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Language law: In anticipation of shake-up in print media market

The law on the state language, among other things, directly affects media operations. The new legislation's norms on the Ukrainian language in print media deserve special attention. UNIAN contacted the editors of several Russian-language publications in Ukraine to find out their opinion on and readiness for innovations.

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On April 25, the Verkhovna Rada finally adopted an important law on the state language, which, among other things, regulates the print media market. The law says all print media in Ukraine shall be published in the state language, which is Ukrainian. In each print media distribution spot, the share of Ukrainian-language newspapers and magazines must be no lower than 50%. A newspaper or magazine can be published in two or more language versions, one of which must be in the state language.

Head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, Serhiy Tomilenko, emphasizes that, of course, journalists favor measures aimed at supporting the Ukrainian language. At the same time, in his opinion, the norms of the new law concerning the print media require further extensive discussions in publishing circles.

UNIAN contacted editors of several Russian-language publications of various levels from different regions across the country to find out their opinion on the law and their readiness for innovations.

For example, the editorial staff of Focus magazine are still studying the details of the document, because there were a lot of amendments to it. However, Chief Editor Yevhen Hordeychyk believes that, in general, the transition period provides an opportunity to prepare for the shift to the Ukrainian version of the publication as its main one. "However, the release of the bilingual version will require a significant increase in the cost of editing and printing services. Now we are calculating all this," he says.

According to the editor, he personally supports strengthening the role of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine. But to this end, it is necessary to stimulate the media to use it instead of applying prohibitive methods: "I think if the press were offered some kind of stimulating conditions, at least a reduction in VAT for the Ukrainian-speaking product, of which Zelensky spoke, it would be a much more correct move than the 'obliging' step."

Language matters / Photo from UNIAN

The editorial board of the Zaporizhia-based newspaper, Subota Plus, is calm about innovations. Editor-in-Chief Oleh Loktev noted that the publication, on principle, had been declared as bilingual. Therefore, the materials are already published both in Russian and in Ukrainian anyway. "But, of course, the transition to the Ukrainian could affect the circulation and purchasing power in a negative direction, because the region is mostly Russian-speaking," Loktev argues.

A similar opinion is shared by Chief Editor of Kherson's Novy Den newspaper, Anatoly Zhupyna. He notes that the publication has long been publishing two versions ​– in Ukrainian and in Russian. And even the transition to the Ukrainian language should not be a problem. "Indeed, in the south of Ukraine there is more Russian-speaking population, but I don't think there will be an outflow of the audience if we publish fully in Ukrainian. Still, the population understands both languages," he says.

At the same time, Chief Editor of Dnipro Vechirniy, Iryna Avramenko, draws much gloomier prospects for her publication. According to her, her publication is both a website and a newspaper.

The site is a developing project with a rather young audience, which, according to Avramenko, sooner or later, adapt to the Ukrainian version. Pretty much, just like journalists. It is worth noting that, according to the law, sites shall be loaded in Ukrainian by default, but they may have other versions. At the same time, the volume of the Ukrainian version shall not be lower than that in another language.

"That is, there is no global problem with the site even in such mostly Russian-speaking region as Dnipro. But it is much more complicated with the newspaper. Here, I see great difficulties," says Avramenko. According to her, the newspaper’s audience is over 70 years of age. And every year the age of this audience only increases. Moreover, there's the same situation across Ukraine, not only in Dnipropetrovsk region. "And this audience is not ready to rebuild. It doesn't feel comfortable. This does not mean that they are not patriots or anything. They help the Army, bring posters and postcards to the editorial office, and send money to the front line. But it is difficult for them to adapt due to the fact that they are no longer young," the editor-in-chief explains.

In the conversation with UNIAN, Iryna told how three years ago she decided to make a "gift" to her readers. On Day of Ukrainian language, November 9, the volume was entirely in Ukrainian.

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After that, the newspaper saw a 20% drop in circulation. "You know, if there was such an outflow even after a single issue, then the newspaper will be buried once we switch to Ukrainian completely," she complains.

Head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, Serhiy Tomilenko, emphasizes: if the state limits itself to the requirements for publishers and does not stimulate citizens' demand for the Ukrainian-language press, we will only get a general reduction in circulation and bankruptcy of editorial boards.

"After all, the reader votes with their hryvnias, while the publishing process is an independent market business. Insufficient demand for the publication, the unwillingness of the market to pay for the production of copies in two languages, will lead to the extinction of print media s as such rather than to what the authors of the law hope for," he explains. "I also note that the proposals of the core committee on freedom of speech are completely ignored. And it was through this committee that the publishers suggested introducing a model for phased quoting of volumes of Russian-language content in print media."

It should be reminded that in the fall of last year, Rada freedom of speech and information policy committee chief Viktoriya Siumar noted that the introduction of quotas for print media should be gradual so that "the industry has the opportunity to survive, and journalists, layout designers and editors do not lose their jobs." "As an option, two or three years can be given, during which the publication will be made switch to the Ukrainian language, or a phased introduction will be offered (25% of Ukrainian content in the first year, 35% in the second year, and then 50%," the deputy suggested.

In turn, member of the board of the International Union "Institute for National Policy," Maryna Bahrova, believes that the implementation of these laws in the media is unlikely to affect the economy of publications.

"Now the print media have actually been pushed out by the Internet. As a result, print media, even without the law on the state language, already struggle to survive," she says, adding that it is only a matter of time.

The issue of introducing certain norms of the new law for print media should not be reduced only to the issue of greater workload of editors who will have to spend more time translating texts from Russian into Ukrainian. The problem is actually wider. Today the question is once again being voiced on whether the print media (in particular, the regional ones) are able to remain afloat, or will they be forced into oblivion.

Iryna Shevchenko

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