On October 25, Internews, with its partner the Independent Association of Broadcasters (IAB), presented the National Media Talk at the Hilton hotel in Kyiv. Internews Ukraine, Detector Media, Suspilnist Foundation, the Institute of Mass Information, the Academy of Ukrainian Press, the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, and Ukraine’s public service broadcaster, UA:PBC, were co-organizers along with Internews and IAB.
Watch a video about the event:
The National Media Talk focused on effective governance mechanisms to increase peer pressure for improvement in the media sector. The overall goal of the conference was to cultivate responsible journalism, quality content, and improve professional solidarity. Around 270 journalists, media managers, public officials, bloggers and civil society representatives from all over Ukraine participated.
Susan Fritz, USAID mission director to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, and Gillian McCormack, director of Internews in Ukraine, opened the conference.
Susan Fritz said that one of the greatest challenges facing Ukraine is building its democratic institutions in the face of Russian aggression and Ukraine’s legacy of corruption. The mission director said a healthy media environment is essential for government, civil society and citizens to thrive, overcome malign influence, and meet the goal of eventual integration with Europe.
Gillian McCormack named the challenges the media industry is facing today: putinization (meaning the use of media to confuse people about what is true, a term used by Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko at the last National Media Talk in May 23, 2019), economic collapse, corruption, disinformation and the idea that the only source of information about politics should be the politicians themselves. McCormack stressed that disinformation is a key problem in the information environment worldwide and she specifically addressed the gap between Ukrainians’ belief that they can identify false stories in media and their real ability to do so. According to Internews’ 2019 media consumption survey, just 11% of Ukrainians were able to spot disinformation, while 75% said they thought they could do it.
The keynote speaker was Roman Sushchenko, Ukrinform journalist and Kremlin political prisoner who was released in early September 2019 in the Ukraine-Russia 35/35 exchange. Sushchenko outlined the methods used by political and business groups to disorient media consumers. These include white noise (overloading information resources with unimportant news), use of social networks to target specific groups, and the promotion of harmful messages in the guise of promoting human values. Sushchenko also spoke about the care that officials need to take in releasing information to ensure that it is accurate and to avoid being part of generating what he called “the fiasco of content.” He spoke powerfully and emotionally about the devastating impact numerous false news reports about the timing of his release from prison had on his mother. By delivering his tough remarks in a considered and thoughtful manner, Sushchenko set the tone for a constructive discussion between journalists, representatives of the presidential administration, and Ukraine’s parliament.
During the one-day conference, three panels moderated by Internews partners presented the following topics:
- Media, government, society: does the ecosystem work? (moderated by Natalia Ligachova, head of Detector Media);
- Strategy for development and protection of the information space: how does it look with the new government? (moderated by Kateryna Myasnikova, director of IAB); and
- Self- and co-regulation: prospects for professional regulation and solidarity (moderated by Andriy Kulakov, program director of Internews Ukraine).