The Fourth Estate, Oligarch Style: Key Facts About Ukrainian Media

May 22, 2019
Internews Ukraine experts have prepared a comprehensive overview of Ukrainian media sphere ( for the Media Landscapes project launched by the European Journalism Centre (EJC), in partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). We have selected ten key facts from the research.
  1. Television is the most popular medium in Ukraine. According to a research by InMind for Internews Network,  77 percent of Ukrainians watch television at least once per month, while 74 percent use TV channels as their weekly source of news.

    Online media are the second most popular in Ukraine, as 60 percent of Ukrainians visit news websites at least once per month and 57 percent use the Internet as their daily source of news.

    Radio is the second least popular medium in Ukraine. Only 26 percent of Ukrainians listen to the radio at least once per month, and 25 percent use it as their daily source of news.

    Print media are dragging behind all other media in terms of audience. Only 21 percent of Ukrainians read print media at least once per month - this figure has declined by 10 percent since 2016. Only 16 percent of Ukrainians use print media as their weekly source of news.

  1. The landscape of trust across the country heavily reflects the current political and security situation of Ukraine. According to recent polls, 66.7 percent of Ukrainians trust voluntary organisations, 64.4 percent trust the Church, and 57.3 percent trust Ukraine's armed forces and other military and paramilitary formations. The level of trust in the media equals 48.3 percent.

    TV is the most trusted medium - 56 percent of Ukrainians trust regional TV channels and 61 percent trust national TV channels.

    Online media are almost as trusted as TV: 52 percent of Ukrainians trust in regional news websites, while 58 percent trust in national websites.

    Radio is the second least-trusted medium, with 34 percent of Ukrainians trusting national radio stations and 39 percent thinking local radio stations tell the truth.

    Print media are the least trusted in Ukraine. Only 35 percent of Ukrainians trust regional print outlets, while 33 percent trust the national newspapers.

  2. The most popular Ukrainian media have clear links to politicians and political parties, as they belong to oligarchs who are often involved in politics directly or indirectly. These links are the strongest in the TV sphere.

    All top TV channels belong to different oligarchs: Ihor Kolomoyskyi controls 1+1, Rinat Akhmetov owns Ukrayina (Ukraine), while STB, ICTV and Novyi Kanal (New Channel) belong to Victor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma. Inter  TV channel is a part of Inter Media Group which belongs to Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Liovochkin. Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is closely linked to Russia's President Vladimir Putin (his daughter's godfather), allegedly controls 112 and NewsOne TV channels, the most popular news channels in Ukraine.

  1. Since 2014, the Ukrainian TV sphere has developed mainly in the information direction. New channels such as Hromadske (Civic), Espreso, 112, NewsOne and Priamyi (Direct) are focusing exclusively on news and talk-shows about politics, economy and society. However, all these channels, except for crowd-funded and grant-funded Hromadske (Civic), are private and have a non-transparent ownership structure.  Meanwhile, independent outlets, like said Hromadske (Civic) or Hromadske radio (Civic radio), or more niche are influential in their segments, although they still cannot compete for massive audiences with oligarchic TV channels.

  2. Ukraine has no influential broadcaster to counterweight the oligarch-owned media. Suspilne (Civic), the public broadcaster, has been launched on 19 January 2017. The aim was to provide an independent source of unbiased information, without financial or administrative influence by the state.

    The issue has been pending for the last twenty years so far, although the first tangible progress in this respect was achieved in 2014, once the Law On Public Television and Radio Broadcasting was adopted. Its implementation, however, has protracted in the absence of the state authorities' political will as well as continuous underfunding.

  3. As use of the Ukrainian language was hampered during Tsarist and Soviet periods, the Ukrainian government tries to provide the national language with regulatory support. Thus, it launched a campaign aimed at strengthening the role of Ukrainian language in media. To this end, language quotas have been introduced for TV channels and radio stations.

    For licensed television and radio companies, the transmission of European productions, and also American and Canadian productions, should make up at least 70 percent of the total weekly broadcasting between 07:00 and 23:00. Out of these hours, at least 50 percent of the total weekly broadcasting must be of Ukrainian production.

    Meanwhile, radio stations are obliged to air at least 30 percent of songs in Ukrainian language.

  1. Ukrainian media sphere is designated as "partly free" by Freedom House's Freedom of the Press 2019 report.

    One of the problems is that attacks on media professionals and houses are occurring. On 20 July 2016, a prominent Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist, Pavel Sheremet, was killed in a car explosion but those responsible have not been found yet.

    Manipulations with media have also happened. On 29 May 2018, media reported that Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who moved to Ukraine, was killed. The next day it turned out that Babchenko was indeed alive and his "murder" was a decoy for security services to catch a killer, allegedly linked to a broader plan by Russian security services to murder journalists and activists working in Ukraine.

  2. The Internet plays a significant role in the everyday life of Ukrainians. According to the 2018 Factum Group Ukraine research, 21.35 million of Ukrainian citizens (65 percent of the country's population) are regular Internet users. 21.9 million (67 percent) have Internet connection at home.

The average Internet-user resulting from this study is female (52 percent), 25-34 years old (28 percent), lives in a city with population of 100,000 and more (44 percent). As many as 27 percent of Ukraine's Internet users live in villages and 28 percent live in small cities. The only social group which does not use Internet often is people aged 65+ which constitute only 4 percent of Ukraine's Internet-users.

  1. Facebook is the dominant social network in Ukraine with few real opponents. Russian social networks VKontakte (In contact) and Odnoklassniki (Classmates) used to be the most popular, but things changed dramatically in May 2017 when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, on the basis of a decision by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, imposed sanctions on some Russian Internet services.

    According to the study conducted by InMind for Internews Network, 57 percent of Ukrainian social network users are on Facebook (37 percent back in 2016), 21 percent are on VKontakte (In contact; 49 percent in 2016), 15 percent are on Odnoklassniki (Classmates; 40 percent in 2016). Twitter is only used by 8 percent of Ukrainians who are into social networks (12 percent in 2016). Up to 42 percent use Facebook to get news, while 8 percent do this on VKontakte (In contact), 4 percent on Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and 2 percent on Twitter.

  1. Given that Ukraine's legislature in the media sector is relatively vague, its practical implementation can be characterised as sporadic, multidirectional, inconsistent, unbalanced and non-transparent. Existing laws are predominantly declarative and therefore insufficient in their regulative function, which results in their failure to translate into specific, effective policies. Instead, these declarative laws often overlap and duplicate each other, leading to ineffectiveness at best and legal impasses at worst.

    Most of the laws have been developed based on their Soviet prototypes, and as such they are not entirely up to date to the new trends in the sector. Legislation on online media is virtually nonexistent. As a result, there is a major gap in national law which leaves online media neither regulated nor protected.

By studying and supporting the Ukrainian media sphere, Internews Ukraine helps to build a vibrant and prosperous society. Our competencies include not only conducting media monitoring and preparing analytics, but also coordination with national and international media, developing communication or information strategies and media campaigns.

Vitalii Rybak and Maksym Panchenko
analystst and journalists, Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld