than those MM which stay there. People are tired reading about huge successes in “young republics”, especially since they do not see any successes in real life.

Social survey data shows that that the most popular social networks on the occupied territory are Russian ones – Vk and Odnolassniki. Facebook which is popular with active citizens of Ukraine and journalists is considerably less popular there.

It happens that a lot of Ukrainian MM ignore these social networks as they think that the users of them are not the target audience. However, users of Russian social networks are strategically important for lowering the level of disinformation in the occupied areas of Ukraine.

There has appeared information vacuum in the occupied areas typical of the 21 century. Despite the fact that some residents of occupied areas have access to Ukrainian channels thanks to special equipment (antennas, satellite aerials), it may be said with confidence that the situation with Ukrainian broadcasting is critical on the occupied territory and even in the grey zone.

Broadcast on the liberated territory

When the TV tower of the Donetsk region in Petrovskiy district of Donetsk (350 m high) was seized, representatives of the occupants got a chance to broadcast their channels even on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian power. In Krasnoarmiysk, which is 60 km from Donetsk, people can see “Oplot” of HD quality. “The first republican”, however, of poor quality, may be seen in some areas of Slovyansk which is 100 km from Donetsk.

Traditionally, regional TV channel offices were located in Donetsk that is why they were all seized and turned into propaganda mouthpiece of the occupation power.

The only TV channel which is not under the occupation administration control, according to open information, is TV channel “Donbas”. It belongs to Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian billionaire. It is a part of a powerful media-group which has significant resources, so it preserved its broadcasting in the same volume as it was before the war. The channel spends a lot of time on covering the life of people with their problems in the zone of the conflict. A lot of attention is paid to the activity of the humanitarian fund “Dopomozhemo” (“Let us Help”) which belongs to Rinat Akhmetov too. However, there is no analytical product on the basis of which residents could form their position and views on topical issues of public and political life.

Donetsk Regional State Television and Radio Company (today – Donetsk Regional Direction of National TV Company of Ukraine) was seized, and the so-called “First republican TV channel” was made. Donetsk RSTVRC is reregistered as a legal person in the town of Kramatorsk which became the administrative center of the territory of the Donetsk region which is under Ukrainian control. All the company equipment was left in occupied Donetsk, and the company is being created from a scratch in Kramatorsk. At the beginning, when the company resumed working, it did not have its own content due to the absence of any means of production (e.g. video cameras).

At present, the Regional TV Company broadcasts under the logo “DoTeBe” and is going through the process of renovation. The regional broadcaster does not have its own studios either in Kramatorsk or in Kyiv. The problem of the content is partially solved with the help of partners such as NGO “Donbas Public TV” and “Radio Liberty” which work as production studios for the Regional State TV Company.

In the region, there are no other channels which position themselves as regional ones. Separate TV companies work in big towns of the Donetsk region, such as Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. However, they cover mainly local events and do not create their own analytical product. There are several channels in Mariupol, but most of them are controlled by the business of Rinat Akhmetov and partially fulfill functions of press service and advertising agencies of his business.

What is Ukraine doing?

Available resources do not meet the technical requirements to broadcasting on occupied territory. The management structure is not flexible; motivation for commercial channels to arrange broadcast on the occupied territory is not high because the market there is not profitable for commercial advertising. That is why only state media and some public ones are interested in working there.

On March 10, 2015, the commission on providing stable functioning of national radio and TV was arranged at the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine. There are representatives of the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcast, the State Committee of TV and Radio, the National commission responsible for state regulation in the area of communication and information, Ministry of Finance, Security Service of Ukraine, and RRTV concern.  However, the authority of this body is not sufficient to restore the broadcasting and to coordinate the efforts of different independent institutions. The commission does not have its own budget and resources and can only give instructions which are perceived as recommendations.

The RRTV Concern answers that by February 2016, to fulfill the decision of the Commission on Renewing Ukrainian Broadcast in the Donetsk region, 12 new analogue TV transmitters and 1 digital transmitter with capacity of 1 kW have been installed; that the capacity of 3 more transmitters has been 10 times increased by 10 times; that the broadcast of Donetsk Regional TV and Radio Company has resumed.

These measures allowed to expand the network of regional TV practically on the whole territory of the region controlled by Ukraine, and “to provide residents of Volnovakha, Maryinka, Starobeshevo districts and residents of  the southern part of the city of Donetsk and suburbs  with quality broadcast of Ukrainian multi-program TV channels”.

A conclusion may be made that Ukrainian digital and analogue broadcast has not covered the whole occupied territory. This is confirmed by the reports of the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine as well as by volunteers of “Donetsk Institute of Information” who are on the occupied territory.

It is possible to state that there are not enough material and organizational resources to solve the global problem. Some resources are at the disposal of the State Committee of Television and Radio, some – at the Security Service of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Defense. However, all these departments do not have any experience as broadcasters and separately do not have resources to act separately with renewing broadcasting, and there is no body which will coordinate the activities of different departments, and give them direct and binding orders.

What to do?

Complete renewal of analogue and digital broadcasting on the occupied territory is possible if a TV tower technically similar to the one seized in Donetsk is constructed. RRT experts say that the construction will take, minimum, a year if finance and the project are optimal. At the same time, even the renewal of broadcasting which will cover the whole occupied territory is not a panacea. A lot of residents of the occupied territory get the signal with the help of cable operators or satellite TV.

So, the Commission on the issues of stable functioning of the system of national TV and radio broadcast should concentrate on prospective and not expensive areas: work on the Internet and, especially, in Russian social networks such as Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki which does not require considerable capital investments. These networks are the most popular in Ukraine as well as in the Donetsk region.

Despite the fact that a lot of Ukrainian sites are blocked on the occupied territory, it is possible to make them accessible thanks to free software. It is also impossible to block pages of MM in social networks. Information space in social networks is accessible too; it cannot be blocked with borders and censorship. It is impossible to block a part of a sector.

It is necessary to develop a grant program to support local Internet MM which have left the occupied territory. However, there may be risks while implementing such a program which should be taken into consideration: users may try to use the site as a propaganda mouthpiece and this is inadmissible. Special attention should be paid to stimulating local editorial offices to get grants for observing high standards of journalism and producing quality content.

Distribution of information via Internet channels may become an alternative to TV channels controlled by the “DPR” organization. The attention should be focused on creating convenient mobile versions of the sites of state bodies which work with (provide services to) the category of citizens who are on the occupied territory. Due to mobile traffic, it is impossible to block the sites without operator’s sanctions.

It is necessary to expand the amount of analytical programs of high quality of Donetsk regional direction of Ukrainian National TV Company, in the style of “explanation”, inviting speakers who know the local situation.

Today, it is possible to state that due to the absence of real powers and financial resources, the Commission on Issues of providing stable functioning of the system of TV and radio broadcasting has not become an effective tool for renewing broadcasting on the occupied territory. It may take a year to agree upon and to finance some projects. During the war, it is inadmissible. The body which is responsible for renewing broadcasting, first of all, should have instruments and resources for that. The Commission members should have agreed upon their common vision of the body which will be responsible for the renewal of broadcasting in occupied areas and will present recommendations on expanding its powers. They should remove contradictions in connection with doubling the functions of the Ministry of Information Policy, the State Committee of TV and Radio, and other state bodies in occupied areas. They should also appoint a body responsible for renewing broadcasting on the occupied territories, fix the terms, and provide this body with  respective finance and powers.