Development of Media Freedom in Ukraine
Pre-Kuchma- on the way to a hybrid model
Kuchma’s first term
Late Kuchma period- one of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press
After the Orange Revolution
The role of media in transition to democracy is discussed various times.
Generally scholars agree that media plays a role next to other factors like parliaments, executives, political parties and elections (Andreev 2003).
There are various different opinions about the importance of this role. Generally we must see media in the context of civil society.
A strong civil society can help transitions get started, resist reversals, help to push transitions to their completion, help consolidate and help to deepen the democracy (Linz & Stepan 1996: 9). “Interests and values of civil society are the major generators of political society” (ibid. 14).
The dimension of civil society includes the idea that free mass media is a very important factor in this arena, to give the civil society and their actors the possibility to mobilize an opposition against old structures and regimes and articulate their needs. Mass media is the main institution of public sphere and a functioning public sphere is a necessary condition for the civil society and democracy. It is also a useful and necessary contribution to the explanations of the transformation of societies. Media ideally contribute to the public sphere by providing citizens with information about the country and the world they live in, as well as debating important issues or encouraging actions (McConnell & Becker 2002).
The role of the media is crucial especially in Eastern and Central European countries. Political parties are relatively weak and media is an important mediator between state elites and citizens (Andreev 2003). Media can therefore fill important gaps in social and political communication and become a powerful factor of consolidation of democracy (ibid.). But this is not the only way media can work. The cases of Eastern and Central European states after the breakdown of the Soviet Union show in particular, that media can also slow down the process of democratization. This happened on the one hand through new totalitarian regimes, which tend to use media as an instrument of propaganda (McConnell & Becker 2002) and on the other hand through ownership concentration in the hands of pro- regime forces or political elites (Andreev 2003). Democratic improvement cannot be expected in those cases.
In authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes media can be privately owned and independent, as far as they do not touch political issues. In both, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, we find strict censorship and repressions against journalists and control over information. The media has, as far as it concerns politics, the role of a witness or a confirmer (McConnell & Becker 2002).
Despite this specific concern about the role of media, we can say that freedom of expression (press) is essential for democracy. Without such basic freedom societies cannot move from undemocratic to democratic regimes. In their empirical analysis McConnell & Becker (2002) pointed out several questions, which are important in the scientific discussion about the role of media in democratization. The first is about if media plays any role. The vast amount of literature about media and democracy is answer enough to deny this idea. Another crucial dispute is whether media is an indicant for democratic reforms or not. Does media lead or follow? Does media affect or not? As well as the question, if media is beneficial or not? There cannot be only one answer. The answer the authors give is more complex.
The role of media for democratic consolidation has to be seen as a process like democratization itself. Media is a component of transition, which happens in stages (not linear) and can be interrupted as well. In this context we could answer all questions above with yes and no. The main stages the authors examine, in combination with democratization theories, are pre-transition, transition, consolidation and mature. In the first phase the regime type matter. They consider both non-democratic regime-types described above and the role of the media as a witness.
After the regime change, the transition stage starts. New media sources appear. New power elites try to gain influence over media, to gain strengths of voice and use media for legitimacy and support. Established sources start to remake themselves.
The media now has to meet its new role in socialization, democratic education, fair political information and normalizing tolerance between different political views
(McConnell & Becker 2002). The latter two stages are described by a vast amount of literature but are not taken into consideration in this paper.
This short but fresh analysis of media and its role in democratization will background the following paper about Ukraine’s media in democratization. As it will show, all above discussed factors matter in the Ukrainian case.
I will give a general overview about the development of media freedom in Ukraine. Therefore I will analyse various different indices:
Freedomhouse- Freedom of the Press
Freedomhouse- Nations in Transit/ Independent Media Reporters Without Borders (RWB)- Country Ranking IREX- Media Sustainability Index
These indices (except NIT) come to the same conclusions even if they use different approaches. Freedomhouse and RWB ratings are empirically quite similar (Becker et al. 2004) but critics about an overall American influence over Freedomhouse lead me to use both of them. There are more media freedom measurements but the above-mentioned correlate in their results and are broad enough to analyse the situation in Ukraine (ibid.). Additionally I will use the reports of these organisations and other scientific literature to explain the major changes. The questions, if media was beneficial for democratic change or not, will be crucial as well as if media does have affects (every time). I will describe the regime change (Orange Revolution) with the major focus on the media. Was it supportive or not? Did the media lead or follow?
I will describe the major outcomes for the media after the Orange Revolution and the future prospects on its role for democratization.
Development of Media Freedom in Ukraine
Different than a majority of authors I will highlight the whole development of media freedom and not only the time under Leonid Kuchma.
Following the idea that media and its role has to be seen as a process within democratic development, it is worth looking at the years before Kuchma gained power. This period of time has also its impact on the later development of the media in Ukraine, as I will show. Therefore I will speak about four different phases: Pre- Kuchma, Kuchma’s first term as president, late Kuchma and after the Orange Revolution. The first three phases can be seen as the pre-transitional stage, described above and the latter one as the beginning of the transitional period. Ukraine’s democratic development do not reach so far any status of consolidated nor mature democracy therefore it is not fruitful to analyse here if the media meets its role in those stages. The development of Ukrainian media freedom and its role in transition is marked by two major factors- direct political influence and ownership structures. The legal environment had less significant influence under the Kuchma regime. Positive changes did not lead to more media freedom and laws were ignored or misused as well. Therefore I will highlight specifics of the system of political pressure and the ownership structure during the Kuchma period.
Pre-Kuchma- on the way to a hybrid model
After the collapse of USSR and Ukrainian independence the media was relatively free. Beginning with glasnost we see in the early ninetes the abolishment of official censorship, the end of state monopoly over the media and a drop of barriers for the outside (Dyczok 2006). From 1992 private ownership was legalized so that new media could emerge and a fast growth appeared. President Kravchuk paid little attention to mass media issues during this time, because he was more concerned with state and nation building. This period is called the golden era of Ukrainian media (ibid.) because state interference was almost absent. We can find high number of new newspapers, magazines and journals and radio and television stations start to exist legally (Wächter 2001/ Dyczok 2006). As it was almost normal for Eastern and Central European transition countries, there was an increase in press titles but a decrease of circulation, mainly because of economic reasons (Wächter 2001). The broadcast media started slower to grow and very little changed initially (ibid.). The main failure of Kravchuk during his presidency was, that economic reforms were slow and privatization and liberalization were not done effectively (Wächter 2001), which also had an impact on the media (market) (Petrova 2006). All major changes came with the new president Leonid Kuchma. Because of the relatively weak economic situation, the still prevalent Russian TV, the media could not emerge as a strong actor during the first years of independence as was therefore not beneficial for democratization. It was easy for Kravchuk’s successor to change the situation in his favour, which led to a hybrid model of media. A mixed situation of old communist features meeting capitalist, democratic ones (Dyczok 2006). At this point it is also important to mention the change in behaviour of the existent political elite. Kuchma was not the first, trying to abuse Ukrainian media for his purposes. Kravchuk also tried to silence the opposition during the elections in 1994. He tried unsuccessfully to take oppositional media from the scene (ibid.).