(англ.) TV marathon “Smells like Soros” aired on February 28, 2020 on ZIK TV channel
The Independent Media Council has analyzed the TV marathon “Smells like Soros” aired on February 28, 2020 on ZIK TV channel. Basing on the program’s content the Independent Media Council believes that:
The TV marathon “Smells like Soros” that aired on February 28, 2020, likely served to promote the resignation of Oleksiy Honcharuk’s government, harmfulness of Western grant support to Ukrainian NGOs and media, aiming at promoting the interest of a specific political force – Opposition Platform For Life.
This TV marathon shows signs of hate speech against organizations that receive support from Western donors, with its content inciting anti-Semitism.
ZIK TV channel (Novi Komunikatsii TV and Radio Company, LLC) failed to comply with the requirements for the reliability of information, its objectivity (impartiality), balance and completeness, as well as violated the requirements of paragraphs 6 and 13 part 2 of article 6, item “c” of part 1 of article 59 of the Law of Ukraine On Television and Radio Broadcasting and clauses 4.2, 6.6, 7.1, 8.1, 8.11, 8.14, 8.15 and 8.17 of its own Editorial Charter.
Thus, the Independent Media Council appeals to the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting with a proposal to conduct more detailed content monitoring of ZIK NewsOne and 112 Ukraine channels, due to the systematic political propaganda of a particular party (violation of point “c” of part 1 of article 59 of the Law On Television and Radio Broadcasting). Such monitoring on the part of the National Council should address the issues of balanced/unbalanced selection of broadcasters, opposing (or lack thereof) by the hosts, mentions of political forces during telecasts in the absence of newsworthy events or creating such artificial events by TV channels themselves, commentary by TV hosts and journalists in favor (or against) particular politicians, political forces and voicing their viewpoints. Appropriate monitoring should cover at least a week of broadcasting.
Kyiv May, 28, 2020
І. Circumstances of the case
1. On February 28, 2020, the International Renaissance Foundation published an open appeal regarding the TV marathon “Smells like Soros”aired on February 28, 2020 on ZIK TV where, inter alia, the Renaissance Foundation was mentioned, with a request to examine said content, express a position and provide an opinion as regards presence or absence of violations of professional journalistic standards on the part of ZIK TV, the dissemination of hate speech, inaccurate information and manipulations.
2. On March 2, 2020, the Independent Media Council, pursuant to paragraph 12 of the Regulations on the Independent Media Council, recognized the appealregarding this case as admissible, given the extent of the TV marathon’s impact (its duration, the number of participants and the persons mentioned in it).
3. The marathon was preceded by repeated announcements, also shown in the course of the marathon (specifically, 28.02.20: 8:30, 9:30, 9:51, 10:24, 11:27, 12:22, 12:46, 14:14, 14:53, 16:12), with the voice-over saying the following: “After the collapse of the USSR, American billionaire G.Soros decided to appropriate no less than entire countries, making them dependent. His entering Ukraine was especially successful, creating [O. Honcharuk’simage is shown] a whole network of his agents [D. Maliuska’s image], his fans of the American money. Today, they [images of H. Novosad, T. Mylovanov, O. Markarova, A. Kobolyev, V. Borodianskyi] are seizing Ukraine whilst the economy and GDP are falling like never before. It is impossible to stay quiet about it [A. Sytnyk’s image]. Because it smells like Soros everywhere! All day on Friday – a TV marathon on ZIK “Smells like Soros”.
Among other topics, the newscast (8:11) contains “Little Sorosists among us: sold but for how much”. Each of the four hosts kept repeating that, throughout the day, they would be talking about “lobbying the overseas oligarch’s interests”, and that he “has already become the personification of Western interference in Eastern and Central Europe”, etc. (8:33, 9:13).
The TV marathon went on air at 8:12 a.m. on February 28, 2020, when the four morning broadcast hosts began to discuss the “Little Sorosists”. The hosts made the following “accusations” against the MPs labeled as “Little Sorosists”: R. Pidlasa for receiving funds from Western donors (EBRD, etc.), O.Shuliak for receiving money from NGOs and living on Western grants, and Y.Yasko, a scholarship holder of the Viktor Pinchuk and Clinton Foundations, for working in the UCMC partially funded by Soros foundations. This was repeated several times during the telecast. Anastasiia Krasnosilska was mentioned due to her connection to the Anti-Corruption Action Center partially funded by Soros foundations (10:30). The cooperation between the Prosecutor General’s Office and the billionaire was mentioned. Former MP Ihor Mosiychuk made allegations against the parliamentary faction Holos saying it is almost entirely connected to G.Soros, due to its allegedly being funded by his “satellite” Viktor Pinchuk. Both I. Mosiychuk and O. Dubinskyi claimed (repeatedly) that up to 40% the Servant of the People faction are connected to George Soros. It was stated on the air that “head of the Government, O.Honcharuk is also among the Little Sorosists” (10:31). Later, I. Mosiychuk and O. Dubinsky were quoted as saying that the vast majority of government members belonged among the Little Sorosists. Apart from government officials, the telecast (10:33) also included R.Riaboshapka, M. Nefiodov and A.Kobolyev among them.
Former MP Dmytro Linko who aired at 8:15 a.m., commenting on the land market, also brought up “Little Sorosists”, accusing them of promoting the respective bill.
During the telecast, the channel repeatedly referred to the political force Opposition Platform – For Life, and V.Medvedchuk in the context of “negotiations” with Russia (at 7:43 on February 28, 2020) and his criticizing the opening of the land market, also associated with G.Soros, with the government allegedly lobbying certain industries benefiting the billionaire. Such mentions occurred several times following the “advertising” announcement (at 16:57, 20:54).
Ruslan Bortnyk, formerly an assistant to ex-MP V.Kolesnichenko  and presented as “political consultant”, joined the telecast to comment on the “Soros theme”.
The hosts themselves made statements about G.Soros such as “he is accused of making huge fortunes from the crises”, “some even call him the author of these crises”, “the traces of the American billionaire lead to the highest cabinets in Ukraine” (9:15). The video further stated that “the billionaire’s critics accuse him of supporting color revolutions, from which he receives billions in profits” (9:16, 16:16) failing to specify those critics. In the context of the Maidan (Revolution of Dignity), interference from abroad was discussed. Then the announcer switched the topic to “Little Sorosists”, referring to unnamed “experts”, and “political scientists” linking the foundations of Soros and Pinchuk (9:19). Olha Ayvazovska, Tamila Tasheva, and Oleksandra Matviychuk were included among “Little Sorosists”. Taking turns, one of the hosts directly asked the viewers: “Do you consider the Honcharuk government to be Mr.Soros’s servants? (10:15; in the TV marathon viewers’ survey, the question sounded differently: “Do you believe that Ukrainian government is free from external influences?”). But at 11:15, 12:26, and 14:33, the question in the survey sounds the same (concerning the then government being Soros’s servants). During the telecast, MP O. Dubinsky was repeatedly quoted about “Little Sorosists” and the damage caused by their activities and their lobbying other counties’ interests. Only once was he opposed by a synchronous broadcast of another MP, Mykyta Poturayev regarding the Russian origin of the “Little Sorosists” discourse (10:28).
MP Mykhailo Opanashchenko of OPFL came on air commenting on “Little Sorosists” (9:20) and referring to the Ministry of Finance, the NBU, and the PO as the institutions under G. Soros’s control (as of 2014), allegedly leading to the devaluation of the hryvnia (in this case, the TV hosts tried to act as opponents to their guest on the air).
In journalist Kateryna Barchyk’s newscast, there is criticism of O. Honcharuk on the part of MP M.Mezentseva (12:35) for not being careful about his statements. M.Nefiodov was mentioned in connection to the well-known video from a strip club he attended.
Then, one of the co-hosts, Nazar Dovhyi, noted that “we will also talk about Western interference”, “every second Ukrainian minister is a lobbyist of Western interests” (13:00, show “13 at 13:00”), with another co-host asking: “Who pulls at the threads of Honcharuk, the Prosecutor General for US money?”. This was followed by a video claiming that “G. Soros is called the father of many color revolutions in Eastern Europe resulting in dozens of wounded people and destroyed economies.” (13:03). In it, G.Soros was referred to as “the man who collapsed the Bank of England”, “collapsed the Thai pound, then switched to Malaysia” (repeated at 18:20), with accusations from E. Shevardnadze, the leadership of Hungary, etc. Comments from George Soros himself or his foundations’ representatives to balance the telecast were not provided. Then, MP O.Dubinskyi came on air again comparing “Little Sorosists” to a cancerous tumor, calling the parliamentary faction Holos “purely Little-Sorosist thing” and accusing “Little Sorosists” of lobbying foreign interests. Without trying to oppose O. Dubinsky, the host asked him about who, in his opinion, were advocates of G. Soros’s interests and who covered him. In this context, the MP accused A.Abromavičius of getting ready to bring down Ukroboronprom (13:13). He concluded by saying that Holos “is funded by Tomas Fiala, being, in fact, allegedly managed by him”.
Then the host said: “Where else would that be even possible that “the PGO spends Soros’s money?” (13:14), asking Volodymyr Katsman, his guest on the air, questions. The latter was presented as “political expert, honored journalist of Ukraine” whilst his affiliation with the “Opposition Bloc” / OPFL  was left unmentioned. V.Katsman mentioned among “Little Sorosists” the National Bank managers V. Hontareva and K. Rozhkova, as well as former finance minister N.Yaresko, and the group “Eurooptimists”. Later on, one of the hosts spoke about G.Soros’s attempts to “seize the industry, other spheres..”, stating that “the government literally is teeming with Soros’s representatives” (13:23). The hosts listed again the government representatives among “Little Sorosists” – O. Honcharuk, D. Maliuska, T. Mylovanov, O. Orzhel, H. Novosad, Z. Skaletska, and Y. Sokolovska (with respective photos being displayed on the screen). Regarding the latter, one of the hosts noted that she was “appointed” by the United States (13:25). After that, the hosts again said that “the influence of George Soros can be attributed to R. Riaboshapka – in the context of cooperation between the Prosecutor General’s Office and Stratcom. One of the hosts later called G.Soros a “killer of world economies” (16:14).
Another video listed the grantees of Soros foundations: the Institute for Analytics and Advocacy, DiXi Group, Data Journalism Agency – Teksty, the Expert Center for Human Rights, the New Europe Center, Association for Community Self-organization Assistance, Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation, Expert Center “Analytics, Support, Consulting of Reforms”, the Institute of Economic Research and Policy Consulting, Regional Center for Human Rights, BRDO (O. Honcharuk). The names of individuals allegedly connected to G.Soros were also given: Maryna Bardina, Serhiy Leshchenko, Halyna Mykhailiuk, Mustafa Nayem, Vladyslav Rashkovan. They were mentioned as “receivers of astronomical salaries”. Then a similar idea was voiced again: “In whatever country the Soros Foundation appears, riots and destabilization of the situation in that country begin.” It was further asserted that the revolution against S. Milosevic in Serbia, that in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan were all allegedly funded by Soros foundations (14:30).
Mykhailo Pohrebynskyi, presented as “political scientist” and known for his collaboration with one of the OPFL leaders, V. Medvedchuk, also came on air . The guests of the “15 at 15:00” air were Anna Herman and Anatoliy Shariy, presented as “famous blogger”. Later in the same program, V.Katsman, presented as “honored journalist of Ukraine” (15:22) joined the telecast again by phone.
A.Palchevskyi was quoted as saying the following about the then Prime Minister O.Honcharuk: “Everyone understood that he should not be in this position” (16:48). After that, MP Nataliia Korolevska of OPFL was quoted as saying: “Honcharuk must resign.”
In the talk show “17 at 17:00”, MP Nestor Shufrych of OPFL (17:09) joined the telecast remotely. Then the floor was given to Oleksandr Lazaryev, presented as “political scientist” (17:20), and Serhiy Hodnyi (17:29) known to be inclined toward V. Medvedchuk. Then ex-MP Olena Bondarenko (17:35) joined the telecast remotely praising the provisions of the so-called “January 16 laws” on foreign agents. Then, the program moved on to Stratcom, LLC and its cooperation with Prosecutor General R. Riaboshapka. In the course of the telecast, the economic downturn in Ukraine was repeatedly accentuated (e.g., at 6:08 p.m.).
Later the host of the “Details of the Day” program noted that the lack of reforms in recent times “is associated with mistakes in personnel policy” (18:19); “In none of the countries where Soros funds appeared, the consequences of economic crises could be avoided.” Next up, there was a video titled “Soros of the brain.” It ended with the allegations that “the entire Cabinet consists of its adherents” (i.e. adherents of G.Soros; 18:26).
Later, Andriy Lesyk (18:54), also known for his close connection to V. Medvedchuk, appeared in the studio. The host, Kateryna Barchyk, took comments from Volodymyr Bystryakov (18:57), known for his pro-Russian views.
In the show “19 at 19:00”, the hosts also spoke with regard to “Little Sorosists” saying that “they are ready to destroy free medicine and are not going to index pensions and social benefits” (19:01). Next up, was a piece about G.Soros: “he (Soros) buys the loyalty of the weak”; “For his own profit, he destroyed companies, then banks, and now he has gone all out on the entire countries”; “He is one of the lobbyists for the legalization of marijuana” (followed by an excerpt from an interview with T. Mylovanov to N. Vlashchenko, in which he confirmed smoking marijuana several times when “writing his doctorate”; 19:03); “G.Soros’s structures are so ingrained in the Ukrainian government that they control almost everything”; “All of Soros’s plans crashed into “Little Sorosists” buying cars, apartments and running around the Rada with panties and toilet bowls” (19:06); “Soros has become a puppeteer for the Cabinet, headed by Honcharuk.” In the piece, its authors refer to the rating “Top 100 most influential people and phenomena in Ukraine” compiled by online publication “Vesti” in December 2019, in which George Soros ranked second (earlier V.Rabinovych of OPFL was quoted as being outraged at such a status of the billionaire). Then, there was a discussion in the studio, during which Andriy Lesyk, commenting on the topic of G.Soros’s activities, stated: “All these LGBT parades, all this comes from out there” (19:11; stated alike by S. Korotkikh, 19:58) while talking about Orthodox-Slavic values that “unite us with the Russian people.” Participating in the discussion in the studio were also ex-MP Leonid Yemets, MP Vasyl Nimchenko (OPFL), Vitaliy Bezgin (SoP; remotely), Serhiy Korotkikh (National Corps), former MP Boryslav Rozenblat, actor Volodymyr Bystriakov, head of the Secretariat of the Council of Entrepreneurs Andriy Zablovskyi and ex-MP Oleh Kuprienko. At the same time, photos of the current government officials (D. Maliuska, H. Novosad, O. Honcharuk, T. Mylovanov, V. Borodianskyi, etc.) were alternately displayed on the big studio screen. The hosts emphasized the presence of “Little Sorosists” in the then Government, including O.Honcharuk (20:04), noting that T.Mylovanov had the status of “US-person”. Overall, the hosts listed many of the ministers at the time, noting their connections to the recipient organizations in the past. Later, MP Oleksandr Dubinskyi came on air again remotely (20:18). Then the host noted that “Soros’s protégés can also include R. Riaboshapka”, since the advertisement for his Office was paid for by an NGO funded from abroad. Then, Ihor Mosiychuk (20:42) showed up again, and later the studio’s guests were joined by MPs of the Servant of the People faction – Roksolana Pidlasa (20:59) and Yevhen Shevchenko (21:12).
Subsequently, a discussion broke out between Mr. Yemets and Mr. Lesyk, and the latter, when asked whether Russia is an aggressor, replied that he considered Russia a fraternal people. The discussion switched to the Revolution of Dignity. One of the hosts opposed B. Rosenblatt by saying that “Horbatyuk [the former head of the investigation of the events on the Maidan] has not said anything” for so many years (lack of investigation results), noting later that the International Renaissance Foundation funded the lawyers. The discussion then went deeper into World War II, during which the same TV host noted that Poland and Germany dismembered Czechoslovakia. Later, the topics of land sales, international relations and a decline in production in Ukraine were broached.
Before concluding the talk show and in the context of Soros foundations’ support for anti-corruption and media projects, the host noted that “millions of greenbacks” are invested in the media “so that the media cover the activities of the rich American from the right angle” (21:47). After that, she listed such media as Ukrayinska Pravda, Krym. Realii, ATR, Nashi Hroshi, etc. (the logos of UAH: PBC, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, and Kyiv Post were displayed on the screen).
1. Constitution of Ukraine
”Article 34. Everyone is guaranteed the right to freedom of thought and speech, and to the free expression of his or her views and beliefs.
Everyone has the right to freely collect, store, use and disseminate information by oral, written or other means of his or her choice.
The exercise of these rights may be restricted by law in the interests of national security, territorial indivisibility or public order, with the purpose of preventing disturbances or crimes, protecting the health of the population, the reputation or rights of other persons, preventing the publication of information received confidentially, or supporting the authority and impartiality of justice.”
2. European Convention on Human Rights
Article 10. Freedom of expression
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
3. The Law of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting
Article 6. No abuse of freedom of broadcasting organizations is allowed
“2. It shall be prohibited to use broadcasting organizations for any of the following purposes:
to promote the idea of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of persons on the grounds of their religious beliefs, ideology, national or ethnic affiliation, physical or material status or social origin;
to disseminate any information which violates legal rights and interests of natural or legal persons, or encroaches upon honour and dignity of a person.”
Article 59. 1. The broadcasting organization shall be obliged:
“c) to disseminate unbiased information.
Article 60. 1. A member of the production personnel of any broadcasting organization shall be obliged:
б) to verify the authenticity of the information that he obtains;
e) to comply with such other requirements as arise from this Law, the charter of the broadcasting organization and, also, the terms of his contract of employment with such broadcasting organization.
4. Code of Ethics of the Ukrainian Journalist (new version)
“2. Serving the interests of the government or owners, not society, is a breach of the ethics code.
6. Respecting public’s right to full and objective information about facts and events is a journalist’s first duty. Journalists and editors must take measures to check reliability of all the reports, video- and audio materials, which came from public, freelancers, press service and other sources.
9. Facts, thoughts and assumptions have to be clearly separated from each other. Spreading information which contains biased or groundless allegations is unacceptable..
10. Opponents’ viewpoints including those who have become objects of a journalist’s criticism must be presented in a balanced way. Independent experts’ estimations must be presented in a balanced way, as well.
15. No one can be discriminated because of gender, language, race, religion or ethnic, social origin or political preferences..”.
5. PACE Resolution 1003 (1993) “Ethics of Journalism”
“21. …journalism should not alter truthful, impartial information or honest opinions, or exploit them for media purposes, in an attempt to create or shape public opinion, since its legitimacy rests on effective respect for the citizen’s fundamental right to information as part of respect for democratic values. To that end, legitimate investigative journalism is limited by the veracity and honesty of information and opinions and is incompatible with journalistic campaigns conducted on the basis of previously adopted positions and special interests.“
6. Annex to Recommendation No. R (97) 20 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on “hate speech” adopted on October 30, 1997
“..”hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.”
6.6. the main principles of the Company’s information activities:
Truthfulness and accuracy. Accuracy is more important than speed. The Company’s information product shall be based on reliable sources, solid evidence, thorough verification and be presented in clear and accurate language. TV and radio journalists shall be honest and candid about what they do not know and avoid making unreasonable assumptions. In its information activities, the Company strives to be accurate and cover events truthfully.
Impartiality and diversity of opinion. The Company seeks to be objective and impartial in its approach to the subject, reflect all significant opinions through the study of the range and conflicts of different points of view. Where appropriate, broadcasters may provide professional judgment, but shall never support a dissenting opinion on controversial public policy issues, or on political, economic, commercial, labor, or other conflicts or contradictions.
Editorial honesty and independence. The Company and TV and radio journalists are independent from the interests of both the state and various parties. The audience of the broadcasting organization can be sure that the decisions of the creative team are not influenced by political or commercial pressure or any personal interests.
7.1. In the production of programs and telecasts (information), their distribution, provision of information services, the Company and TV and radio journalists act in strict accordance with journalistic standards of accuracy, reliability, efficiency, completeness, impartiality, balance and separation of facts from comments, authors’ judgments and assumptions.
8.1. The information about facts disseminated by the Company shall accurately correspond to real events or data and be objective…
8.11. TV and radio journalists shall cover controversial topics impartially and unbiasedly in newscasts and other programs. TV and radio journalists do not have the right to express their own assumptions, except for author’s programs, where, in turn, they shall be clearly separated from the facts.
8.14. The Society promotes information pluralism by covering all socially significant events, providing an opportunity to publicize the full range of political, social, cultural, national and religious views available in society; it also helps establish an ideological diversity in which no ideology can be recognized as state, dominant, mandatory or the only possible.
8.15. TV and radio journalists shall strive to present different points of view within a single story or newscast, information and analytical programs. If it is not possible to promptly take commentary from one of the parties in order to present its point of view within one piece or issue, it is necessary to make an effort to provide this point of view. In which case, it is important to draw attention to the fact that there are different points of view on the issue, as well as state the reason why it has not yet been possible to get a comment from a specific party.
8.17. TV and radio journalists shall seek out the widest possible range of opinions and carefully present them in their materials. The Company shall provide an opportunity to respond to public accusations for those accused. When covering conflicts or disputes, TV and radio journalists shall also make an effort to seek out experts. At the same time, the public must clearly understand why this person comments on this or that event, whether this commentator has a sufficient level of expertise, and whether this person is not a party to the conflict. Such experts shall be clearly identified with an indication of the institution they represent, their degree (if any) or other criteria indicating professionalism in the field, on which these experts comment. “
III. Assessment of the compliance with regulation and professional standards
1. TV marathons are not a new phenomenon for information broadcasting, but this particular case is quite special since the TV marathon “Smells like Soros” was dedicated not to some event (usually TV marathons cover ongoing events) but the impact of one person on the life of Ukraine. At least, the management of ZIK TV presented the point of this TV marathon in this way, attaching a distinctive name to it. However, after conducting content analysis, the Independent Media Council believes that the content and purpose of this marathon covered not only the question of George Soros’s and his structures’ influence on Ukraine.
2. The question of foreign influence on the life of Ukraine in general and on the government agencies’ activities is not new and there is an ongoing public debate about this issue. Every individual has the right to hold his or her own views with regard to who and how influences our state from outside Ukraine, on the quality of the national government’s work, as well as on whether the latter should stay in power.
The Independent Media Council draws attention to the fact that this particular TV marathon not only touched upon the activities of G.Soros but also on those of the current government led by Oleksiy Honcharuk, and a number of other officials (R.Riaboshapka) and MPs.
3. We draw attention to the fact that freedom of speech with regard to broadcasters is somewhat narrower than with regard to the average citizen and other media (press), since the Law of Ukraine On Television and Radio Broadcasting provides for the obligation to disseminate objective information, including impartiality and balance, which is the opposite to promoting a subjective point of view on a particular issue. This approach in regulating the activities of TV channels is based, in particular, on the fact that visual images are more powerful than the printed word, and many TV and radio companies use radio frequencies, which is a national resource that should serve the interests of all citizens of Ukraine.
4. Imbalance. We have already drawn attention to the fact that, in addition to George Soros and his foundation, considerable attention was paid in the telecast to many Ukrainian officials, MPs depicted as advocates of his interests. Particular attention was paid to the then government led by Oleksiy Honcharuk (at the time of the TV marathon, the possibility of the then government’s resignation was being actively discussed, with the resignation taking place 5 days later, on March 4, 2020).
ZIK TV had invited a number of people to participate in the TV marathon who were mentioned in it, and some of them accepted the invitation (R.Pidlasa). But the Council is skeptical about the possibility of ensuring balanced coverage of information in this TV marathon for non-random technical reasons.
Firstly, we have to note that the TV marathon lasted nearly all day (except at night). Information with criticism of both G.Soros and the then Cabinet and its members kept being repeated (reminding announcements, comments by O.Dubinsky, I.Mosiychuk, etc.). George Soros regularly came up in the telecast as a billionaire profiting from developing countries, with the then Cabinet’s members and the Prosecutor General shown as his henchmen. Therefore, the appearance in the studio of Roxolana Pidlasa mentioned above (or any other of the aforementioned persons) did not ensure the balance of the TV marathon on the whole (but only in a separate TV show, in which this person participated), because Ms. Pidlasa was mentioned in a negative context in the morning. In the announcements, Soros and the then ministers were mentioned about ten times during the TV marathon in a negative context without providing their position. And this, without taking into account the critical comments addressed to them by the hosts, other TV channel’s employees and various guests of the telecast (see paragraph 3 of Section I above). It is also doubtful that representatives of the Renaissance Foundation or the Cabinet of Ministers would be able to stay in the channel’s studio throughout the TV marathon to constantly answer criticism directed at them. Few spectators had the opportunity to watch the entire TV marathon, from early morning to late evening, and, theoretically, hear the answers of one of “Little Sorosists” to the allegations against them, heard a few hours before or after the telecast. That is, with either option – coming on air and opposing the allegations, or ignoring this opportunity – the representatives of G.Soros or the government found themselves in a losing situation, because the balance could not be ensured in the marathon, even from a purely technically point of view, due to the long duration and repeated allegations. In a sense, this may account for such an unusual format as a marathon – a continuous systematic flow of negative information that does not provide for any genuine opportunity for an alternative opinion.
Secondly, the large number of the participants presented by the TV channel as advocates of G.Soros’s interests, clearly made it difficult to technically provide the position of each of them to balance the information presented. Because, in addition to G.Soros, about a dozen members of the Cabinet of Ministers, MPs, representatives of NGOs, the organizations themselves, and the media were mentioned in a negative context. In fact, all of them were passed off as advocates of the interests of the allegedly greedy billionaire profiting in Ukraine and other countries with the help of his protégés.
The TV presenters rarely opposed the telecast’s guests but much more often, they themselves made critical remarks about G.Soros and those shown as his protégés in the telecast. The TV channel could not technically, and obviously did not set itself the goal to ensure the balanced presentation of information in this TV marathon.
Besides, the views of civil society organizations and the media passed off as advocates of G.Soros’s interests were not presented. It was hardly technically possible, given the large number of the organizations and the media mentioned in the course of the TV marathon.
5. Partiality. The very name of the TV marathon – “Smells like Soros” – indicates a biased approach to his personality. Prejudices are also evidenced by the hosts’ statements, specifically in those parts of the telecast with no guests (the four hosts in the morning and during the day). Even if G.Soros himself and his Foundation did not want to comment on the allegations against them, ZIK TV was able to search for their earlier comments on similar topics, since it is not the first time that similar criticism is heard in Ukraine and in other countries. Independent experts’ commentary on this issue could also be obtained. The telecast’s experts and those presented as “independent experts” (see below) were surprisingly unanimous in their criticism of G.Soros, the International Renaissance Foundation, and those they referred to as “Little Sorosists,” or, at least, they did not speak out against the allegations against these persons.
Again, we draw attention to the fact that the impartiality of the TV marathon concerns not only G.Soros, but also the then government and the Prosecutor General, a number of MPs, NGOs and media. Given the aforementioned impossibility to ensure balance in this marathon format, having such a wide range of objects of criticism is additional evidence of biased coverage of the issue.
6. We also believe that the chronological proximity of the TV marathon and the Parliament’s considering the issue of changing the government is not accidental. The TV marathon preceded the parliamentary debate, and the point of view promoted during the marathon by ZIK TV concerning the need for the then government to resign coincided with the position of Opposition Platform – For Life, that voted for the resignation on March 4, 2020. A number of other parliamentary factions also supported this resignation, but the broadcast of the TV marathon is evidence of ZIK TV’s special commitment to this political force (formally, the TV channel is owned by one of the members of the OPFL faction). This suggests that the TV marathon was a media propaganda campaign serving political purposes, specifically the resignation of Honcharuk’s government, and that George Soros was more of a tool to promote the resignation of the then government as a “protégé of the West.”
Other TV channels of the respective media group were also noticed to playing along with the aforementioned political force (see paragraph 9 of Section III of the IMC Opinion of 4.09.19 on compliance with election coverage standards and possible abuses of freedom of speech by NewsOne on June 1 – July 13, 2019).
The affiliation of the telecast’s guests with Opposition Platform – For Life was not always mentioned in it (as in the case of V.Katsman). The number of MPs and other OPFL representatives in the TV marathon was quite large whilst the point of view of their ideological opponents (ES, Holos) during the many-hours-long telecast was not provided at all. It is not unlikely that all their representatives simply refused to provide commentary for ZIK TV, but it was possible to search for such comments in other media in open sources and make them known in the telecast (for instance, as regards the Holos’s funding, its and European Solidarity’s (P.Poroshenko) relations with G.Soros they were accused of during the marathon). In other words, we can talk about systematic propaganda in the interests of OPFL.
At the same time, the idea of Ukraine being externally governed by G. Soros postulated during the TV marathon fits well into the ideological pro-Russian doctrine of confrontation with the West allegedly seeking to subjugate and morally decompose post-Soviet countries. The organizations and media receiving grants in Ukraine respectively, were also presented as harmful or predatory structures. At the same time, no one even tried to mention the pro-Russian political forces, organizations or media in the TV marathon.
In fact, under the guise of a TV marathon, a planned media campaign was carried out to form public opinion in favor of the resignation of the government of O. Honcharuk and, on the whole, about the harmfulness of Western grant aid to Ukrainian NGOs. This media campaign played on the interests of Opposition Platform – For Life. It is the unacceptability of such content (journalistic campaigns conducted on the basis of previously adopted positions to form public opinion in someone’s interest) that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted in one of its documents (see paragraph 6, section II above).
7. The Independent Media Council does not believe that George Soros, his structures, the government of O.Honcharuk, Ukrainian NGOs and media should be immune from criticism, particularly on television. We also do not believe that foreign influence on Ukraine through grants is unequivocally positive or negative. Inter alia, this issue can and should be discussed in the media, but such discussions should take place in accordance with journalistic standards and legal requirements for television, radio, and information. That is, such a discussion in the media should serve the interests of the viewers who will be able to draw their own conclusions, and not turn into the promotion of a single point of view on the TV channel, essentially imposing a specific opinion and a specific political group.
8. Dubious reliability (the quality of information sources and their identification). TV presenters citing certain facts or judgments with regard to G.Soros and his associates (or passed off as such during the broadcast) avoid referring to specific sources of this information, using statements that someone just “says”, “thinks” or refers to unnamed “experts” (see paragraph 3 of Sec. and above).
In other cases, the persons presented as experts and commenting on the topic were not identified as representatives of OPFL (V. Katsman) or simply could not be considered independent experts, given their prominent pro-Russian commitment, either in the past or present, e.g. R. Bortnyk , M. Pohrebynskyi, A. Shariy, H. Herman, O. Bondarenko, O. Lazaryev, S. Hodnyi. These “experts’” connection to the Party of Regions and V.Medvedchuk was not mentioned in the telecast, which largely allowed for hiding the lack of pluralism of opinion among the experts participating in the TV marathon.
9. Incomplete information. The lack of balance in the information imparted, references to its sources and failure to indicate the guests’ full, substantial background and political affiliations is also a violation of the professional standard of the completeness of information.
10. Incitement to hatred. Although during the TV marathon, there were no direct calls for eliminating or limiting the activities of Western aid recipients, mentioning them as advocates of G.Soros’s interests and showing them in such a negative light, could incite society’s hostility toward such structures.
Besides, given the nationality of G. Soros, such biased coverage of his activities may contribute to anti-Semitic sentiments and be used by other actors for respective illegal or political purposes. This is also accounted for by the fact that on all continents, from Hungary to the United States, propaganda narratives strongly link the personality of Mr.Soros to various conspiracy theories of the “global Jewish-Masonic conspiracy.” In our region, these theories are actively promoted and supported by Russia, because, on the one hand, they contribute to the anti-Western hysteria, and on the other hand, they provoke anti-Semitic statements and/or incidents that Russia then successfully uses to promote the allegedly “special issues of Ukrainian anti-Semitism and nationalism” in Western world, including influential international media.
The Independent Media Council points out that incitement to hatred does not lie in criticizing certain subjects as such, but in its being based on information of dubious authenticity and presented in an unbalanced, incomplete and biased manner, with a clear propaganda purpose.
11. The Independent Media Council draws the National Council’s attention to the fact that other TV channels also have ideological affiliations, acting in favor of certain political forces and promoting a purely subjective position. This TV marathon is a vivid example, but, unfortunately, not the only example of such systematic violations on television calling for an appropriate response from the regulator.
The Independent Media Council believes that:
1. The TV marathon “Smells like Soros” that aired on February 28, 2020, likely served to promote the resignation of Oleksiy Honcharuk’s government, harmfulness of Western grant support to Ukrainian NGOs and media, aiming at promoting the interest of a specific political force – Opposition Platform For Life.
2. This TV marathon shows signs of hate speech against organizations that receive support from Western donors, with its content inciting anti-Semitism.
3. ZIK TV channel (Novi Komunikatsii TV and Radio Company, LLC) failed to comply with the requirements for the reliability of information, its objectivity (impartiality), balance and completeness, as well as violated the requirements of paragraphs 6 and 13 part 2 of article 6, item “c” of part 1 of article 59 of the Law of Ukraine On Television and Radio Broadcasting and clauses 4.2, 6.6, 7.1, 8.1, 8.11, 8.14, 8.15 and 8.17 of its own Editorial Charter.
4. The Independent Media Council appeals to the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting with a proposal to conduct more detailed content monitoring of ZIK NewsOne and 112 Ukraine channels, due to the systematic political propaganda of a particular party (violation of point “c” of part 1 of article 59 of the Law On Television and Radio Broadcasting). Such monitoring on the part of the National Council should address the issues of balanced/unbalanced selection of broadcasters, opposing (or lack thereof) by the hosts, mentions of political forces during telecasts in the absence of newsworthy events or creating such artificial events by TV channels themselves, commentary by TV hosts and journalists in favor (or against) particular politicians, political forces and voicing their viewpoints. Appropriate monitoring should cover at least a week of broadcasting.
Votes: «In favor» — 12
«Against» — 0
«Abstained» — 0
Head of the Independent Media Council T. Shevchenko
Secretary of the Independent Media Council O. Holub
Secretary of the Independent Media Council P. Moiseyev