The thing, that has been discussed for many years, has caused numerous controversy, which seemed to have no end, finally happened. Without protests, calls for disobedience and too loud political statements. It seems that in discussing the need of the celebratory assembly on the Knowledge Day, the first autumn weather and the start of the political season, Ukraine did not notice that the analogue broadcasting was finally turned off.

Silence is around

The transition of the entire country to the digital signal has been repeatedly postponed and at the intersection of the summer and the autumn, it also was not spontaneous. All were warned in advance. The PPT Concern has disabled the analogue TV according to the government decision, that determined the date for the entire country – August 31, 2018. The majority of media posted news reports on this subject, but the attention to the nuances of the process was drawn only by specialized media.

“For now, everything is perceived more calmly than I ever expected”, said People’s Deputy Hryhorii Shverk, member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy, ex-deputy chairman of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting. “But I think that this is not the final decision. They will see if there are somewhere “white” spots whether there are problems and what should be done”.

“The silence is deceptive, in my opinion, because there are still many issues that concern both the consumer of information, that is, the viewer and listener, and TV channels”, deputy editor-in-chief of the Detective Media portal Svitlana Ostapa said to Opinion. “It should have taken place in June 2016, but it was constantly postponed without the lobbying of the large television channels owned by the oligarchs. It was not beneficial for them to make a change to a digital television, they were not quite ready for this, they are not ready even for now. Therefore, it seems to me, it was time to begin this transition long ago, then perhaps the situation would have been corrected, and they would have done everything necessary”.

In fact, the process started earlier, but only a month earlier and only in two regions. On the night from July 31 to August, the first stage of the campaign took place – then the Kyiv and Kirovohrad region were deprived of analogue broadcasting. Can we already report on preliminary results for these regions?

“If there were really big problems, then there would be a buzz about this”, Hryhorii Shwerk assured. “And if there is no big noise, then you can assume that everything that is going on is pretty good”.

Svitlana Ostapa recently was in Kropyvnytskyi. According to her, in the region, there is a quite good digital coverage – more than 80% of users.

“Kyiv is an untypical region, a lot of people in the city and the region are using the latest technology,” Tetiana Popova, the chairman of the Association of Telecommunications Chamber of Ukraine, said to Opinion. “And I do not know the cases in Kyiv or the region so that someone could not watch television”.

They turned it off, but actually they didn’t

Actually, analogue broadcasting has not completely disappeared all over Ukraine. A government decision is not a “cut-out”, which turns everything off at once. On July 18, the Cabinet of Ministers passed amendments to its resolution to turn the analogue TV off in order to preserve it in territories with a special mode of broadcasting. We are talking about the zone of the OUF and borders with the Crimea. And on August 29, the government continued analogue broadcasting of the channels of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC), local broadcasters who do not have digital licenses, and transmitters on the border with the Russian Federation until May 1, 2019.

“The overall impression: the transition from analogue to digital TV was calm. And there are certain factors for this”, said Serhii Kostynskyi, a member of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting. “Firstly, analogue television remains on the border with the aggressor country: on the part of Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv regions, completely in Luhansk and Donetsk, in the south of Kherson region – in five districts, on the border with the Crimea.

Secondly, the Public Broadcasting (“UA: First”, local affiliates), as well as all local TV channels that have not yet received the digital license are kept. Thirdly, we do not just switch to a digital television. This is a conventional name, but in fact, viewers have the ability to connect to a cable network or put a satellite dish. That is, there is an opportunity to access Ukrainian television and it’s easy”.

The delay in switching off analogue broadcasting in the mentioned regions is related to the issue of information and, hence, national security.

“By May (2019 – the author’s note) public channels also will be analogue, although this is a very expensive broadcast, and they were happy to turn it off earlier”, Svitlana Ostapa explained the details. “At the meeting, the managers of the branches of the Public said that they will not lose much if the analogue TV will be turned off since September. But the National Council (on Television and Radio Broadcasting – the author’s note) has written, that the Public should be turned off the last one so that the population would not be affected because in the Public there is a very large analogue coverage in Ukraine”.

Stalin would have liked it?

However, despite mostly positive reviews, there is no complete calm. It does not happen where the political component of the question arises on the surface. Consumers, who have not yet managed to change the analogue TV to the digital one did not remain without defenders. At the beginning of September, All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” website reported, that the government’s decision was ill-advised and premature, and many citizens were deprived of a single window into the outside world. The villagers, who will have to buy not only new equipment but also new TVs, will suffer the most.

“At the beginning of the presidential campaign, a decision that significantly restricts access to information for many voters can be seen as an attempt by authorities to hide the truth about the real state of affairs in the country,” the statement says. All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” as the largest party in Ukraine demands not to use the administrative resource in the electoral battle and to refuse to implement “reforms” that worsen people’s lives or constrain their rights.

A month before turning off the analogue signal, people’s deputy, a deputy head of the parliamentary faction “Batkivshchyna”, Serhii Sobolev, already made a similar statement on the party website. Then the innovations concerned the pioneers – Kyiv and Kirovohrad region. According to the People’s Deputy, the decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of March 21, 2012 “On Approval of the Procedure for Using the Funds  from the State Budget to Provide the Population with Means of Receiving Digital Broadcasting Signals” concerned only a few categories of the population, but it has already had its day.

“For such things as the transition to digital broadcasting, we have to prepare carefully,” the website quotes Mr Sobolev’s position. “People are suffering, but the dealers get profit out of ill-advised actions of the officials. Do you remember, as during Stalin times there was a policy not to issue passports to the peasants, and they were separated from the world? Today, the rural population was decided to cut access to information. The authorities need to understand the capabilities of ordinary people, raise their living standards so that everyone can afford quality services, and then make some changes”.

“Then it is necessary for “Batkivshchyna” to continue, that Ukraine should renounce its obligations to the EU, not to do anything, so that we increased the competition between TV channels, and the information environment was more diversified and high-quality”, said a political scientist Serhii Taran to Opinion. “In fact, such a position reminds me: let’s give all people money and lower tariffs! Absolutely without understanding the consequences. If such statements take place, and nothing is proposed for a realistic replacement, then it is very similar to populism”.

Mr Taran is convinced, that this is not a political component, but a technical one. And the issue is inconvenient for people with analogue TV, which simply should be changed to digital broadcasting. This process is irreversible and concerns Ukraine’s fulfilment of its obligations to the European Union.

“What is the policy here?”, Tetiana Popova. “The fact, that we have to turn off analogue TV has been discussed the last five years. We have to comply with the relevant clause in connection with the international documents signed eight years ago. Speculation on the part of political parties has always taken place, and we can not influence it”.

Local authorities can help

“Of course, there are still problems and some households can not afford to buy the receiver”, says Serhii Kostynskyi. “I think that local authorities should provide people with these tuners. We have been talking about this for the last four years. Constantly postponed the deadlines for turning off the analogue TV, and during this time it was possible to prepare. But our society simply has such a culture – everything is done at the last moment.

Unfortunately, people who have lost the access to analogue TV became victims of this approach. But there is still public broadcasting and local TV channels, which have not yet received digital licenses. That is, more than half of the people who watched analogue TV continue to watch it”.

So how many Ukrainians actually fell into a trap, which does not allow them to watch TV? There are different statements on this occasion. It is even about 2.4 million citizens. Mr Kostynskyi believes, that this figure is not proven and is often used with a manipulative purpose to show how bad it is. The real situation will only clear up at the end of the year with relevant sociological research that will be ordered by all media groups.

“Of course, part of the audience suffered because, without digital adapter, people cannot catch the signal”, – Svitlana Ostapa said. “As it turned out, there is a lack of digital adapters in Ukraine. Everyone knew about the transition, but nobody was in a hurry to buy them. Adapters in stores have grown more than double in price, and in the black market, they are lacking. They cost about 400 hryvnias, now they are about 800, and in some regions even more. I think, after a while, this situation will still improve”.

According to Ms Ostapa, in Kropyvnytskyi there are specialized stores selling the appropriate equipment. Every store gets about 50 adapters every day, they are quickly bought; in the morning there is a queue to buy them. Many people with low incomes did not expect for the help of the state or anyone else and found the opportunity to connect to the digital television or to satellite TV or cable network themselves.

“Previously, there was a corresponding program, the budget was set. I remember the Party of Regions handed out such adapters to low-income families”, Svitlana Ostapa continued. “In recent years, money for tuners for the poor has not been given. I think a certain amount will be provided for next year. Although I have a lot of acquaintances, relatives pensioners, who bought these adapters themselves or their children bought it for them”.

TV quality should become better

And whatever technical and organizational problems exist, the complete transition from the analogue signal to the digital one is inevitable. It is a question of both quality and honest competition and fulfilment of obligations to the European Union, in the countries of which the transition to a digital TV has long been in the past.

“Most of the industry supports the transition to the digital TV, because there will be a market balance, and there will be a competition not between the transmitters (who have more of them), but the content”, Serhii Kostynskyi said. “And as for those who oppose … Perhaps, some TV channels would like to use their audience for political purposes.

But in reality, one must not think of a political motivation, but a market one. Digital television will provide equal conditions for all channels. And everyone will benefit from it, because, firstly, the channels will cease to pay for the same thing – both for the analogue and for the digital. And secondly, they will now invest in content. And the one, who will invest more will have better positions”.

Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovskyi

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