The idea of creating a Russian-language TV channel for the residents of the occupied territories was voiced in the President’s Office. Together with experts, we figure out whether we need such a channel, what role it will play in the information warfare, what its content should be and how such an idea will affect the language policy.
Do we need this TV channel?
Bohdan Petrenko, the deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism, is convinced that during the war, information channels are certainly needed to protect the interests of the state.
“One channel is unlikely to satisfy the interests of Ukraine in both zones of occupation. In addition, there are no problems with understanding the Ukrainian language in the Donbas. There are minor problems in Crimea. In addition, if we talk about external broadcast, there are two groups of influence: the Russians in Russia and the Russian-speaking audience in the world. Ideally, it should be four different channels. If we talk about the zones of occupation, another important question is who the target audience of this channel is.”
Iryna Siedova, a media coordinator of the Crimean Human Rights Group, believes that the creation of a Russian-language TV channel for the residents is necessary since only in this way it is possible to try to eradicate myths inspired by the Russian propaganda.
“A targeted information attack on the inhabitants of the occupied territories by the Russian Federation has been ongoing for five years. It includes, among other things, the systematic level of hatred towards the Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language. Over this time, the opinion that the power in Kyiv is seized by “fascists, Nazis, Bandera men” whose main goal is to deprive the Ukrainians of their right to speak Russian was fixed in the minds of many residents of the occupied territories who watch the Russian television and believe it. We know that’s not true. But those who live in the occupied territories believe in these myths. Therefore, the creation of a Russian-language channel targeted at those who live in the occupied territory is needed, in my opinion.”
A political scientist Tymur Mykhailovsky also supported this initiative. Moreover, in his opinion, such a channel is necessary not only for the residents of the occupied territories.
“In the last 20 years, the theme of the Russian language has been dominant in election campaigns. Unfortunately, it is used to divide the Ukrainian nation by language. Therefore, it is very important to show that the Russian language is a free language of communication in Ukraine and for the Ukrainians in general, just as other languages of national minorities and the official Ukrainian language. Anyone can speak it freely, watch TV, and it is as accessible as other languages. The issue of language is one of the priority areas used by the Russian propaganda to discredit the Ukrainian authorities, to incite the residents of the occupied territories against the official authorities of Ukraine and the residents of the rest of Ukraine. Therefore, it is very important to show that there is no problem in this issue, which affects every person, and the Russian language is as accessible and free.”
Pavlo Satsky, an associate professor of Vadym Hetman Kyiv National Economic University, also emphasizes the need to create a TV channel. According to the expert, it is also needed for the Russian citizens and the older citizens of other countries who emigrated from the USSR and only speak Russian.
“Unfortunately, the Russian-speaking segment of television is dominated by Putin’s regime strengthening channels – in fact, it is the only position with the illusion of pluralism of opinions. Therefore, with a professional approach, Ukraine has the opportunity to give an alternative source of information in Russian that would violate the state monopoly of the Russian Federation. Such a channel is important for Ukraine, based on the need to demonstrate the cultural difference between the Ukrainians and their state from Russia, as well as to declare the presence of the political position of society, and not the government regarding the war with Russia, the occupation of territories and the state ownership of these territories. On the Russian side, there is a clear trend in the information space that the issue of confrontation with Russia, equally, the cultural identity of Ukrainians, is relevant for politicians, not for the people.”
But Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization Association of Political Sciences, emphasizes that such a channel is not needed for the residents of the occupied territories because they all do understand Ukrainian. Therefore, if they have kept their loyalty to the country, they prefer to hear the state language.
“If not, they will not even try to watch any Ukrainian TV channels because the Russian propaganda is enough for them. In general, such a discussion about the creation of a Russian-language TV channel for the occupied territories is playing along with the Russian propaganda, in particular with the theses about the internal conflict between the Ukrainians on language grounds, which does not correspond to reality. We are not fighting with the Russian-speaking Ukrainians and not because of the language – we are fighting with the Russian occupiers. The Russian-language channel may really be necessary for us – to conduct propaganda in the territory of the enemy.”
Olesia Bratash, a teacher and a finalist in the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine in 2018, doesn’t see the need to create the channel as well. According to her, all residents of the occupied territories have a clear understanding of the Ukrainian language, but they do not want to use it because of a long-standing lack of proper state policy in this matter.
“As for me, the creation of such a channel will be another confirmation of the fact that there is no consistent course for the approval of the status of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine. Language should unite, not divide, and the creation of such a channel will be the bridge of separation. According to my vision, the Russian-language TV channel for the occupied territories can become an argument that the Ukrainian language should not be taught and used, and, accordingly, this can affect the language policy of the country negatively.”
What are the pros and cons of creating such a channel?
Iryna Siedova explains that the proposal of the president’s team has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it gives an opportunity to reduce the degree of tension between the inhabitants of the occupied and peaceful territories, on the other hand – it is a costly project, which may also be blocked by the aggressor.
“If the work of the channel is built correctly, it is likely that a part of the audience will start watching it instead of or together with the Russian channels. Due to such broadcast, it will be possible to reduce the degree of tension between the residents of the occupied territories and other Ukrainians, which is constantly heated up by the occupation media. Again, in the long term, it may give positive effects and explain what is actually happening in Ukraine and what policy the government has, and broadcast the messages that “Ukraine has not forgotten you”.
The disadvantage of such an idea is its exorbitant price because it will have to compete with the propaganda TV channels with annual million budgets. There is also the possibility that the channel will be completely blocked and no one will be able to watch it. As evidenced by the monitoring of the Crimean Human Rights Group and other media organizations, a large-scale blocking of the Ukrainian broadcasting and the Ukrainian websites occur in the Crimea and Donbas now. Therefore, we cannot exclude the possibility that this channel will be blocked, and the budget will be spent in vain.”
A candidate of pedagogical sciences, an associate professor of the KROK University, a historian and a political scientist Andrii Khorosheniuk also thought about the issue of funding for the channel. In his opinion, the state has most likely no additional opportunity to create a channel without the help of investors now. And the investor may want to influence the product.
“The funds needed to launch a new project are worth improving the products of the existing media. For example, UATV created after the annexation of the Crimea and the occupation of the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2015. According to the plan, the channel’s programs are focused on Europe and the world.
The broadcast is conducted in several languages, in particular, Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, Russian, English and Arabic. When asked if this channel is present in the channels shortlist of the consumer, the answer is rather “No”. Additional funding for the existing channels will allow for a qualitative audit of channels’ products by the specialists in countering hybrid warfare, information security experts, media space researchers and the like. New presenters’ faces can be an added advantage for the consumer. And the main thing is that additional funding will allow improving the quality of the product itself, will change the shape of the product.”
Bohdan Petrenko is convinced that the channel can become one of the sources of the change of moods to pro-Ukrainian ones in the occupied territories. Broadcasting can break the integrity of the pro-Russian system of values in the minds of those who have anti-Ukrainian moods. However, there are drawbacks to this idea.
“The war goes on. And the return of our territories is impossible without a radical change of moods there – to the formation of negativity, and complete rejection of the occupation authorities at best. As for the shortcomings, they include the announced state status of such a channel. This will lead to its rejection by those who already have a negative attitude towards Ukraine. We live in a period of war. And the examples of the British BBC and even the Russian RT show success only in peacetime. If there is a war – channels have to be covered with “independent status” as it is done by the pro-Russian TV channels in Ukraine. This status allows bypassing the perception filters. The second drawback is the lack of understanding of how the channel will operate, and what information content it will have.”
What is the role of such a channel in the information warfare?
Iryna Siedova notes that everything in this matter depends solely on the content and the professionalism of the presenters.
“If the channel incites hatred towards the inhabitants of the occupied territories, broadcasts messages discriminating these people, doesn’t pay due attention to social problems and the like, it will not give the proper effect, even if it broadcasts in Russian. But if the content is diverse, if it focuses on the residents of the occupied Donbas and Crimea as Ukrainians, answers important questions, it will definitely resist the Russian propaganda and help the reintegration of these territories.”
Bohdan Petrenko advises to be ready to criticism from the Russian propagandists at once – after all, such a channel can bear the risk for their influence.
“And there is an inverse correlation – the more it will be criticized by the Russian Federation, the more influence it will have. Moreover, criticism always attracts attention and therefore can be perceived as a promotion. At the same time, if the channel is made unprofessionally, the real threat of the poor quality of information content is the rejection of the content of this information. That is, a person fails to perceive the information not because it is false, but because it is poorly shown. And accordingly, a person transfers this negativity to the state of Ukraine. Therefore, the link is clear: low quality of the product – negative attitude toward the part of the population – strengthening of anti-Ukrainian views – increasing legitimization for the Russian occupation regime.”
Vasyl Hulai, a doctor of political science, a professor, the head of the department of international information of Lviv Polytechnic National University, stresses that the launch of the channel will counteract the Russian information intervention both in the occupied territories and in the rest of the country.
“It is quite obvious that the part, or maybe even its largest audience will be in the adjacent areas of the East and the South of Ukraine. And regarding the scale of influence, it is important to know the formats of the channels’ programs and, in my opinion, the best option would be a combination of analogue and satellite broadcasting with a relevant YouTube-channel.”
How can the channel affect language policy?
Iryna Siedova is convinced that the language policy will not be influenced by the TV channel, moreover, on the contrary, it may support and develop the Ukrainian culture despite the language of the broadcast.
“The creation of a Russian-language TV channel mainly targeted at the residents of the occupied territories will not prevent the language policy. Many people in the Crimea and Donbas understand Ukrainian, but the hatred for everything Ukrainian, which is fueled by the Russian Federation, is now so strong that people do not watch the Ukrainian-language TV channels simply on principle. Moreover, despite the Russian language, this channel can be directed at the support the Ukrainian culture.”
Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced that such a channel will exist in spite of the current language legislation and will resume talks about bilingualism and the official status for the language of the occupier.
“This will cause protests of the pro-Ukrainian patriotic community, and will again divide the Ukrainians on the language basis. It is necessary to understand that the only state language always unites the nation, cements it, makes it unique and interesting for the world. This is our competitive advantage.”
Bohdan Petrenko suggests that the reproach of the idea of such a channel can only be a trigger designed to constantly keep the population in a state of increased attention. Beyond that, the channel can really lead to the legitimization of the Russian broadcast.
“Leading channels can launch their international versions in Russian, but broadcast them in Ukraine. Moreover, in order to artificially neutralize the influence of the Ukrainian versions, the Russian-language TV channels will be done in a more professional and interesting way. The second risk is associated with the first one. Positive public perception of the idea of a Russian-language TV channel for international broadcast opens a window of opportunity to return the dominance of the Russian language on domestic channels.”
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel