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Ukraine to launch open society television

September 17, 2012

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Ukrainian regulator the State Committee for TV and Radio Broadcasting (SCTRB) wants to see new open society television (OTV) channels launched with independence from any political influence. Two channels are planned: a society-political oriented one, and another with cultural-educational programming. The channels will be launched basing on the existing public TV's network resources.

In order to remove political influence, OTV's programming schedule will be created and its broadcasting monitored by a supervisory board. Most of its 17 members will be representatives of Ukrainian professional and civic groups (education , science, law, journalism, sport and other) and three members of the board will represent cabinet ministers.

For the first four years the channel will be financed from the state budget. It hasn't yet been decided how the channels will be financed after that period, but the document prepared by SCTRB mentions that the channels may be funded from TV license fees and from the sale of its own productions, as well as from broadcasting state ordered programming. There will be a cap on government-ordered programming at 20 per cent of time. It is also possible OTV will be at least partially financed from advertising. Every year OTV's annual budget will be set by the parliament.

Launching OTV in Ukraine is one of the major conditions of the Council of Europe with regards to joining the EU; OTV launch is also required by a NATO-Ukraine cooperation programme.

An open society channel was planned in Ukraine back in 2004 after Victor Yushchenko won presidential elections. Currently, there is also another project backing OTV in the Parliament written by opposition party BJT (Block of Yulia Tymoshenko). According to the BJT project, OTV would be also monitored by supervisory board members who would be appointed from independent civic organisations; but it suggested funding should be a fixed percentage of the state budget. The project was sent to the Parliament back in 2010 but it is still waiting for reading. Both projects are to be discussed in the Parliament by the end of 2012 and OTV is expected to launch in the beginning of 2013.

 

Both the likelihood of Ukraine joining the EU in the near future and the current government's intention in joining in the first place remains highly uncertain. The authorities, led by president Victor Yanukovych, can hardly expect that launch of the two OTV channels would impact Ukraine's adhesion process before the country addresses a number of other issues highlighted by the EU. The most important one is the controversial imprisonment of former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, which has already led the EU to block signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

The parliamentary elections in October 2012 may be seen as another political reason for starting a discussion of the SCTRB project, as potentially helping Yanukovych to gain some liberal voters. In this context launching the open society channels appears merely part of political game.

In fact the very political independence of OTV channels as planned in the SCTRB project is rather doubtful due to the requirement of booking up to 20 per cent of time for government-ordered programming, as well as the budget being set by the Parliament. Lack of any regulations for the channels' financing after the initial four year period, may cause similar concerns. The very fact that OTV channels are needed also casts a shadow of doubt on the existing Ukrainian public channel, Pyershyi Natsionalnyi.

Further, the problems of Ukrainian opposition channel, TVi, owned by International Media Company, are perceived by many as a result of the intensifying political struggle before the coming elections. After the decision of National Broadcasting Council to make only DTT channels 'must carry' most Ukrainian cable TV operators didn't move TVi to higher packages, but simply stopped broadcasting it. Then, TVi's management was accused of avoiding paying tax and the channel's accounts were frozen with the tax office demanding a payment of UAH9m (about €1m). The channel is currently trying to collect the money for the deadline of 24th of September 2012 set by the tax office.

In April 2012 Russia also launching an open society channel project. Although having no relation with the EU or with NATO, Russia's plan is for a TV channel without any political influence and without any commercial programming. So far, the channel's supervisory board has been appointed by Russia's president and the channel's frequencies have been allotted. The channel will be registered by the end of September 2012 and launched in January 2013.

With the authorities appointing the supervisory board and a similar uncertainty over future financing, the new Russian channel's political independence also seems doubtful. This is not the first time Russia has been down this road. An open society channel emerged in 1995 on the basis of Pyervyi channel but was in 2002 re-branded to create current state-owned Pyervyi channel.

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