A poster for the referendum on 16 March 2014
Ukrainian television providers will stop broadcasting five major Russian channels at 9pm Moscow time today as part of a tit-for-tat media war between the two countries. The channels to be taken off air are Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, ORT (Channel Worldwide Network), PTP Planeta and NTV-Mir, following an order from the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine (Natsovet), a state-appointed regulatory body.
“At 12pm today, up to half of Ukraine’s television providers had stopped broadcasting these foreign channels, while other providers prepared to unplug them,” according to a press release from Natsovet. The decision comes a day after the Crimean administration blocked Ukrainian TV channels on the peninsula, citing “moral and legal reasons”. Yesterday’s replacement of Ukrainian channels with Russian broadcasts precedes a referendum scheduled on 16 March on Crimea’s annexation.
Russian state-run media has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, accused of supporting Russia’s military presence in Ukraine. Referring to Russian plainclothes military units on the Crimean Peninsula as “self-defence” forces, Russia’s state-run media outlets have angered many, provoking television anchor Liz Wahl to announce her resignation from Kremlin-funded news channel Russia Today on air. Ukrainian media has also come under fire, accused of spreading false information, including the violence allegedly perpetrated by Russian troops in Crimea.
Declaring the need “to safeguard the information in Ukraine”, Natsovet’s decision to take the five Russian channels off air is supported by a bill approved in February to allow the suspension of broadcasting foreign TV and radio programs in the country.
Speaking to The Calvert Journal in a personal capacity, Dmitry Soshin, UK bureau chief for ORT, underscored the importance for Ukrainian people to make up their own mind regarding events in their country. Describing Natsovet’s move as “a bitter decision,” he said: “The Ukrainian authorities now understand that they cannot win in the information exchange that is going on in society and they cannot justify their actions in their media. Knowing that there is an alternative point of view scares them.”
He added: “This decision signifies a certain level of distrust. They are very uncertain and they are very scared by the situation. I hope the decision is still being considered and I hope that they will be reasonable not to go through with it.”