Jacob Mollerup’s presentation at the Council of Europe conference:
“Media and Elections in Ukraine: challenges and possible solutions”
Kyiv (Ukraine) on April 5th, 2016.
“Please first allow a few personal notes – before dealing with the legislation and paragraphs from the agenda.
I am not an experienced expert on Ukraine, but hopefully I can offer some useful insights from many years as a reporter, as an editor and as a media ombudsman.
Firstly, I want to stay with the importance of good and honest journalism. For many years I have been involved in investigative journalism in Denmark and abroad – actually a Danish organization I chaired, played a vital role in the global conference for investigative journalism here in Kiyv five years ago. At that occasion close to 100 Ukranian journalists discussed methods and connected with world class reporters.
What international groups of journalists can achieve, we see on an impressing scale this week regarding the Panama-leak, where 376 journalists from 76 countries have cooperated – including as you all know Ukranian media.
From that environment I have learned over the last five years, that there are some excellent, honest and hardworking journalists in this country. They are still a minority but the work they do are very important and promising.
The best journalists – it seems – have been much better than the state institutions, when it comes to exposing corruption.
Secondly: I am coming here as a Dane and I have been asked to comment on specific issues of media legislation. Some might draw the conclusion, that I could just recommend some nice Danish laws as an inspiration. That would be a mistake. Actually Danish media-legislation is NOT something to copy abroad. The Danish legislation is horrible in several aspects.
Let me just give you one example. Denmark has two strong public service broadcasters – DR and TV 2. Together they have two third of all television viewing. The board of governors of TV 2 is right now up for re-election. One man has the power to appoint this top leadership of the broadcaster – the minister for culture. He can just install his own allies.
But the point is, that the minister for culture will not use his formal power. He is consulting with parties representing a big majority in parliament and he is consulting with relevant stakeholders. And if he really tried to misuse his power, hell would break loose in public debate in Denmark. In other words: The most important thing here is not the paragraph – it is the political culture.
Thirdly: For a decade – until recently – I have been media ombudsman at The Danish Broadcasting Corporation – called DR – the Danish equivalent of BBC.
During my term DR covered Denmark’s participation in five wars and four general elections.
I was hired by the board of governors to make critical assessments of DR’s fairness and accuracy – and to make public recommendations to the director general regarding big complaints.
This is a useful mechanism of self-regulation. But it also showed that you easily end up in heated discussions about what exactly fairness and accuracy means in a specific case. It’s not always that easy to define.
It takes clear principles and integrity, it takes transparency, hard work and quick handling of complaints to do the job properly. In other words: To be a good media regulator is a tough and difficult job.
Please allow me one last detour in this first part.
The American academic, Francis Fukuyama, have suggested that troubled countries face the problem of what he calls “getting to Denmark”. By this he does not mean getting to the actual country Denmark (with its cold and wet climate and long dark winters) but an imagined country that is prosperous, democratic, secure and well governed. The challenge is to understand why such a country – such a Denmark – became an efficient state.
The key to this is to understand hundreds of years of history. A very critical period of course were the decades where countries like Denmark ended up making the transition to a modern state. It was only after a long and heated period of big conflicts and clashes, that the leading forces in society in the end found common ground and ended up accepting the basic democratic rules and ended up accepting that they had a common interest – politically and economically – in sharing power. And doing so not only between the major groups in society but most importantly also between government, parliament and the court system. This division of power paved the way for the effective modern state: The big challenge is to establish such a situation, where the major forces in society accepts the effective state, the power sharing and the democratic means and goals.
But let us turn to the discussion about media legislation in Ukraine.
First a few remarks on the context. I believe it’s fair to say that Ukraine – broadly speaking – is characterized by:
- A rather corrupt media scene
- A number of oligarchs promoting own agendas in the media
- A general lack of respected standards for fairness, accuracy and balance
- And lots of existing legislation that are clearly not respected
- To this list we must add weak regulators
- And the fact that the public service broadcaster has a very small marketshare
On this background – because of these serious problems – I guess it’s relevant to argue for strong intervention. It will be proportionate – and it’s needed.
To stop hidden advertising will be a long and demanding process, but the alternative is a corrupt media scene. An effektive ban will not only take a clear and strong legislation
It will also take an efficient and uncorrupt regulator that are able to use escalating sanctions!
In case of renewed violations there should be very heavy fines. And if even heavy fines do not solve the problem, the license should be withdrawn.
In a process like this I suppose total transparency could be very useful. If the regulators meetings where open for the public – and accessible on the website – it could help the turn-a-round.
Another aspect – which I will leave here – is the need for alternative funding created by such a ban.
That goes as well for the next issue: Should open political advertisement on tv be allowed.
Old democracies have followed very different roads here – and we all know how much this means in the final phase of American elections.
Given the situation here in Ukraine I would argue for a cautious approach!
Political ads on tv can be such a powerful tool and the negative effects are considerable. Often they polarize, promotes negative campaigning and contributes to a weakening of the democratic debate. In that perspective I think it’s relevant to consider a total ban on political advertisement on tv.
Another question up for debate is this: Should there be a special media body or should it be part of the central electoral commission?
I would argue for the first model. The media problems requires expertise and quick action – I guess that can be done best in a special media body. Furthermore it’s important to have a regional level of the media body.
Self-regulation can – as I tried to illustrate with my example from Denmark – be an important way forward – but I will for sure not rely on it now. It can be a supplement for media trying to raise standards, but the situation is surely not ripe for a general self-regulation model.
Talking in general about the battle for a media scene with less corruption, stronger integrity and higher quality I would like to elaborate on transparency as a strong tool:
It’s clearly justified to demand total openness on ownership and funding – and it could safeguard the process if the regulatory body were totally transparent.
It’s important to have clear mechanisms for solving disputes as openly as possible. The key is to expose corruption and its methods. It’s possible – it can be done – history has shown it.
Another important element is the PSB. A strong and financially and politically independent PSB is part of the solution.
PSB’s are cornerstones in many European democracies and I suppose the present plan for restructuring and renewing NPBU could have a positive impact on the democratic process and also improve other media.
In summing up:
A fair election coverage is of course absolutely vital for a democracy. If a fair election coverage is severely obstructed society must strike back in order to defend openness and defend real democratic values.
It will take strong legislation and it will for sure require a new mindset in politics.
But it is important always to add that fairness and accuracy also is required when covering opponents and even enemies. That can be demanding in times of crisis but it should be respected. To meet propaganda with counterpropaganda it not a sustainable solution for democratic media.
But thank you very much for listening to these thoughts about media and legislation.
Good luck with the discussion – both about the paragraphs and about the political values.”