Independent Media in Donbass – Myth or Reality? Part 1

Independent Media in Donbass – Myth or Reality? Part 1

Independent media in Donbass? No, that’s not moonshine. In a region where approximately two dozens of media organizations closed down between 2014 and 2015, new projects start emerging. The project leaders of two independent Internet media outlets talk about growth challenges, relations with the government and about journalism in an interview for the ”Pervoe Chislo” (First Day) newsletter.

We are having a conversation with Maria Davydenko, Director of the “Vchasno” news agency (based in Krasnoarmeysk), and Anna Bokovaya, Editor-in-Chief of the public media portal (based in Bahmut/Artemovsk).

Maria Davydenko: We need more independent mass media; we should encourage activists to work as journalists in Donbass

Project History

It was 2104 when journalists and pro-Ukrainian entrepreneurs gathered in Krasnoarmeysk and decided to create the town’s independent information website. At that time, I left Donetsk where I was working at one of the local TV-channels. Our website’s editor, Anastasia Salnichenko, refused to collaborate with a resource that used to belong to a former “regional” (a member of Party of Regions) and Yanukovych’s treasurer. In March 2015, we launched the “Vchasno” web resource. Our original goal was to open a community website in order to create an independent pro-Ukrainian media organization.

We quickly assimilated into the local information space. It took us literally just a couple of months to grow our network of contacts, and soon we had to scale up. We realized that many activists throughout the region lacked publicity. So we joined the social activities and started volunteering. After a while, we decided to register a news agency and keep working in the region.

Editorial Policy

We were lucky, even though many believe that independent people investing in media do not exist. Our patrons follow a laissez-faire policy. The only thing they stressed as important was having a completely pro-Ukrainian media resource.

During the autumn election, we weren’t keen on promoting everyone who would pay. Yet we did provide publicity support for political parties “Power of People” and “Self Reliance”.
We are currently funded by an international charity foundation. Independent funding gives us a feeling of freedom.

Relations with the Government

When we were making our first steps, some local officials did try to offer us money for developing the website. We had some offers from people with a criminal background. They were attempting to win our loyalty and, hence, influence the direction in which the resource was evolving. We turned those offers down.

Our editorial still feels pressure from time to time. We published some materials about local counselors followed by phone calls urging us to remove those articles from the website. But we never withdraw materials from our resource.

We have around 4–5 websites in the town. Sensitive issues, such as the corruption of local officials are covered by one or two sites at most. The local media mainly keep silence because they get funding from the local budget. Pieces about the mayor are all paid for. The media are trying to survive and thus following a vicious circle. Yet there are times when even media like these ought to break the silence.

Local Journalism

It is quite a painful problem. Since the beginning of the war, many talented journalists have left Donetsk region. Not all of them have settled in the font-line towns such as Krasnoarmeysk, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and others. Only a few professionals stayed here, desperately trying to put together their teams. It is certainly hard.

We, for one, spent six months on finding our journalist. We found a professional, who had been forced to leave Donbas and who is currently staying in Kiev. Local media have a pressing need for professional journalists. We keep on looking for creative and patriotic people for the “Vchasno” information agency team.

Information Policy

The information policy of our country needs to be cultivated exactly here, in Donbass, where this conflict and the information war are taking place and where Russian channels broadcast. It is worth coming up with some plan for news reports in order to engage them in the work in country’s east. The whole flow of professionals must be redirected here, as many people keep reading and watching the Russian media.

We are still losing in the information war. Many Donbass media are funded by former “regionals”. They talk about municipal and social problems, but omit everything about the reforms, human rights abuse, democracy progress, fighting corruption on a local level and promoting initiatives. Analytical pieces and interviews are scarce.

The Eastern region needs more of independent media, with Donbass activists involved in news reporting. Those are the people who did not abandon their towns, who stayed here to carry on their fight for the new society. They are few. But they keep their eyes on the goal while trying to stand up against corruption. The media must do their best to support them and involve them in their work.
The article continues here.

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