Sociology of information warfare in Ukraine

11.10.20151,649
Leading Russian TV channels were banned from Ukraine but polling companies still ask people whether they trust them. Credits: tsn.ua

Leading Russian TV channels were banned from Ukraine but polling companies still ask people whether they trust them. Credits: tsn.ua

The first surveys containing data indicating levels of trust or distrust of the Russian mass media appeared in March 2014. Before this time, such questions had simply never come up in the history of Applied Sociology in Ukraine. The only topic discussed was overall distrust of the media without distinction as to the nation or state of origin. Record lack of confidence in Russian media was achieved twice – in April and October 2014 (79.5%). This record has yet to be broken in 2015.

According to the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Razumkov Centre, on average, 72% of the country’s population mistrusted the Russian mass media in 2014, and in 2015 the lack of confidence rating was at 76%. This research was conducted on 22-27 July 2015, and 2,011 respondents from all regions in Ukraine, excluding Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts’ territories, were polled.

On 30 September, the analytical centre Internews Ukraine and research company InMind published the results of an annual survey regarding attitudes about the mass media held by inhabitants of Ukraine. The research showed a significant decrease in Ukrainians’ sympathies towards Russian media sources. The survey was conducted in May and June 2015 throughout all of the regions of Ukraine. In the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, interviews were held in the territory under Ukrainian government control. 4,048 respondents took part in the survey.

Television is the main information source for inhabitants of Ukraine: 85% of those polled said that they had watched the news on TV during the previous month. Viewership of Russian television decreased by 8%, from 27% in 2014 to 19% now, and viewing of Russian Internet publications decreased by 17%, from 44% in 2014 to 27% in 2015. Moreover, even if the reduction in viewership of the news on Russian TV can be partially explained by the Ukrainian authorities’ banning of Russian broadcasts in the country, Internet access was not restricted in the least.

The most obvious tendency for 2015, according to the survey, is the extremely low level of confidence in any sort of Russian media. Only 4% of those surveyed trusted it while, in contrast, the Ukrainian media had an overall rating of 64%.

Out of all Russian media sources, Internet publications enjoy the most confidence: 8% of Ukrainians trust them. Russian television endured the greatest losses – in a year’s time 16% of Ukrainians stopped trusting them. The highest percentages of trust in Russian media outlets were found in Lugansk (10%), Donetsk (9%) and Dnipropetrovsk (9%) oblasts. Kiev oblast was least trusting of Russian media at 1%.

According to the survey, Ukrainians are especially mistrustful of the Russian media’s treatment of the events occurring in Novorossiya. Internews reports that 25.6% of Ukrainian citizens consider information provided by the Russian media about events taking place in the region to be absolutely false. And 30% consider information provided specifically by Russian television channels to be such.

Ukrainian experts interpret the low confidence in the Russian media as a victory for Ukraine. In the opinion of information security specialist Sergey Pashchenko, Russia as a state and Russian media outlets, as institutes of its political system, have been ineffective over this past year and have experienced serious reputation and image losses in Ukraine. “The Russian Federation has lost the information war. Excepting inhabitants of Crimea and the regions under separatist control, Ukrainians citizens have lost their trust in the Russian media. There are three reasons for this: 1) Ukraine’s effective national information policy, which sees Russia as a state-aggressor; 2) world mass media support; and 3) the inability of the Russian media business to work with a hostile target audience,” Pashchenko told Europe Insight.

It would be possible to agree with the Ukrainian expert and the above surveys if not for a few facts. Russian media outlets had to either leave the Ukrainian media market under pressure of the Ukrainian authorities (as in the case of television stations) or they retained their former positions (as in the case of radio), which is confirmed by the ratings presented below. (Data from the time period prior to the Euromaidan events and from now are provided for comparison.)

Between 2013 and 2015, the list of Ukraine’s top ten television channels is clearly marked by the growing distance between “Inter” and “Ukraine” and their competition, as well as the disappearance of the “Perviy Kanal” (Channel One) worldwide network – though this is tied exclusively to its broadcasts being discontinued by decision of the government authorities. For the same reason, “NTV Mir” (NTV World) and “RTR Planeta” (RTR Planet) have fallen out of the top twenty. However, even in 2013, the three television stations combined reached only 5.7% of the audience.

tvrating

Radio station ratings do not vary widely between 2013 and 2015 and are in general marked only by the decrease of listenership to the Ukrainian version of “Russian Radio”. As Igor Romanenko from GroupM commented to Telekritika in 2015, “in comparison with the previous year, stations’ ratings and positions have changed minimally, which attests to the stability of the media as a whole.” The data tells us that the past three years at least are characterised by a relative stability (excluding a single change in the composition of the participants). Admittedly, all of the Russian ones are music rather than “talk” stations.

radiorating

It is difficult to make a literal comparison of sites visited by Ukrainians in 2013 and 2015 because of the different methods used in these years. However, if it is impossible to compare numbers accurately, one can at least juxtapose positions. For example, here are the data from November 2013 (survey by Factum Group Ukraine upon request of UIA) and here are those for September 2015 (TNS Ukraine). Overall, it is evident that Mail.ru, Yandex, Odnoklassniki and VKontakte remain some of the most popular online resources. Moreover, according to Internews’s research, 38% and 31% of users of the Ukrainian segment of the Internet visit VKontakte and Odnoklassniki to get their news. Facebook is a news source for about 20% of Internet users.

Thus, thanks to various administrative restrictions, Russian television and radio stations are almost exclusively broadcasting entertainment material in Ukraine. To speak of a Ukrainian audience for the Russian mass media in general, much less of Ukrainians’ confidence in it or in its specific forms, seems a very dubious thing to do in such a situation.

The only exceptions are social networking sites, which enjoy massive popularity as before, regardless of “origin”. As the Ukrainian political scientist and EuroTemp expert Alexander Dmitryuk believes, social networking sites remain the only channels through which Russia remains capable of effectively influencing social opinion in Ukraine.

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