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Ukraine to restructure public broadcasting

July 03, 2013

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The Ukrainian parliament has passed a draft law to restructure public broadcasting. The draft law calls for the creation of a new company, the National Public TV and Radio Company of Ukraine, to replace the existing public broadcaster. The new entity will be independent of any political, or commercial influence, as well as transparent with regard to its activities. Restructuring of the public broadcaster is a precondition of Ukraine's negotiations to join the European Union (EU).

The new broadcaster will be monitored by a supervisory board formed of 17 members appointed for four years. Three of the members will be appointed by the government and 14 will be chosen by the National Broadcasting Council from the candidates recommended by Ukrainian civic organisations from education, science, religion, and journalism.

For the first four years the new broadcaster will be financed from the state budget and from advertising. It has not yet been decided what will replace government grants after four years. The options considered include a TV licence fee, public grants and private (but not anonymous) donations.

Regarding the programming, the project underlines 'objective' (impartial) policy on news and other programmes, as well as fulfilling the information, cultural, and educational needs of the Ukrainian society.

To come into force the law will have to be passed in the second reading and then be signed by the President. Some minor changes are to be expected before the second reading, among others due to an expert report provided to the Parliament by the European Commission. The second reading is expected to take place shortly after the summer break in the parliamentary sessions, ending in September. According to local sources, it is likely that, if passed, the bill will be signed by the President before the end of 2013. There is yet no timeframe for the implementation of the project.

In November 2013 during the EU-Ukraine summit in Vilnius, the EU is to take a decision regarding the association agreement with Ukraine. Although the country has been making some efforts towards fulfilment of the conditions set by the EU, progress has been slow. 

The project to restructure the public broadcaster and the financing system is in line with models in EU countries. The way in which the supervisory board is to be appointed and the funding of public media from the state budget for the first four years is not unusual. Public broadcasters in many EU member states, including the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Hungary and Spain, are funded by government grants.

The Ukrainian plan seems to have some advantages over a similar one in Russia. In May 2013 an open society channel launched in Russia with the major objective of broadcasting society-related programming free of any political influence. The new channel did not replace any existing services, but was simply added to the public broadcaster's portfolio. As to the financing, the Russian authorities first planned to start collecting a TV licence fee. When this was abandoned, it was planned to issue bonds to generate the channel's revenue, but this project also failed, so that the channel is now going to be funded from the state budget at least until 2020. In Ukraine allowing advertising on the public TV makes finding the funds easier, although the question regarding grants after the first four years needs to be answered.

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