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Ukrainian public broadcaster launches broadcasting separate from state-sponsored telethon

by Kateryna Hodunova and The Kyiv Independent news desk May 22, 2024 12:25 AM 3 min read
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Suspilne, a Ukrainian public broadcaster, said on May 21 it had launched its own news broadcasting on the Pershyi nationwide TV channel separate from the telethon.

Mykola Chernotytskyi, the head of Suspilne's Managing Board, clarified to the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet that the company de jure remains part of the telethon but will no longer be represented in its time slots.

The so-called telethon, branded as "Yedyni Novyny" ("United News"), was launched at the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. It was created by merging the coverage of Ukraine's biggest TV channels.

The telethon was initially seen as a legitimate response to Russia's aggression but later it was accused of monopolizing television coverage and stifling dissent. Some opposition television channels have complained that they were excluded from the telethon due to their political stance.

Reporters Without Borders recently called on the government to end the telethon, warning that the continuation of the format could undermine media pluralism. Ukrainian journalists and media organizations have also come out in opposition to the format.

On April 25, Suspilne's Supervisory Board Chairwoman Svitlana Ostapa said on Facebook that Suspilne was being pulled out from the telethon's prime-time evening slots.

This news came after lawmaker Mariana Bezuhla, a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People party, accused Suspilne of organizing an illegal scheme to have draft-aged men exempted from military service.

Bezuhla also previously claimed that Suspilne had a low TV rating and called for reducing state funding of some Ukrainian channels.

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According to Suspilne's statement, the company will enhance the telethon's news block on its Pershyi channel within the updated telethon's memorandum terms.

"The telethon participants signed a Supplementary Agreement to the Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation to introduce a new approach to implementing Ukraine's unified information policy under martial law and ensure 24-hour support for the 'United News' telethon on 30 May 2022," the statement read.

Suspilne also expressed a willingness to share its in-house-produced content, including documentaries and investigations, with all telethon participants.

Chernotytskyi said that the telethon participants did not reach an agreement on the distribution of the prime-time evening slots.

"We (Suspilne) disagreed when we were suggested not to broadcast during the evening time slots. It is unacceptable for us," Chernotytskyi said.

"We (the telethon's members) debated for two weeks. During the discussion, the idea of reformatting the telethon and extending broadcasting on the Pershyi channel was born. It suited us."

The government has budgeted over Hr 1.5 billion ($38 million) for the telethon and foreign broadcasting in 2024.

In April, the U.S. State Department mentioned Ukraine's telethon in its 2023 Human Rights Report, saying it "enabled an unprecedented level of control over primetime television news."

The report also said that some media outlets reported that they had faced pressure from the President's Office and had been removed from the telethon.

A power grab or a weapon against Russia? Ukraine’s ‘TV marathon’ explained
One of the war-time projects most treasured by the Ukrainian government is Ukraine’s TV marathon – a united news programming produced by the country’s biggest media outlets altogether, which broadcasts 24/7 on all major Ukrainian TV channels. Branded as “United News,” the TV marathon was launched a…

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