Oct. 19 turned out to be the last day of work for Roman Sukhan, who for years had worked as a TV anchor for Channel 5, one of Ukraine’s top news stations. “I’m fired. For what? I have no idea,” Sukhan wrote on Facebook on the same day, making his frustration with his former employers public. Not stopping there, he used the opportunity to accuse the channel of several unsavory practices.
According to Sukhan, while working at the station — which is owned by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — he received under-the-table money transfers to his private bank card every month in addition to his regular salary. Unofficial salaries are widely used in Ukraine to evade taxation. It’s no wonder the country’s shadow economy is almost half the size of the official gross domestic product, according to government estimates.
More damning for Ukraine’s media industry — and perhaps, the future of its democracy — is Sukhan’s other accusation: that every show on Channel 5, except for the straight news programs, airs content for money. He did not provide specific examples, but described the practice using the slang word “#jeans,” which in Ukraine denotes one-sided stories that promote particular people, business interests, or political parties — who have paid for the privilege. Ukrainian journalists and media experts have learned to recognize jeans by a common set of features: they cover trivial events, such as ribbon cuttings; they fail to present opposing points of view; and they often feature quotes from dubious “experts” with little relevant experience.
It’s no wonder that Poroshenko did not sell Channel 5 after being elected president in 2014, all while promising that his channel would be independent. The channel is hardly a moneymaking asset, but in this it is not alone. According to some commentators, even some of the country’s top TV stations are subsidized by their owners. But the advantage of having a personal media outlet isn’t profit — it’s gaining leverage in the power struggle among big business players, all of which, in a country as corrupt as Ukraine, have ambitious political agendas. And in this regard, Poroshenko (who is worth over $900 million) has serious competition.
In fact, all 10 of the country’s most popular channels are owned by powerful oligarchs.
Of these top 10 channels, three are controlled by Viktor Pinchuk, three by Ihor Kolomoisky, three by Dmytro Firtash and one by Rinat Akhmetov. All four of these men, who are among Ukraine’s richest and most powerful, use their media might to advance their business and political interests. As Ukrainian media monitors have shown, most of the country’s top TV channels air political advertising promoted as “news.”
Chaînes possédées par les gros intérêts économiques, pseudo-débats sans vraie contradiction, pseudo-experts,… ouf, il s’agit des télés ukrainiennes.