Will actually a comedian be the next president of Ukraine? No question concerns the media of the Eastern European country just more. Volodymyr Selenskyj, known from his role as a naive, but honest president in the TV series Servant of the people (Sluga Narod) is currently leading polls on Sunday's polls. Not in fiction – in reality.
It's a bizarre story from a quirky election campaign. Instead of shaking hands, Selenskyj was recently in front of the camera for the new season of his television series, which should promptly start on Wednesday, a few days before the elections. Whether Selenskyj wins or not – the dizzying rise of the television comedian throws a particularly bright spotlight on a factor that has always had a significant impact on Ukrainian politics: television.
75.7 percent of Ukrainians primarily inform themselves about television, according to a recent study. But the most popular TV channels are all from oligarchs controlled. The TV station Ukraina, with about 15 percent market share of the most popular Ukrainian channels, belongs to the richest Ukrainian Rinat Akhmetov. The entertainment channel 1 + 1 (market share: 10.05 percent), on which the political comedy with Wolodymyr Selenskyj runs, was bought in 2010 by the oligarch Ihor Kolomojskyj. And so it goes on in the ranking of the most popular stations: Inter belongs to the gas baron Dmytro Firtash, ICTV the art patron Viktor Pintschuk. The ten most popular TV channels are attributed to a total of five powerful oligarchs. And finally, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko has his own channel: the Fifth Channel, albeit with a comparatively low market share of 0.24 percent.
Entertainment fun or election campaign agitation?
On a global scale, large media groups that divide the market of a country are nothing unusual. Only: While such companies in Europe or the US are looking for profit, the media market for the Ukrainian oligarchs is economically just a side show. "They use the main TV channels as a vehicle to enforce their political agenda," writes the Warsaw Center for Eastern Studies in an analysis that would "have a significant impact on the reputation of politicians and parties." Diana Duzyk, managing director of the Ukrainian Institute for Media and Communication, confirms this: "Especially with the TV stations, it is clear that there are sympathies or antipathies for certain presidential candidates." And: "Most of this is not due to the research of the journalists, but the position of the owners who represent their political interests."
Now in the election campaign on the television screens the ugly clashes between the oligarchs are carried out particularly openly. All the more so as the last time a showdown between two camps emerged: that of the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and his adversary, Ihor Kolomojskyj. The chocolate entrepreneur Poroshenko is standing for a second term. Kolomoyshsky, who has submitted to the president since the nationalization of his private bank, is said to have a close relationship with Selensky and the candidate Yulia Tymoshenko. Selenskyj is in polls with 27.7 percent in the front, Tymoshenko (16.6 percent) and Poroshenko (16.4 percent) are in a head-to-head race for the run-off to the runoff.
The fact that the oligarchs have a direct influence on the content is, of course, denied in the editors. Serhiy Popov, editor-in-chief of the info section at 1 + 1, leads through the station's modern, bright editorial offices in the heart of the hip hipster district of Podil. "We have a clear stance: if something is true, we'll tell you whether that pleases our owner or not," he says. He meets with the owner only once a year for a "relaxed exchange of views," he says. But that Kolomojskyj's archenemy Poroshenko enjoys even with himself no great sympathy, he can quickly see through. "Poroshenko has not given us an interview for years," says Popov. "These are supposed to be the new standards after the Maidan?"
But with the standards, 1 + 1 does not think so well. These days was in the series Ukrainian sensations made the bizarre claim that Poroshenko had killed his own brother. Poroshenko has therefore announced that he will go to court for "systematic lies" against 1 + 1. Comparatively harmless there was still the appearance of the comedian Selenskyj, who promptly announced on New Year's Eve on the Kolomojsky station his candidacy for the presidential elections – and incidentally stole the show Poroshenko in his traditional television New Year's speech by the way. A few days before the presidential elections also starts the third season of the series in which Selenskyj mimes the TV president. This is the last discussion, whether that is still fun – or even campaign agitation.