Language quotas in Ukraine: Are print media next in line?

16:47, 26 May 2017
Ukraine
312
Opinion

European and international media markets are seeing complicated transformation - they are going through tough times of stagnation. In Ukraine, just as in Europe and overseas, circulation of print media outlets has been shrinking. Therefore, Kyiv must take time to examine the issue and come up with a balanced approach to Ukrainian language quotas in print media. Although I should take an important note that I am a supporter of quotas and the amendments to the law on language in audiovisual media adopted recently.

The desire to let Ukrainian consumers have an opportunity to enjoy media products in their native language is quite valid. After all, for the past few decades, we have seen Russian dominance, supported by the Kremlin, meaning that Russian language was No.1 in Ukraine’s print media. Under such circumstances, the Ukrainian language was back-shelved considerably. Today though, when the print media market faces completely different challenges, we must ensure that the consumer is able to obtain information in Ukrainian.

On the other hand, we must closely monitor the latest developments on the market and explore ways to help it develop. So when we talk about quotas we should as well consider a range of important aspects to the issue. In Ukraine, a nice example has been set by the Dzerkalo Tyzhnia weekly. Released in both Ukrainian and Russian, the publication has become a type of an intellectual club, treating its “members” to some delicious bits of quality information.

The issue of language in print media has already been discussed in expert circles. Periodical Publishers Association and other professional unions have been trying to find a fitting solution. In particular, one of the female experts noted that it would be great to have women's glossy magazines also released in Ukrainian, noting that traditionally the majority of them are in Russian. In general, newspaper stands in city kiosks show a striking prevalence of Russian-language press, leaving consumers struggling to get the required information in the native language.

It is necessary to define the two levels - national and regional - and find that balance between providing consumers with Ukrainian language print media and at the same time not strangling the print media market.

It is yet to be decided what type exactly the quotas should be. It would be helpful to confer with the leaders of the national media, to hear from them, which quotas they’d be ready to go for, and how should regional media be dealt with.

Clearly, many media managers will say: "How are we to implement this? How do you see this? Where do we find the money for translation?" Most of these questions are being asked by editorials of smaller regional newspapers. Therefore, a differentiated approach should be applied to regional periodicals nationwide print media outlets.

So I believe the final shape of the language adjustment is yet to be molded. I suggest it’s necessary to define the two levels - national and regional - and find that balance between providing consumers with Ukrainian language print media and at the same time not strangling the print media market.

Should Ukraine oblige at a legislative level the country’s Russian-language online publications to also launch their Ukrainian versions? I do not think so. I believe it should remain a voluntary practice.

As for online media, the situation is somewhat easier because you can just run two versions of the site - Ukrainian and Russian. Some publications simply Google-translate their pieces from Russian into Ukrainian. Of course, this mostly looks ridiculous, but at least they try...

I liked the logic of Novoye Vremia magazine: they offer a Russian-Ukrainian (and vice versa) one-click switch for their articles. They may also emphasize in a note to their readers that the piece can be read in Ukrainian." In terms of cultural opportunities and space, it is extremely important. To maintain a healthy cultural and linguistic environment, it would be really nice if all online publications practiced such logic.

Should Ukraine oblige at a legislative level the country’s Russian-language online publications to also launch their Ukrainian versions? I do not think so. I believe it should remain a voluntary practice. If pressure is exerted at the legislative level, it is unlikely that the authorities will achieve any success whatsoever. There will arise loads of issues regarding the tools to enforce the rules and the range of media outlets falling under new regulations. A huge debate is inevitable. We live in a world of convergent journalism, where huge news portals exist. It would a rather complicated challenge to make them all translate their entire product into Ukrainian.

Why has it proved easier to solve the "language issue" with TV and radio stations than with the press? That’s because Ukraine could learn from a very good experience of the countries members of the Council of Europe and the CoE recommendations. Besides, it is also a question of compromise between major media players. When interested parties reach some sort of a compromise, this always yields better result. That’s exactly how things worked with the movie market where no complaints ensued following the language shift. When things are done gradually, with due consultation with market participants, a compromise can be reached.

Taras Petriv is a media expert, journalist, President of Suspilnist Foundation, Deputy Director for International Cooperation at the Institute of Journalism of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

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