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2 June, 2011  ▪  Rostyslav Pavlenko

The Need for Self-Protection

Ukrainian society is ready to resist hostile influences but the government should provide a more effective information policy

In the late 20thcentury, the volume and type of information delivered tot he public has changed dramatically: the ways it is delivered has become more diverse, decision making has grown more intricate while access to alternative sources of information has became easier.This has facilitated better informed decisions based on comparable historical experience and different perspectives. On the other hand, the amount of information overload, meaning excessive information which is often damaging, has grown. Information overload contains items included purposefully to influence a target society to move in a certain, necessary direction.  

These developments have raised the question of the need for policy towards information security.  Such a policy would require a lot of components, including  preventing leaks of information considered to be secret while managing to provide the public with full and high-quality coverage of events in a country and the world; free access to various information sources; contributing to the society’s integrity; keeping the nation morally sound; and protecting people from information that could be damaging in terms of contents and form, language, and style of presentation, disclosure of significant facts and events, and so on.

This combination of influences creates a product that can be referred to as a social environment, essentially a system of beliefs, outlook, language constructions, stereotypes and ways to combine symbols with the substance and other inter-subjective categories which shape mentality and communication in a given society.

The government needs to find a dynamic balance between freedom of speech and protection of the media environment. Adopting an information policy is one of the ways to support this balance. Unprotected national language and cultural environmentopen doors to imported influences from other countries that could lead to tragic outcomes.    

A society of social networks

An efficient media campaign should take into account special features of the targeted society, the sources for which can be found out in sociological surveys.

A visible trend in Ukraine is that most adults have been brought up in small communities with strong traditional backgrounds. 42.8% of those polled spent their childhood in villages, 24.1% lived in small towns, and 21.5% grew up in cities with over 250,000 people. Small communities are more sensitive to the “homeboy vs. stranger” issues. They rely on the local people they know and on networks of informal relations, and tend to support members of such networks.

Indeed, 77% of Ukrainians live, interpret events and make correct decisions based on their personal experiences; 55% rely on the experience and advice of their family and friends; while 25.4% follow the printed media, radio and television.

57% of Ukrainians believe that their family and friends can best protect their rights and interests. Only 11% of those polled trust law enforcers and courts, followed by 7.1% for local and 2.8% central government.

These attitudes confirm two assumptions. Firstly, official information does not always reach its target audience if it fails to meet the expectations, moods and beliefs of opinion leaders of reference groups which people belong to and treat as more important information than official sources. A media campaign which does not take into account such details will fail to reach its audience. Secondly, however, if opinion leaders accept new ideas they will influence large groups very quickly and in the course of this they will spread through informal networks.

Another special feature of Ukrainian society are feelings of anxiety because reality does not meet expectations. Over 50% of those polled believe that developments in Ukraine are moving in the wrong direction, 61.1% feel that political tension is growing, and only 19.3% believe everything is normal. Most people are concerned with their personal problems against the backdrop of the overall situation in Ukraine: almost 47% of Ukrainians are discontented at their social standing, 22% are partly discontented and 31.4% cannot answer the question. Those who are discontented tend to be stressed: 77.1% of Ukrainians agree that “The current situation is so unstable that anything can happen,” while a mere 13.5% disagree with this statement.

This attitude to everyday affairs boosts interest in media products largely produced by the Russian entertainment industry. Culturally low class shows and movies about criminals, violence, everyday scandals or simple romances are seen as the best remedies for these premonitions. The more culturally primitive they are, the easier they lure the disenchanted audience.

This serves as a basis for political manipulation. The feeling that something is wrong in the country is one of the factors that spurs an interest in politics. 67% of Ukrainians are interested in politics to a certain extent, 14% are extremely interested in politics, and 18.7% feel totally apathetic. Interest in politics could transform into civil society activity and demands for oversight over government activities. To undertake this, people need a good supply of information. Most of the public admit they lack information about their rights and the means to protect themselves. Because of this, everyday interest in politics switches to a search for someone to blame which manipulators are only too happy to use for their own benefit. They are seeking to set public opinion against the objects they are uncomfortable with, such as the political opposition or different ethnic or social groups, by attacking them through the media.  

After all, the feeling that something is wrong in society and interest in politics do not necessarily lead to negative outcomes. Despite all of the above mentioned sentiments, 58.8% and 56.4% of Ukrainians respectfully feel positive about their own future and the future of Ukraine.

The need for an information policy

To meet the nation’s expectations, the government must establish and enforce rules in the media sector which would protect it from hostile influences and assist the national informational and culture product to properly develop.   

Most of the problems in Ukraine’s information security can only be resolved through deeper reforms which have long been debated at all levels of the government. Among some areas, the government should prevent groundless inspections of mass media, printing houses and internet providers, and reduce the cost of publishing Ukrainian-language literature by providing government subsidies.

Following Canada’s suit, the Ukrainian government can implement a policy to support the “national cultural product” through open tenders, including disclosure of themes, and establishing an independent jury to review applications from various teams and publishers. The procedures for holding tenders and expenditure of the funds by the winners should be subject to government and public supervision.  A good way to save public funds is through a mechanism to encourage businesses to sponsor projects that promote the arts and culture.   

Special tools should be designed to support Ukrainian-language projects promoting Ukrainian unity and originality. The government can, and should, take steps to support and disseminate information, messages and images which comply with the national interests. These are listed in the law On the Basics of the National Security of Ukraine as “the vital material, intellectual and spiritual values of the Ukrainian nation as a carrier of sovereignty and the only source of power in Ukraine; and the determining needs of the society and the State which guarantee the sovereignty and development of Ukraine.” .

The article uses survey data from Ukrainian Society 1992-2010. A Sociological Monitoring publication provided by the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine  

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