Election Detector. «I want only to ask.» The main trends in the information space during October 12–18, 2020

Українську версію читайте тут.

The president managed to interrupt the negative resonance of some failures with his poll – now everyone criticizes him only for the poll. Election Detector 2.8.

Election Detector is a weekly analytical review which timely captures the main topics, trends, manipulations, and changes in the information space, related to the local election. Read more detailed analysis in our regular (television news, political talk shows, information channels, Russian propaganda etc.) monitoring studies.

Previous issues:  October 5—11, September 28 — October 4September 21—27September 14—20September 7—13August 31 — September 6August 24—30.

The Main Trends

The key topic for discussions and PR during the week was the presidential poll, although the resonance did not seem to go exactly according to Zelenskyi’s plan. The opposition united in criticizing the idea of the poll, and the most popular media were divided into three groups: those that covered only the president’s statements and announced the questions; those who gave the floor to various parties, including critics of the idea of the poll; and those who simply put together all the arguments “against”. The fiercest battles on this topic, apart from social networks, took place in the studios of political talk shows, where it was difficult for the People’s Servants to repel the attacks of the opposition. The European Solidarity party was particularly active in criticizing the poll, while Yulia Tymoshenko and the Opposition Platform – For Life party convinced voters that the government’s desire was to legalize drugs.

The poll diverted media attention from the inconvenient coverage opportunities for the president and his party, including the veteran’s self-immolation in Kyiv and the meeting with the British intelligence.

Inter channel does not stop manipulating the ratings, twisting unbelievable percentage for the Opposition Platform – For Life party, and combines the PR of its candidate for mayor of Kyiv Oleksandr Popov with the PR of the current mayor Vitaliy Klychko. After Viktor Medvedchuk’s continuous PR campaign, the Opposition Platform – For Life party’s media refocused on the promotion of individual candidates, as well as on the search for examples of “persecution of the opposition.”

1+1 channel is no longer limited to regular PR of the For the Future party in the news and the Pravo na Vladu [Right to Power] talk show, each episode of which is attended by the head of the political force Ihor Palytsia. This week, the channel aired a separate interview by host Natalia Moseychuk with Palytsia.

Television news have slightly increased amount of election-related materials that do not contain hidden advertising: reports of violations, explanations of how to vote, and the Public broadcaster has prepared a series of reviews of the election situation in major cities.

The most important events related to the election, which were covered in the media in the period from October 12 to October 18 2020

The poll announced by Volodymyr Zelenskyi became the loudest pre-election coverage opportunity of the week. The draft law by the people’s servants registered in September on conducting polls during the elections could suggest that something similar was in plans of the president’s team. Even then, the media wrote about the “pseudo-referendum”. However, the September legislative initiative of the “servants” was not made as a video message, so it did not cause a stir unlike the poll announced two weeks before the election, for which Bankova does not seem to need any laws or expert approval. The protests of the opposition, the sociological community and the civil society did not impress Zelenskyi and the team, and the use in the announcements of the poll of the pre-election slogan of the People’s Servant party “It will be as you decide!” hints on the true purpose of the project: mobilization of own electorate.

The announcement of the poll can be considered a successful informational special operation, at least because it diverted the attention of the critical part of society from the unsuccessful for Zelenskyi interview on BBC. Bloggers, media people, and opposition politicians enjoyed the uncomfortable moments of conversation between the Ukrainian president -who is accustomed to warm bath conversations – and HardTalk presenter Stephen Sackur. The “hard talk” also hit the news of opposition channels as a reason to criticize the president, for example, on Channel 5: “It’s just words” – about the outrage of the families of the Heavenly Hundred by the appointment of Oleh Tatarov. “I believe in it” – about agreements with Putin. “They didn’t put anyone behind bars” – about dismissal of members of his team. “I am not clinging, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care” – about own ratings. Eighteen month ago, Volodymyr Zelensky read aloud questions from a piece of paper at a stadium debate, and now he is answering more quietly to a journalist from the British BBC. In particular, when the war will end and where the reforms are.” But the next day, everyone was already talking only about the poll.

If Zelenskyi team’s plan succeeded, the society would remain in tension until the end of the week, waiting for a new question every day, but the full list of questions was leaked on the second day (In the blogosphere, there is a version that the spoiler is the work of Mykhailo Podoliak, who allegedly revenged on the ideologue of the poll Kyrylo Tymoshenko). Zelenskyi had to announce the last three questions at once, and each of them required additional explanation from the President’s Office.

Central television channels were divided: part of them – Ukraine and Pinchuk’s channels – simply reported the planned poll as a fact and then voiced new questions every day. Public broadcaster, 1+1 and Medvedchuk’s channels went further – they tried to find out and explain to viewers why the poll is being conducted and what the consequences may be. Already on October 13, the day of the announcement of the first question, the news of 1+1 channel included the comments of political commentator Volodymyr Fesenko that the content of the questions could mobilize certain groups of voters, and the head of Opora Olha Aivazovska, who suggested that the real purpose of the poll was to force own agenda on competing political forces. Inter also quoted Olha Aivazovska and Oleksiy Koshel, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, who said that the poll could affect the election results; later, Fesenko’s comment about “banal flirting with voters” and Taras Zagorodniy’s comment about “election technology” were shown whereas on Channel 112, experts from Medvedchuk’s pool of channels spoke about the manipulative nature of the questions. The Public Broadcaster was more interested in the sources of funding for the poll, and on the second day of the epic, when Zelenskyi voiced the question of a free economic zone in the Donbas (it was not clear what part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions was meant; news on UA:Pershyi devoted material to this idea and concluded that this question is too difficult even for experts, not to mention ordinary voters.

Finally, the media from Poroshenko’s pool, including Channel 5, simply gathered all the arguments against the poll – experts, politicians, lawyers, civil society representatives, etc. Devastating materials about the poll were published on Channel 5 for three days in a row – and when Dmytro Razumkov assured that budget money would not be allocated, journalists did not stop wondering “who will pay for this curiosity.” Meanwhile, Zelenskyi contrasted the arguments of the opposition and independent media about dubious legitimacy, provocativeness and covert influence on the expression of will, saying “politicians are afraid to hear your opinion.” And the “people’s servant” Oleksandr Kachura claimed on Inter channel that his party had nothing to do with the poll, and the president simply wanted to consult.

However, in the talk shows where the polls were discussed, in particular on Svoboda Slova Savika Shustera [Savik Shuster’s Freedom of Speech] and Pravo na Vladu [Right to Power], the “servants” had a tough time – they only repeated that the poll would have no legal consequences and therefore does not violate anything, repelling attacks by numerous critics from among the opposition, the experts and the journalists. The Censor editor-in-chief Yuriy Butusov even called the support for the poll expressed by former President Leonid Kravchuk a manifestation of senile insanity.

The extremely inconvenient coverage opportunity for the authorities of the beginning of the week remained in the shadows. Mykola Mykytenko’s self-immolation in protest against the policy of the current government in Donbas and the “creeping Russian occupation” was sporadically covered in the central media: the news was broadcast on 1+1, Channel 5 and on Public. As in a similar case of 16 years ago with Yushchenko’s supporter Alik Aslanov, pro-government and loyal media limited themselves to the driest facts or kept silent about the event altogether. However, in addition to loyalty and censorship, this approach can be explained by the ambiguity of the situation, as Mykytenko himself explained the reasons for his actions only very generally, and the connection between self-immolation and Zelenskyi’s policy is known from his daughter’s words.

In the end, the communication of the situation around Zelenskyi’s meeting with British intelligence turned out to be quite unsuccessful. On October 13, the Dzerkalo Tyzhnya [Mirror of the Week] reported citing an anonymous insider, that during the meeting, Zelenskyi was given “signals” about traitors around him. The president had to find excuses and to deny it: “We had a meeting in the MI-6 office. Unfortunately, I cannot tell all the information. That is, these are state affairs. I read about what is written about the composition of this meeting. There was different participation at this meeting. Of all the issues from our two-hour long meeting, the majority were information about helping and protecting our sovereignty and territorial integrity. I cannot tell the details… The issue, which, according to some Ukrainian media, was raised at this meeting, was actually not discussed at all.” According to the president, they talked in particular about the media in Ukraine, which are funded “not only by Ukrainians, but by various groups.

The opposition media were not impressed by this excuse: Channel 5 aired a material in which the version of “traitors on Bankova” was presented as the main one: “From demonstratively public stories to demonstratively non-public ones: secret information from Bankova’s high offices is coming out.” The material lists topics that were allegedly discussed with the British intelligence officers: “The first is the attacks of the Ukrainian authorities on anti-corruption bodies; the second is the situation in eastern Ukraine and the actions of Russia. The third, which also concerned Russian issues, was Zelenskyi’s environment, both informal and formal, which has a significant impact on the president. It will be recalled that it was the head of the President’s Office, Andriy Yermak, who was accused by the media of being involved in disrupting a possible special operation to detain a group of Wagner’s mercenaries in July-August this year. On Bankova, they are still denying their involvement.” Even a not very clever viewer will draw the following conclusions from this: British intelligence opened Zelenskyi’s eyes to the fact that the head of his office was a Kremlin agent. Although in the original publication by the Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Yermak is not named.

This week, journalists of the Public broadcaster finally got to reviews of the election situation in some regions. UA:Pershyi analyzed with separate materials the situation around the elections of the mayors of Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Cherkasy, Poltava and Mykolayiv, having offered an alternative to sociological surveys – questioning of expert: “It does not reflect the electoral mood, it is not representative. That is why we do not name any numbers, and the order in which we talk about mayoral candidates is random.” The Public broadcaster refused to quote opinion polls, because no sociological company names its customers. In the material about Mykolayiv, in particular, it was remembered that the candidate from the People’s Servant party Tetiana Dombrovska expressed pro-Russian views in social networks in 2014. This week, a separate material by UA:Pershyi was dedicated to Nelia Shtepa, a candidate for mayor of Slovyansk, whose court hearing was postponed until after the election due to the coronavirus threat.

Thus, the Public broadcaster became the second channel after ICTV, which names the candidates and talks about the pre-election situation in the regions objectively. The others are refraining from it for now. Instead, Ukraine channel explained how to fill in the ballot, and 1+1 explained how to vote if you have a high temperature. Nevertheless, this is better than nothing.

Inter channel remains a monopolist in manipulating ratings in the all-Ukrainian television space. Here they continue to use the “polls” by the Ukrainian Sociological Group, which was founded by the employees of the Nova Ukraina center which was founded by Serhiy Liovochkin, a Member of Parliament from the Opposition Platform – For Life party and co-owner of Inter. Comments by Nova Ukraina employees are used in materials based on the figures by the Ukrainian Sociological Group. During the week, prime time news included such materials about Dnipro (here Zahida Krasnova is brought to the second round with Boris Filatov, and the best results in the regional council elections are predicted to the Opposition Platform – For Life party) and Odesa (Mykola Skoryk from the Opposition Platform – For Life party in the second round with Hennadiy Trukhanov etc.).

However, it seems that even the pocket “sociological group” is unable to provide the Opposition Platform – For Life party with results so optimistic that they would satisfy the political patrons of Inter. Therefore, Inter outsourced this task – “socio-political sentiments of the residents of Donetsk region” were allegedly measured the analytical center “Sociomodus”. Hardly anyone will be surprised to find this company in the pseudo-sociologists database by Teksty.. If two weeks ago Lyovochkin’s “sociologists” gave 58% to the Opposition Platform – For Life party in Donetsk region, Sociomodus came to 62%, and other parties, except the People’s Servant, were not given any chances at all. Interestingly, these results do not mention the Vadym Boychenko Bloc at all, to which the Lyovochkin Institute survey gave 11%. Quasi-sociologists should make arrangement among themselves.

Instead, Channel 5 prepared a material on the manipulation of sociological ratings by interviewing experts from various organizations.

As for the violations of the election process, depending on which channel you turn on, you can see either a number of isolated cases that the police deal with every now and then, or an alleged systematic attack by the authorities on the opposition. Inter, talking about the allegedly organized network of voter bribery in Kremenchuk, claims that “organized criminal group, which is involved, so to speak, by the pro-government structures of the city.” Instead, when informing about the knife attack on the UDAR electioneerers in Kyiv on October 14, they did not even name the party (obviously this would contradict the paradigm of “persecution of the opposition”). Meanwhile, STB and Ukraine reported some violations several times during the week.

On the occasion of the Day of Defenders of Ukraine, most central television channels showed congratulations by Zelenskyi. Ukraine channel made a special effort to underline promises of support in the president’s speech that could be perceived as campaigning during the elections. Inter channel used the festive occasion to promote other politicians, including Poroshenko: “The fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, in fact, the one who moved the celebration of Defender’s Day to the Intercession day 6 years ago, today together with his wife honored the memory of fallen soldiers in the Hall of Remembrance of the Ministry of Defense.” And although the Defenders’ Day is not a Soviet holiday at all, it has become an occasion for PR for the Opposition Platform – For Life party media favorites. Inter promoted Yulia Svitlychna and her supporter Ihor Chernyak, who was a volunteer and is now a candidate for mayor of Kharkiv. And Channel 112 reported how Illia Kyva and his “Patriots – For Life” laid flowers at the monument to the defenders in Khmelnytsky. “We honor, remember and will do everything to ensure that our Ukraine really gains independence, really revives from the ruins and from the ashes, and is really free,” says Kyva, whose participation in the war in Donbas Medvedchuk’s media do not mention too often. After all, Kyva is now calling for direct talks and concessions to Russia on NewsOne.

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