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1 August, 2011

Don’t Ruin the Efforts!

Don’t waste your efforts, dude, sink to the bottom!

This would be a good piece of advice for Mykola Kniazhytsky, Director General of the TVi channel, and Vitaliy Portnikov, its Editor-in-Chief, on their visit to the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council last week. They applied for a broadcasting license for a new cable news channel created on the basis of TVi but all they received was an unequivocal rejection. This outcome surprised no one, particularly when one thinks back to last year, when the National Council took a series of licenses for frequencies away from TVi and Channel 5,  grant them instead to the channels owned by Mr. Khoroshkovsky’s media group. The subsequent scandal was nothing short of being of a European scale, to say the least.

This time, the situation appeared to be somewhat less complicated: nobody had to divide the limited pool of frequency resources, since the satellite is elastic in this regard. Still, state representatives once more said “No!”. Their motivation was explained by Oksana Yelmanova, a member of the National Council. Until recently, this glamorous young lady was known as a successful developer or in lay terms, a builder. Her TV experience was limited to an invitation for participation in the “Business Sharks” TV show several few years ago. Industry professionals responded half-heartedly to the appointment of the beauty queen to the National Council, while the business shark herself, in her efforts to prevent any misunderstanding, claimed that general managerial skills rather than qualification that mattered in her new job. We now know what she meant.

Here is a quote from Ms. Yelmanova’s speech in Russian on the concept of the banned channel: “I mean… there is a goal of some kind of elevation from the bottom, you know, of all issues that are not convenient today, or, you know, creating issues that are stewing in this country because, naturally, it is trying to survive and get some effect, and develop in a smart direction. In this case, probably, we need a channel that will focus on the positive.  (…) I’magainstthis. In the current situation, and it is often reflected in many spheres of our country’s economy, when people act as if no holds are barred to achieve their goals… in fact, if all instruments are used to reach goals, they have destructive features; rather than build the country, they ruin it.” I could quote more but, difficult as it is, I will have to cut short this fusion of Franz Kafka and Daniil Kharms.  

Ms. Yelmanova clarified three things for me. Firstly, state authorities officially hamper reporters from spreading inconvenient news, demanding that they restrict themselves to the “positive”. Secondly, with its ban, the state body is not guided by the country’s legislation, but by the imagination of a qualified developer. Thirdly, the current government is obviously experiencing human resource problems if this is what it uses to legitimize its blatantly illegal and absurd decisions.  

However, another unexpected conclusion can be made of this conflict. A few days after the indicated anecdotic events, the initiators of the project went to Warsaw and registered their cable TVi Europe channel at the Polish National Council based on the effective European legislation on transnational broadcasting. Clearly, this was not the same concept they offered in Kyiv. It is more than likely a parallel project, which has a different significance here. But what matters is the approach; the response to an obstacle. An archetypical response to injustice and absurdity in Ukraine is to get upset, discouraged and make what is in principle a sensible decision, that the means don’t justify the ends. This is the Ukrainian way. One option, though, is to fight in the courts (I know, I know!), the mass media and international institutions. Sometimes this works, not always, but sometimes it does. Another is to continue to search for other alternatives or anything else to achieve your goal.

Ukrainians have an inborn habit of giving in to force, because the previous 300-year long practice has taught them that conflict with the government leaves no alternatives. Moreover, not everyone has such opportunities that the few leading journalists, who are well-known outside their own country, do. Much more frequent are cases, such as the one described by Anatoliy Hrytsenko, politician and former Minister of Defense: A farmer rented land, put his business on track and employed almost the entire village. Then, tough guys showed up and kicked him out without any ceremony, while the local government, policy and prosecutor protected them. But the farmer eventually overcame this! Thank God, we are no longer in the USSR, where Siberia was designated for the rebellious. Today, Siberia is abroad and there will be a shortage of room for everyone in the Lukyanivka prison. All I want to say is that every success story of victory over injustice has the power of a precedent, as does every instance of submissiveness – because of habit, indecisiveness, depression, laziness, self-indulgence or meanness. In other words, pandering to it.


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