The trials and tribulations of being an independent TV station in Ukraine

Normally I stay away from the headline news in Ukraine, quite simply because you can read about that in other places, albeit I wouldn’t guarantee the objectivity, accuracy or unbiasedness of the reporting in those places necessarily.

Like so many foundational pillars of society in Ukraine, the media here also too often sets low standards and routinely fails to achieve them.  That is not necessarily a criticism of the journalists themselves, although you are oft left to ponder if they ever bother to check facts or the validity of what comes from “sources”, but one of editorial policy and quite probably in some cases, ownership influence.  That accounts for media outlets that have a bias for any side of the political line.

In fact it is sometimes quite difficult not to feel sorry for those journalists who try to provide a balanced, factual and thoughtful article considering the hurdles that lay in wait when trying to get anything published.  Naturally this can lead to self-censorship just to earn a crust.

Anyway, amongst the very few media outlets that appear genuinely neutral and will give critical coverage to both government and opposition alike, is television channel TBi.  It is a channel that I regularly watch if I want to know what is happening in Ukraine rather than just Odessa and feel confident there is at the very least some element of balance in the reporting.

For events in Odessa, I tend to watch C Odessa which is biased towards the current opposition parties, hardly surprising when they share the same offices as Arseny Yatseniuk’s Front for Change political party, and occasionally Art TV which is owned by my neighbour and leader of Party Rodina, Igor Markov, which is equally as biased in favour of his own party naturally.  Nevertheless for local news of events, current and future, in Odessa, they are both fairly good and I am very well aware of their bias.

Returning to TBi, back in 2011 they were involved in a tax situation with the tax authorities which went to court and they lost.  They then appealed and won.

Unsurprisingly, the tax authorities then changed their centre of attention from TBi itself to those individuals who own and control it.

Now, as already declared I am something of a TBi regular when it comes to daily viewing and it would therefore be quite easy for me to simply say this is government pressure on a television network that is often rightly critical of it.  That said, having lived in Ukraine for a decade I also know that tax avoidance is a national pastime for rich and poor alike on a daily, if not hourly basis for the vast majority of 46 million people.

Even I, who pay my taxes in Ukraine, at the end of last year had to cough up an additional few thousand US$ in taxes, not because I wanted to avoid paying, but because the tax system is simply so difficult to navigate even the tax authorities regularly work things out wrongly (or indeed are bribed to work things out wrongly by those who pay paxes).

So, knowing that even with the very best of intentions and a complete openness with the tax authorities can lead to being wrongly taxed even by their calculations, I accept that there may be a tax case to answer.  Quite simply, I very much doubt anybody at a personal level, ever actually pays exactly the right amount of tax either deliberately or inadvertently.

The issue here is therefore not necessarily that the owners of TBi are being investigated for tax issues, but the timing of the investigation immediately prior to the official 90 day electioneering campaigns.

A popular national television channel and the people within, who are openly critical of the current government when appropriate, being subjected to tax investigations on the eve of parliamentary electioneering screams indirect government pressure via the tax authorities.

Quite simply the investigation could have been delayed until after the elections to avoid the inference of political pressure.  Any evidence of any wrong doing is not going to disappear during the electioneering window.

Further to that, apparently, TBi disappeared from the screens of those viewers in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhya, Donetsk, Poltova, Symferopol, Sumy, Kharkiv and Odessa from 20th July.

Except it didn’t.  My coverage of TBi in Odessa has not been interrupted at all.

It appears that those people who watch TBi via Triolan cable provider are affected but no others.  How many people are subscribed to Trilan, I have no idea, however if my cable provider pulled TBi then I would dump them and use another, watch TBi via the Internet or get it via satellite if dumping the provider proved a severe pain contractually.

Triolan are citing technical difficulties in continuing to carry TBi - a strange phenomenon considering on 19th July and for the previous years they had encountered no technical difficulties carrying TBi and yet on 20th, there were technical difficulties. - Hmmm

Fortunately, no other cable providers are following suit or intending to do so.  Thus I will continue to have uninterrupted coverage of one of my preferred channels.

One wonders though, how such a move will effect the subscriptions to Triolan as time passes.  Maybe they will resolve their technical problems with TBi just after the elections are over?  Now that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

With TBi standing firm to the inferred governmental pressure, maybe the Triolan was put under the similar pressure.  Maybe it is owned by a member of the government who simply made a decision not to carry a channel critical of themselves and colleagues.

Whatever the case, I very much doubt that technical issues are the cause of TBi being dropped.