Ukraine’s media landscape in 2022: martial law unavoidably restricted freedom of expression and Telegram emerged as the primary news source amidst war

For the first time, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom has published an analysis of media pluralism in Ukraine to examine the current state of media pluralism in the country in 2022 using as a reference the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) tool. Report was prepared by the Ukrainian local team lead by Dariia Opryshko at University of Münster.

Due to the war, the constantly shifting territory -and so the population- under the effective control of the Ukrainian Government posed challenges in data collection. Nonetheless, the research behind the report managed to draw some interesting observations. The war decisively impacted the situation of media and citizens’ behaviour towards media: unavoidably the legal regime of martial law in Ukraine restricted the right to freedom of expression, necessitating derogation from international conventions protecting it and the freedom to hold opinions and receive information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

The compliance with the right to access public information significantly declined as well, which included restriction of public access to the state registers that were previously opened. Nevertheless, from May-June 2022 the situation began slowly to improve.

Some TV channels had their licenses suspended for systematically rebroadcasting Russian propaganda, and there was consolidation among nationwide TV channels. Overall news consumption via traditional platforms decreased as audiences transitioned to social networks. Smartphones emerged as the primary source for news consumption, with Telegram taking the lead and surpassing Facebook compared to the previous year.

“Studies show that after February 24, 2022, 63.3% of Ukrainians started reading Telegram channels to receive news, while only 35.9% did so before the full-scale invasion”. Ukranian’s Authorities responded to this change by actively creating their own Telegram channels for direct and fast communication with the population.

The report highlights immense challenges in Crimea and other occupied territories, in connection with the forced application of significantly stricter Russian media legislation. In 2022, the statistics of offenses committed against journalists changed significantly: the Institute of Mass Information tracked 567 cases of freedom of speech violations, with 470 attributable to the Russian Federation, accounting for 80% of the total.

On the other hand, in 2022, the level of media literacy improved significantly: only 6% of respondents had a low level of media literacy, 13% had a below-average level, 50% had an above-average level, and 31% had a high level of media literacy. Author Dariia Opryshko notes, “This change may be explained by the consistent and systematic work of nongovernmental organizations as well as state authorities, aimed at the increase of the media literacy level of the population of Ukraine. Besides, the armed aggression of the Russian Federation undermined trust in Russian sources of information.”

Ukraine countered Russian disinformation with non-governmental fact-checking organisations like StopFake, VoxCheck, TEXTY.ORG.UA, or Media detector. Furthermore, the state established two dedicated institutions: the Centre for Countering Disinformation and the Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security.

Regarding market plurality, it is worth noting that the influence of the so-called ‘oligarchs’ on the media decreased. Opryshko explains this is linked both with oligarchs’ loss of a significant share of their assets and political influence and with the strengthening of the role of the state in the field of media.

In terms of political independence, in Ukraine, state authorities and local self-government bodies have the right to establish television and radio organizations, but not to be founders (co-founders) of print mass media. In any case, since the Russian invasion, state influence on media increased, which is a natural consequence of the unification of nationwide TV channels. Still, the impact on other types of mass media remained relatively lower.

Access the full report here and stay tuned for the upcoming reports from 2023 at our website.