Criticism, cats and debate

10 March 2021, 08:54

The election campaign in Lviv became almost the hottest in Ukraine. Special focus was on the confrontation over the mayor’s chair. In the second round, the victory over the representative of «European Solidarity» Oleh Syniutka was won by the current mayor Andriy Sadovy. Media coverage became an important component of the election campaign. Candidates for mayor and parties running for seats in various councils had their own or loyal media resources, which were actively involved in the election process and were a weapon in the struggle for power. 

The media has become not only a channel of communication with voters, but also a prise-ring. During the fight, competitors used not only truthful information but also manipulation. In September, the Lviv online-media outlet «Tvoie Misto» [Your City] published a statement to that effect. According to it, citizens received an agitation newspaper from the current mayor with an inscription on the main page «It’s Your City. It’s Your Choice», to which the outlet had nothing to do with. 

Andriy Sadovy himself had claims against Channel 5, which, according to him, spread a fake that he would be nominated as a candidate by Zelensky’s team. In the summer, the channel’s management distanced itself from this, but in September, the information that Sadovy would be voted for by supporters of «Servant of the People» appeared in the free campaign newspaper of «European Solidarity» which had a circulation of 50,000 in Lviv. At the end of the campaign, on behalf of the incumbent mayor, an agitation newspaper was distributed with proposals to create a settlement for the Romani people in one of the city's districts and thus demonstrate tolerance. 

Among other things, the «OPZZh («Opposition Platform – For Life») card» was played against Oleh Syniutka – he was accused of having posts in support of the «ES» candidate on the Lviv party organization Facebook page.

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The family of the incumbent mayor Andriy Sadovy owns the «TRK Lux» media holding, which includes the news portal. The media outlet paid special attention to the mayor – his initiatives were described positively, without criticism, Sadovy commented on topics related to direct responsibility and those where his appearance was an image-building step. 

The resource also disseminated information that provided rivals of the mayor in a negative way. For example, on September 16, citing former People’s Deputy Serhiy Leshchenko, the newspaper reported that former President Petro Poroshenko had agreed with Lviv businessman Ihor Kryvetsky, who is believed to be «Svoboda»’s sponsor, on a joint candidate, Oleh Syniutka. And before the second round, the publication reported that Syniutka «is ready to participate in televised debates only for money.» Although the text explained that the «ES» representative demanded that both participants pay equally for the debate, the headline was perceived manipulatively. 

Other publications, on the other hand, criticized the actions of the incumbent mayor and his team, including the unresolved issue of building a recycling plant. Back in 2016, Andriy Sadovy promised to complete the construction of a garbage recycling complex in three years, but construction has not even begun. During the election campaign, the mayor spoke again about the construction of the complex, saying that work could begin as early as 2020, if these plans are not adjusted by COVID-19. But the issue of not fulfilling the promise to build the plant became one of the main complaints to the mayor. The media broadcast attacks on him by representatives of opposition forces, including «European Solidarity», «Svoboda», and rivals for mayor, including Syniutka, who was a direct participant in the so-called «garbage crisis» as head of the regional administration. It was the «ES» candidate who was accused by Sadovy of the fact that the Hrybovytske landfill had not yet been recultivated, saying that the head of the regional state administration had not signed the project approval for seven months. 

Sadovy was criticized the most by the «Vholos» website, which is connected with All-Ukrainian Union «Svoboda». According to «Nashi hroshi. Lviv» [Our money], the owner of the resource is Volodymyr Andrusiv. He himself is not a public person, but it is all about the influence of «Svoboda» and the current deputy of the regional council from «ES» Hryhoriy Kozlovsky. This is confirmed by the editorial policy of the site – the media outlet is one of the few that gives the word to «Svoboda», especially when party members criticize the current government. «Vholos» also broadcast Syniutka’s criticism of Sadovy. The media outlet also manipulated sociology – on October 19, citing «Socis» analysts, «Vholos»reported that Syniutka was confidently winning in the second round. It turned out that the representatives of the sociological campaign did not give any comments to the media outlet. 

Other candidates and parties also used loyal resources. According to official registers, Tetiana Ovcharenko, who was an assistant to the People’s Deputy of the 7th and 8th convocations Ihor Vasyunyk, is the owner of the «Lviv Portal» news agency. Ihor Vasiunyk ran for mayor and used media outlets to take PR advantages. Almost every news item on the resource (except for advertising) featured a candidate’s banner marked «partner advertising». «Varta» [Guard] media outlet focused on promoting Ihor Zinkevych as a candidate for mayor, andbasically party «Varta», created on the basis of the eponymous NGO (non-governmental organization) and the local Facebook community. 

Some PR materials of political forces were marked as «advertising», but a significant number was plugola – improperly marked (headings «politics», «political promotion», «elections 2020», «party news», icon ® or authors of the material specified press service of political forces) or without any marks at all. 

The peculiarity of the campaign was that television and YouTube programs and talk shows of a political nature were intensified. It was a relatively new resource for the Lviv elections, as there were not so many projects and full-fledged political talk shows in the 2015 elections. Candidates for the post of mayor also took part in all-Ukrainian talk shows («Right to Power», «Countdown», «Liberty of Speech», etc.), but they used local venues to their full potential.

The talk shows of the NTA TV channel were noticeable, where the pressure of the city authorities and oppression of liberty of speech were spoken about since the summer. There were property disputes between the co-owners of the TV channel and the city authorities over the premises where the channel planned to build a studio. The talk show «Hovoryt Velykyi Lviv» [Greater Lviv Speaks], which has been on the air since 2019, has become one of the mouthpieces of criticism of Sadovy and his team. Representatives of «Svoboda» including mayoral candidate Ruslan Koshulynsky, «ES» representatives including Oleh Syniutka, members of other political forces, political commentators, activists, media people and experts, who were fiercely critical of the current government, were regular guests. 

The media resources of the mayor’s family holding also produced video content, in particular for YouTube. The main ones are the Live interview program and Andriy Drozd’s project «Black and White». And if the former gave the floor to candidates for mayor, representatives of political forces, including those in opposition to the current government, the latter was biased against opponents of the mayor, in fact, in every program on the air sounded caustic passages addressed to Syniutka.

 More impartial was the project of the «First Western» [Pershyi Zakhidnyi] TV channel – «Elections 2020», which focused not only on campaigning, but also on telling viewers the rules of the game in local elections, the peculiarities of the campaign and so on. 

The key point of the campaign was the debate before the second round of voting, which took place in the studio of the regional branch of the « Suspilne TV» [Public TV] on November 18. The debate was preceded by lengthy negotiations, which did not go without manipulation, conspiracy and a failed attempt before the first round, which was attended only by Oleh Syniutka. There was even something like a training session on YouTube, where both candidates gave an interview to blogger Dima Malieiev. The debate on «Suspilne» did not go without sensations, but gave each of the candidates the opportunity to address their own audience to mobilize it before the election. As the result of the vote showed, the incumbent mayor did better. 

The election was also marked by the fact that candidates used social networks more actively than usual. Politicians’ spending on advertising increased – social networks became one of the main channels of communication with voters. During the 2019 elections, politicians spent more only on television and outdoors advertising. Among the candidates for mayor, one spent the most money on Facebook, it was Ihor Vasiunyk, who paid $ 26,000 but received less than 3% of the vote in the election. Candidates who made it to the second round spent more than $ 20,000. 

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At the time of the election, the mayor of Lviv had the most followers on Facebook (1.1 mln). His page was created 10 years ago, when Sadovy already headed the city. It includes not only events in the life of the city and the mayor’s participation in them, but also his «big guns», that is cats. More than half a thousand reposts were made about how a cat climbed on the balcony of the Town Hall (Ratusha) and the head of the city looked for its owners on his own. Later, the four-legged friend was left in the Town Hall, named Levchyk and had an Instagram profile where, in addition to images of the cat, photos of the mayor appeared. This is not the first case when Andriy Sadovy enjoys the fact that social media users love animals – the most popular video on the mayor’s YouTube channel (more than 2.5 million views) is related to his dog Yotami. The number of subscribers on the channel is almost 25 thousand users, which is much more than other candidates.

 Sadovy’s competitors are far behind on Facebook too; Ihor Vasyunyk has 30,000 followers, Taras Klofa has 22,000, and Oleh Syniutka has 15,000. Some candidates such as Ruslan Koshulynsky or Ihor Zinkevych did not have official pages. However, the latter had a powerful support in the form of the community «Varta 1» (333 thousand users), on the basis of which a political force was formed, from which he ran. Among political parties, the page of «Ukrainian Galician Party» (UGP) which has long worked with social networks to mobilize the electorate, but this time did not go to the city council, has the largest number of followers (26,000). «European Solidarity Lviv» page has 16,000 subscribers, «Zelensky’s team in Lviv» has 14,000, and «Samopomich» [Self-help] in Lviv has 13,000. The parties have also mastered Instagram and Telegram, but not all politicians have managed to look organic on social media and reach voters.

Maryna Dovzhenko, Lviv


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