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Partisan local media – What does it tell us? Odessa

September 15, 2014

A few days ago, this entry about IT belatedly rearing its head within the Odessa Regional Administration, contained this penultimate paragraph:

“Who knows, perhaps an increase in quality regional soft power may also result, helping to negate some of the partisan local media and set an example for the snake-pit that remains Odessa City Hall.”

It raised several emailed questions about the partisanship of the Odessa media.  It therefore means an answer is required.  The obvious answer to the question “Partisan local media – What does it tell us?”, is “whatever it wants to”.  But who decides that?  Owners or editors, or the market place?

To cover every Odessa media outlet on TV, radio or on-line would be an entry of exceptional length.  Therefore apologies to Glass, Plus, Grad, and a dozen others that fail to get a mention, but this entry is not so much a local media review, but a local media review with a point – a few lines on the bigger, and/or more partisan local media players follows in an effort to answer the question posed.

However, first a necessary disclaimer to state that many of the names below listed on either side of the political line are known personally to the blog.

The Dumskaya website and TV station are owned by the newly elected head of Odessa Regional Administration, Alexie Goncharenko, with Editor-In-Chief being Oleg Konstantinov.  Since Mr Goncharenko left the Party of Regions just prior to the killings began at EuroMaidan in Kyiv, the media line is generally pro-Ukraine and naturally caters to the populist side of Mr Goncharenko that can rear its head from time to time.

Trassa E-95 up until the fall of former President Yanukovych was distinctly anti-Maidan.  It is owned by Party of Regions MP Ivan Fursin with Aleksey Silino as Editor-in-Chief.  Since the fall of the Yanukovych regime, this media outlet has become much more centralist in its coverage – most of the time.

Sergie Kivalov, well known Party of Regions MP for many years, currently the Primorsky Rayon MP for Odessa, and personal friend of Viktor Yanukovych is probably deserving of the longest chapter in these summaries.  Firstly he owns the Reporter website and television station.  Reporter holds a distinctly, but not rabidly, pro-Russia position.  It consistently carried an anti-Maidan line and also a “Republic of Odessa” theme for some time.  It takes pains not to go after the Odessa City authorities or political personalities within however, and does report the daily unremarkable Odessite life with some neutrality.   Within the Reporter stable of media outlets are Third Digital radio, Mayak Odessa, the Word newspaper, all of which were pro-Russia and were anti-Maidan at the time.  Then there is Academia TV.  Academia TV is predominantly charged with raising – and rehabilitating when necessary – the profile of Mr Kivalov in his role as Rector of the Odessa Academy of Law as well as his well know philanthropic activity.  Due to this being main purpose of Academia TV, it is generally neutral and stays clear of politics in general.  On the whole, all of Mr Kivalov’s media is broadly pro-Russia, or pro-Kivalov.

Unaffiliated to any major politicians from Odessa is 048.ua – a site that generally has much more to do with marketing and sales than politics or news, but nonetheless does carry both.  What it does carry is generally pro-Ukrainian.  A reasonable readership due to its core function of sales and marketing.

The next stable of media outlets belong to Igor Markov, leader of the pro-Russia Rodina Party, with Editor-in-Chief Yuri Tkachev at the helm.  The main outlets are Timer media and Art TV.  Thoroughly pro-Russia and pro-separatist.

There is some mystery surrounding the ownership of Info-centre Odessa – it is unclear whether it belongs to Igor Markov, or his brother Oleg.  Hence it was not lumped in with the pro-Russia and pro-Separatist outlets already proscribed to Igor Markov above.  It has, unsurprisingly the same robust pro-Russia, pro-Separatist platform.

There is no ambiguity over the ownership of Otkat which is owned by Oleg Markov.  Otkat however is not a rabid pro-Russia or pro-Separatist and concentrates its ire on the Odessa City and Regional Administrations, and in particular on The current Mayor, Regional Governor and Sergie Kivalov.  Indeed, the outlet represents a falling out of the pro-Russia political class in Odessa with brothers Markov gunning for the others within the editorial parameters of Otkat.

Odessa.net is very much pro-Ukrainian and run by EuroMaidan-centric people.

A-political is Odessa Life.  It is very much a local issue outlet generally staying clear of political scandals, intrigue and back-room dealings.  Generally pro-Ukrainian bias if there is any notable bias at all.

Whether Hrabro counts as a media outlet in the same terms as those aforementioned, or those yet to come, is somewhat debatable.  It has a blog-like appearance and is owned by wannabe politician and well known businessman Vadim Cherniy.  It is critical of both previous and current political leaderships.  On the whole, it is pro-Ukrainian.  There are some nasty but unsubstantiated rumours surrounding the activities of some of its staff however, regarding the information the outlet publishes – or more specifically that information that does not make publishing due to financial settlement.

Pro-Eduard Gurvitz, the ex-Mayor of Odessa and current UDAR MP, is All News Odessa and the position is pro-Ukraine.  Even more blatant is View from Odessa in its ownership by Mr Gurvitz and bias, of which Editor in Chief, Igor Stolyarov makes no attempt to mask.  It is critical of the Odessa Regional Governor and current Mayor often in excess, reflecting personal grudges.

Staying with the subject of Odessa Mayors, Odessit.ua is owned by the ex Party of Regions MP and current Mayor of Odessa, Gennady Truhanov.  Mr Truhanov is something of a “forceful” businessman, who back in the 1990s was in business with the Odessa mafia godfather Alexander “Angel” Angert, remaining friends with him to this day by his own admission.  Odessit was antiMaidan, pro-Russia and pro-Separatist until May when Mr Truhanov ran for and then became Mayor.  Unsurprisingly when running for and then becoming Mayor of a pro-Ukraine city, Editor-in-Chief Vitaliy Atanasov swiftly changed the editorial stance to one of neutrality.

01.ua is owned by ex Party Regions members Nikolai Skoryk and Sergei Grinevetsky.  It makes a valiant attempt – or appears to give the facade of doing so – regarding neutrality.  However it carries far too many messages and statements of ex-Party of Regions functionaries to pull it off convincingly.  Messrs  Skoryk, Grinevetsky and Tigipko feature far too heavily.

Pro-Ukrainian Vikna Odessa, edited by Eugene Volokin has always been pro-reformist in nature and remains so.  It is not owned by any political figure.

Well known civic activist Leonid Stekel is editor-in-chief of the pro-Ukrainian Odessa Daily, whilst Peter Galchanskogo’s Odessa Media, tries to hold the neutral line – occasionally failing.  Moderately pro-Ukrainian is Volnorez, edited by Vladimir Grebenyak, is balanced by the moderately separatist Rupor Odessa owned by MP Anton Cisse.  Rupor Odessa tends to deal with urban issues rather than big politics.  A little more forceful in the pro-Russia media is another outlet owned by Anton Cisse, Topor.  As something of an aside, Mr Cisse appears to have the support of the ethnic Bulgarian community in Odessa.

Batkivshchyna Party MP Gennady Chekite owns Pora Gavorite – a vehicle for Gennady Chekite and Batkivshchyna.  Little else.  Pro Ukrainian if you consider the Batkivshchyna Party good for Ukraine.

Vedomosti is something of a strange entity that began as little more than an anti-Regional Governor entity – perhaps indicating that the previously removed regional governor – Nikolay  Skoryk is financing – or not.  Mostly neutral with occasional pro-Russia tendencies.

So what does all that outline – aside from the fact that historically most major local media outlets are/were owned by Party Regions members past or present?

Clearly, for those such as Alexie Goncharenko, there is no moving to the pro-Russia fold.  It would be impossible to undo populist actions such as sneaking into occupied Crimea and unfurling a huge flag of Ukraine atop a mountain for the cameras, anymore than he could delete being the Odessa campaign chief for President Poroshenko.

Otkat identifies the clear and on-going split between the pro-Russia politicians Kivalov and Truhanov from the brothers Markov that occurred during the May national and regional elections.  Kivalov and Truhanov retaining the most overt public offices have notably toned down their pro-Russia, pro-Separatist media mouthpieces.  Anton Cisse media outlets retain only a mild pro-Russia stance.

In short, since Odessa became draped in the yellow and blue of Ukraine, be it ribbons tied to thousands of womens handbags, trisub T shirts, flags adorning windows and cars, shop fronts and restaurants etc – those holding prominent public office, despite their on-going personal pro-Russia beliefs, have necessarily accommodated the mood of the city in their public rhetoric and actions both directly and via their media outlets.  In some cases a rather dramatic editorial change occurred.

A number of independent pro-Ukraine media outlets have also appeared and gained media ground.

Very good, but what will it tell us in the future – particularly in respect of the media owned by Cisse, Tryhanov and Kivalov?

Though many commentators on Ukraine look toward Kremlin military aggression when it comes to Odessa, considering the number of (now somewhat more privately) political appointees currently holding office in the city  that are personally pro-Russia, and/or pro-Separatist, and/or pro-federalist, a covert political assault seems more likely.

It would seem obvious that if or when this begins to actively occur, the pro-Russia rhetoric from the relevant media outlets will begin to grow noticeably louder once more, prior to any of these men overtly coming out once again with their personal pro-Russia biases.   How long it will be before any covert political assault begins is an open question.  Currently it is clear that the public mood would not accommodate any such political shift whatsoever – even if plans have already been made, or personal agreements entered into with The Kremlin.

Will it be six months?  A year?  Maybe two, before the rhetoric returns?  Or will the public mood remain so robustly pro-Ukrainian that the only thing to follow any such political shift is political suicide?  Was the public mood ever in question to anybody other than those who tried to question it?

Whatever the case, the partisan plurality of the Odessa media is laid out above for those that wanted to know – as well as identifying a few potential bellwethers of political change should it try to manifest.  It ranges from the anti this or that, through neutrality (more or less), to the pro this or that.

In a nation State that is attempting to become a consolidated democracy, not a bad thing.  A bad thing is to suddenly clamp down and stop the media that is anti-government after all, – Russia, Turkey or Hungary for example.  The same is true of cities such as Odessa within that nation State.

As long as these media outlets play within the rules, they should be allowed to continue to broadcast their particular framing of events, allowing readers to accept or dismiss their prose, mindful of the European Court of Human Rights ruling “… tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society. That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance…..the Court is also careful to make a distinction in its findings between, on the one hand, genuine and serious incitement to extremism and, on the other hand, the right of individuals (including journalists and politicians) to express their views freely and to offend, shock or disturb others.”

(Chamber judgment Erbakan v. Turkey, no. 59405/00, § 56, 6.07.2006)

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