MINELRES: Fwd: RFE/RL: The End of Russian-Language Broadcasting In Ukraine?

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sat May 1 18:00:03 2004

Original sender: LGI Research <LGIResearch@osi.hu> 

RFE/RL Media Matters Vol. 4, No. 8, 23 April 2004


By Jan Maksymiuk

        Ukraine's National Council for Television and Radio (NRPTR) on
14 April adopted an unexpected resolution that obliges all national and
"interregional" (covering at least half of Ukraine's 25 regions)
broadcasters to start broadcasting only in Ukrainian as of 19 April.
Broadcasts in other languages -- Ukraine's minority languages, including
Russian -- will be allowed only at the regional and local levels in
areas with significant ethnic-minority populations and with NRPTR
approval of a relevant application from the ethnic community concerned.
Moreover, even local and regional broadcasters are obliged to produce no
less than 50 percent of their programs in Ukrainian.
        The NRPTR is an eight-member body -- four members are delegated
by the Verkhovna Rada and the other four by the president -- that is
responsible for issuing broadcasting licenses. Licenses are usually
granted for five-year periods. However, the NRPTR does not have the
legal instruments needed to revoke broadcast licenses; this can only be
done by a court. Therefore, the NRPTR also signaled -- apparently, to
lend more weight to its 14 April resolution  that it is going to
request that the Verkhovna Rada give it the right to cancel broadcast
licenses after issuing three official warnings to a broadcaster.
However, as matters now stand, the NRPTR can penalize broadcasters only
by refusing to extend their licenses when they expire.
        The 14 April resolution also calls for a month-long monitoring
of Ukrainian broadcasters to examine how they react to the new
regulations, as well as for the creation of a permanent working group to
deal with problems pertaining to the use of the Ukrainian language on
radio and television. It also requires that all licenses issued by the
NRPTR after 18 April will stipulate that nationwide and interregional
broadcasters use only Ukrainian in their programs. The NRPTR said the
broadcasters that currently operate under licenses requiring less than
100 percent Ukrainian-language programs will not have to apply for new
licenses immediately.
        The 14 April resolution was unexpected in at least two aspects.
First, it came without any previous announcements or public
consultations. After all, language is among the most sensitive and
controversial public issues in Ukraine. According to the 2001 census,
Ukrainian was declared as the mother tongue by 67.5 percent of Ukraine's
48.5 million people. However, according to estimates, at least 50
percent of Ukrainian citizens -- notably those living in the east and
south of the country -- prefer speaking Russian.. Second, the conditions
of existing broadcast licenses -- which routinely stipulate that
programs in Ukrainian should account for 50 percent or 75 percent of the
entire programming -- have so far been ignored by many broadcasters
without any legal or other consequences. Why should the situation be
altered right now?
        The resolution reportedly has not caused any immediate changes
in the proportion of Ukrainian-language and Russian-language programs on
most Ukrainian radio and television stations. It seems that most
Ukrainian broadcasters do not believe the resolution is serious and are
treating it as a recommendation rather than an order. Predictably, the
resolution was harshly criticized by the Ukrainian Communist Party,
which is supported mainly in Russian-speaking regions. The Communists
claim that the decision to switch to 100 percent broadcasting in
Ukrainian will "instigate hostility among peoples living in our state."
        "Ukraine is becoming a unique state in Europe, a state losing
its indigenous language, which is being pushed out by official languages
of other states," NRPTR Deputy Chairman Vitaliy Shevchenko said. Even if
Shevchenko's assessment of the language situation in Ukraine is
exaggerated, it is certain that the Ukrainian language needs
"affirmative action" from the state to become a full-fledged means of
communication in Ukraine's public life. But it is also very doubtful
that an administrative ban of the Russian language in broadcasting -- a
method strikingly reminiscent of the Soviet-era command system's
practices -- is a step in the right direction. Many would argue that the
publication of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels in Ukrainian
translation would be a far better contribution to the promotion of
Ukrainian than any ban on using Russian in Ukraine.
        It is hardly imaginable that lawmakers -- from both the left
wing and the right wing of Ukraine's political scene -- will heed the
NRPTR and give the council the right to revoke the licenses of
broadcasters who are reluctant to switch entirely to Ukrainian. First,
in a presidential election year, such an administrative tool in the
hands of a state body could easily be misused for the politically
motivated closures of media outlets. Second, the rekindled stir around
the language issue could hurt both government-supported and opposition
presidential candidates rather than boost their election chances,
although it is difficult to say at the moment who would be the biggest
loser. The problem is that most people in Ukraine, both Ukrainian and
Russian speakers, are very fond of many of the programs imported from
Russia -- especially some of the live talk shows -- and could become
very angry if they were to give them up because those shows are not in
Ukrainian.. Most likely, the NRPTR resolution of 14 April will be
"inconspicuously forgotten" -- at least, for the time being.

Jan Maksymiuk is the editor of "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report."

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