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Revolutionary Channel 5 TV station — the channel of “honest news”
Broadcasts of only one station, Channel 5, among all the television stations of Ukraine, were unbiased and “honest” before and during the Orange Revolution. Channel 5 news- and talk shows reflected the real state of things and actual processes that were taking place in Ukraine rather than the official line imposed on the media by the then government and president. No wonder, it was Channel 5 TV station that was watched by millions of Ukrainians eager to learn the truth. It was Channel 5 broadcasts that played on the giant screens installed at Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kyiv and centre of the massive protest rallies.
Ivan Adamchuk, Channel 5 director general, was interviewed exclusively for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine by Myroslava BARCHUK, a journalist.
When was Channel 5 founded? And what were the founding principles?
Channel 5 is one of the “youngest” television stations in Ukraine — it was unveiled officially on September 1 2003. Our precursor in the technical sense was the NBM TV station, and thus we did not have to start from scratch. In other words, we are young but with mature moustache, as they say.
We began as practically all other television stations in Ukraine did — something that may be called “a family format.” But soon enough we understood that we had to change the format, and radically so, in order to be competitive. We began with expanding news- and talk shows and announced that we were a station of “honest news,” that is we wanted to tell the truth as it was. With such motto, we entered the period of the presidential election campaign which proved to be a very difficult time for everyone involved, the media included. One of the presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych, used — or rather abused — his administrative position as prime minister, and when the run-off election was rigged in his favour, it caused massive indignation which led to the Orange Revolution and final victory of Viktor Yushchenko, the other main presidential candidate. There were attempts by the Yanukovych side to shut us up or get our station closed altogether but we fought back as best as we could. We even went on a hunger strike to protest against the pressure put on us and our staff spent 190 hours without food. The pressure was enormous but we withstood it and survived. We knew that our broadcasts were watched not only in Ukraine but outside its borders as well, and it gave us additional strength.
What’s the situation now? Can people in all parts of Ukraine watch your broadcasts?
In spite of all the attempts of President Kuchma’s regime to close down the station, we not only survived but even expanded the areas of Ukraine where our broadcasts could be received. At present, our network covers fifty five percent of the territory of Ukraine which is less than the territory covered by the networks of other leading TV stations, but at the same time fifty-five percent of TV viewers believe that our station does indeed tell the truth. Having such a trust for support, we continue to expand our network both in Ukraine and abroad. A number of TV stations from the USA, Canada, Germany, Poland and some other countries have already turned to us with propositions to conclude agreements that will open the way to broadcasts of our station in these countries. I think that in the nearest future we shall indeed reach mutually beneficial agreements.
How did it come about that Channel 5 was the only Ukrainian TV station which broadcast true information before and during the Orange Revolution? Why did you find it possible to do so, and no other station did?
I do not want to pass any judgment or give assessment of the work of other TV stations or of TV managers who fanatically supported those in power, who were bending backwards to blacken, slander and besmirch the political opposition to the Kuchma regime in general and Viktor Yushchenko in particular. They thought that what they did could not be undone. May all of it remain on their conscience, if they have any. But we chose our own way to follow and there was no other way for us.
We declared our intentions clearly and unequivocally back in 2003, we signed an agreement that dealt with the general line and policies of our station. It was agreed right from the start that the owners of the station will not interfere with our work. Our position has been the same and unchangeable since we started broadcasting — to present information in an unbiased, objective, true and balanced way. We’ve never had censorship of any kind — full and unlimited freedom of speech is what we believe in. All of us. It gave us strength to withstand all the pressure and emerge victorious.
Powerful TV products can be produced only by people united by powerful ideas. What is your most powerful idea around which you are united?
We set ourselves a long-term goal — to become a TV station which would be trusted and watched. We received true information, we broadcast it the moment we obtained it, and we knew that no other station did it the way we did.
It is not a secret that all of the post-soviet journalists inherited a lot from the totalitarian soviet times, and though they thought they had discarded the soviet attitudes and constraints, many of them still remain tied to the old principles. How did your journalists adapt to the entirely new policy and philosophy of your TV station? How did they function in the absolutely new democratic conditions of Channel 5? Did you employ those who freed themselves of the soviet legacy? Or did they learn what freedom was only when they started to work at your station?
We are living in a time of changes. Things change, people change, their morality change, their attitude to work change, and we did our best to employ people who had got rid of their soviet legacy. Probably, some of them still have vestiges of the totalitarian past in them but they are no longer visible. Young journalists can work in a new way, and are eager to work. They need a little bit of help, but what they do not need at all is being told how to do things. We are trying to give them as much freedom as possible. We have a number of TV veterans and people who command respect and who are trusted — Mykola Veresen, Danylo Yanevsky, Roman Skrypin, Ihor Slisarenko, to name but a few. These people are beacons for others. But in general, practically all of our journalists are gifted, skilled people who know their trade well and who can move mountains. They are nice people too, in addition to being good journalists. They get moral satisfaction from what they are doing. They know what freedom is and they use it.
What is the average age of Channel 5 journalists? Have any of them been trained or worked in the west?
The average age of our journalists is below thirty. At first, we even thought that such young people would hardly be able to cope, but now we see they are doing perfectly well. It’s so nice to see their young faces, their eagerness, the light in their eyes. And it’s a great joy to realize how close to each other we have all become. There’s so much energy in them. They want to get things done fast, they don’t walk, they run. And all of it inspires us, people who are older.
These days Channel 5 is often accused of giving too much of its air time to Yanukovych’s supporters and to those who were part of the old government, that is those who have no moral right to be getting this kind of political publicity. Do you have any comment?
Even during the time when the tumultuous events of the Orange Revolution were taking place, hundreds of people telephoned our studios demanding that we refuse to give any air time to those who represented the then government and Kuchma’s chosen successor. And we continue to get similar telephone calls now. People are fed up with some of the odious political figures who today call themselves “opposition.” But we cannot be showing only one side of what is going on in this country, regardless of whether someone likes it or not. We are not an “opposition” TV station, and we are not a station that supports the government no matter what. We have always tried to present a balanced picture and we will continue to do so. Otherwise, we’ll be in risk of losing our democratic and free-speech standards which in turn will lead to the loss of trust in us, and thus to our eventual demise.
Leading journalists and presenters from other TV stations have started coming over to your station and the process continues. Do you lure people from other stations or do they quit their jobs at other stations to come over to work for your station because they think they’ll be able to realize their potential better?
It has never been our policy to lure people from other stations. They come to us all by themselves convinced that Channel 5 will give them a better opportunity to get their ideas put into action. Probably, our managers offer jobs to journalists and presenters from other stations, but I do not know anything about it. My job is of a totally different kind and my guiding principle is — Do not interfere with what others do. Everybody should do their own job to the best of their ability, and then you get good results. Why do people come over to us from other stations? Probably because they are convinced that we are special. We are a station of “honest news,” you know.
Recently, Channel 5 has been going through considerable changes in the format of the broadcasts. New ideas and new programmes have been introduced. Is it your ambition to become a sort of Ukrainian CNN?
We do have strong and healthy ambitions. We want to work and to work well, we want to be heard and paid attention to. It’s not an easy thing, I can tell, to keep a station like ours going, but we’ve started on that way and we’ll continue going. We bravely face the difficulties and do what we have to do. We are “tilling the land,” as they say, though this land may be very hard to plough. The ground is neglected, tough, largely unexplored — but we go on. If not we, then somebody else would have started doing what we are doing now, sooner or later.
The Orange Revolution has led to a journalistic revolution, but there are still many TV stations, newspapers and magazines which continue to be undemocratic. And they can influence the public opinion before the parliamentary elections of 2006. Are the changes in the media that have taken place irreversible? Is there a danger that things may return to what they used to be when the media were “regulated” by the government?
Journalistic revolution? Yes, probably you can call it that. Have the TV stations begun to give more objective information? Well, they have become more tolerant to those who are in power now but to whom they showed intolerance when these people were in opposition. It would be too early to tell whether the changes have been irreversible. Ukraine is on the threshold of the parliamentary election campaign. Let’s see how the media will behave — we’ll see soon which of the stations and periodicals will pass the test of honesty, balanced presentation of opinions, of being unbiased and unengaged by this or that political grouping. Everyone chooses their own way. We have chosen ours.