US State Department flags limiting press freedom in Ukraine's 'United News' telethon

United News Telemarathon
United News Telemarathon

The U.S. Department of State has highlighted concerns regarding the national telethon "United News" in its 2023 human rights report, noting potential violations in Ukraine.

According to the report, the program, initiated under martial law declared by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in February 2022, has restricted media freedoms by adhering strictly to government narratives on war reporting.

Read also: United News telethon TV channels granted critical status, staff conscription deferral rights

The State Department’s report indicates that some media entities have been excluded from lucrative broadcasting contracts and faced pressure from the President's Office as early as spring 2022. Additionally, the Ukrainian government has banned, blocked, and sanctioned media outlets and journalists who were considered threats to national security or perceived as undermining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"Investigative journalists critical of the government were sometimes targeted by negative social media campaigns, sometimes via government-friendly channels," the report states, highlighting the challenges faced by the press in maintaining independence.

The report also addresses the issue of self-censorship, which continues to hamper media freedom in Ukraine.

Falling trust and calls for change

According to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in October, trust in the "United News" telethon has significantly declined, dropping from 69% to 48% in just six months. This decrease continued, with a new poll in December showing a further drop of 26% since May 2023, bringing trust levels down to 43%.

Read also: RSF calls on Ukraine to scrap United News telethon

The declining viewership and trust have led to discussions about changing the format of the telethon. Rostyslav Karandieiev, the acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, mentioned in early January 2024 that leading Ukrainian TV channels are contemplating such changes.

Moreover, the international watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has urged the Ukrainian government to discontinue the United News telethon, citing a significant loss of public trust and relevance two years after the onset of the full-scale war. RSF reported that the audience for the telethon has dwindled to 10%, emphasizing the growing criticism of this format by the authorities.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine