Half-light, half-darkness: (lack of) transparency of online media outlets ownership – IMI research
the market of online resources is not regulated in Ukraine. Websites are not considered mass media and are not registered as such. They are not bound by law to disclose their contact data and/or owners. According to data of the research by "Reporters without borders" and Institute of Mass Information as of 2017, top 4 owners of online media outlets hold the share of audience of 17.56%. Three of four large owners of online media outlets in Ukraine are media groups "Media Group Ukraine" (3.15%), "1 + 1 media" (4.25%) and UMH (7.49%), which own numerous online media outlets. "The Fourth" and "Obozrevatel" (2.67%) belong to the Brodsky family. After approval of the legislation on transparency of corporate ownership for TV in Ukraine in 2015, all television and radio media outlets were obliged to disclose their ownership structure and make it available on their websites. Yet "online mass media" here means only some websites of TV-channels, radio channels, and their news programs. Large part of information about mass media owners is also available from the Unified State Register of the Ministry of Justice of legal entities, individual entrepreneurs and civil associations. Experts of the Institute of Mass Information decided to research how transparent are the most popular Ukrainian online media outlets and to what extent are they prepared to open information about owners, editors-in-chief or simply contact data of the editorial office. The study covered 50 most popular mass media websites in Ukraine (based on the data of TNS and "Gemius" as of second and third quarters of 2018). The criteria for assessment was availability of contact information, information about editor-in-chief and owner of online resource (that is, the physical entity who is the final beneficiary). Based on the results of this study, the mostly transparent Ukrainian online media outlets, that is, those that provided information for all three positions - contacts, editor-in-chief, and owner (or at least LLC or NGO to which the website is registered), are only seven out of 50 that were monitored (or 14% from the total): ZIK.ua, Hromadske.ua, Liga.net, KP.ua, UNIAN, "Dzerkalo tyzhnia", Focus.ua. The fully transparent are also four Russian websites that were monitored: "Lenta.ru", "Vesti.ru", "Ria.ru" and "KP.ru" which directly indicated that they are government-owned Russian websites, their contact information and the names of editors-in-chief were provided. 14% of the websites turned out to be mostly non-transparent, and provided information only for one of the mentioned items, most had only contacts. These are websites like "Obozrevatel" (complete contact information), Censor.net, Comments.ua, that provided their e-mail and telephone number as contact information, Bagnet.org, Facenews and Enovosty.com provided only their e-mails, Expres.ua published only the corporation it is part of. Один сайт виявився найбільш закритим і не подав жодної інформації за жодною з категорій – це сайт From-ua.com. The remaining 62% of websites have shown an average level of transparency (the information was only in two categories, or all three, but it was not complete).
Contact information98% provided some kind of contact information, 61% of website provided complete contact information. Only e-mail was provided by 6% of online media outlets. These are websites like Facenews.ua, Bagnet.org, Bykvu.com, Enovosty.com, Expres.ua and "Ukrainska pravda". No contact information was provided by two websites – From-ua.com and Expres.ua. It should be pointed out that some websites provided more contacts in the section for their advertising customers, and for some websites, those were the only contacts they provided - for example, websites "Obozrevatel" and Korrespondent.net. This considerably complicates finding such information for an average user who will not normally think to look for contact information in the advertisement section, and the information about the owner - in the rules for using the website or in confidentiality policies.
Information about editor-in-chiefMore than one half of websites (52%) did not indicate names of their editors-in-chief or indicators on their webpages. So the audience does not have information on who is responsible for the content of these mass media, and who needs to be addressed in case of copyright issues, authenticity, ethical issues, etc.
Information about ownersThis category turned out one of the least transparent ones. The research indicated that only 13% of the studied websites indicated the individual who is the final beneficiary. Other 30% of the websites indicated at least the legal entity that legally owns or administrates the website. The final beneficiaries were indicated, first of all, at the websites of the TV channels, as this type of mass media must publish this information according to the law. Of the media resources that are not bound by the law to publish their final beneficiary but did anyway, were Ukrinform.ua, Bykvu.com and Hromadske.ua. In the process of the research, ІМІ experts managed to find relations of almost all online media outlets, except one, with certain individual or legal entity, who, are the relevant final beneficiaries or at least participants (individuals declared in the Unified State Register of the Ministry of Justice). The question of whether those declared people are truly beneficiaries, not just nominees, needs to be researched separately. The only online media outlet that is the least transparent, and that we did not manage to connect to any individual, was the website From-ua.com. No publication data at all was found on this website. The private enterprise "From-UA" was terminated as legal entity starting from July of 2018, even though the website continues to function. In the research, several methods were used to identify individuals who likely own certain website. the simplest variant is when this is specifically mentioned on the website, usually those were the websites of TV channels. A more complicated option is when on the website, certain legal entity is specified (and one can identify declared beneficiaries or participants/founders). Often such people were not overtly specified – not in publication data, but in the rules of the resource, in sections "Advertisement" or "Copyright". If such information was not available on the website, from the Unified State Register of the Ministry of Justice we could at least check if there are any legal entities with names the same as the name of the website. Sometimes, there were several legal entities like this, but the right one could be found based in the same street address or declared types of activities of the legal entity. Finally, one more method of identifying the legal entity behind a website is to check the State Register of Court Resolutions for any claims against the legal entity related to information published on the website (if there were any such claims, and defendant was a legal entity, even though those defendants are normally legal entities). Knowing the relevant legal entity, one can get to specific individuals based on the method described above. The studied online media outlets, depending on owner, can be divided into the following groups: – 14 mass media that can be called Ukrainian media business (with its own specificity) or which belong to Ukrainian journalists ("Obozrevatel", Liga, RBC, "Interfax", "Fakty", "Gordon", "Ukrainska Pravda", "Censor", "Glavkom", "Express", "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia", "Khvylia", Hromadske TV, UNN); - 12 mass media owned by current or former politicians, assistants of politicians and media oligarchs ("Segodnia", ZIK, TSN, channel "24", UNIAN, "NewsOne", "Zakhid.net", "Podrobnosti", "Vesti", "Ukrainski novyny", ICTV, Gazeta.ua); - 6 mass media, the declared owners of which are Ukrainian residents, whose names are not known to broad public, and evaluation of their affiliation calls for a separate study ("Telegraph", Facenews, "Slovo i Dilo ", "Bahnet.org", "Focus.ua", Enovosty.com). - 7 mass media where the declared final beneficiary is a non-resident ("Novoye Vremya", "Znay.ua", 112, "Politeka", "KP v Ukrayini", "Korrespondent", "Strana"). - 6 mass media owned by governments (Ukrinform (Ukraina), Radio Svoboda (USA). This category also includes four state-owned Russian mass media, which make it to top 50 of the most popular websited in Ukraine ("Lenta.ru", "Vesti.ru", "KP.ru", "RIA.ru"); - 5 mass media with unknown final beneficiaries: Comments.ua, Bykvy.com, From-ua, Hronika.info, apostrophe.ua. As of today, the market of online media outlets in Ukraine is more non-transparent than it is transparent. Information about owners is mostly unavailable at the websites proper, they need to be found in registers, and that requires certain knowledge. At the same time, online mass media become ever more influential and affect the voters more and more, they form attitudes of the voters and the public opinion. According to IMI experts, if online media outlets declare that they are honest and not biased, they should also be transparent and diligent about informing the public about their structure of ownership, and should demonstrate that they are honest and transparent about themselves, too. This material was prepared with support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Information and opinions expressed herein, do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Ministry of Czech Republic.The transparency analysis was conducted by NGO "Institute of Mass Information" for 50 online media outlets, in the period of June-August of 2018 . The following websites were analyzed: Obozrevatel.com, Segodnya.ua, Tsn.ua, 24tv.ua, Rbc.ua, Unian.net, Nv.ua, Ictv.ua, Strana.ua, Gordonua.com, Pravda.com.ua, Znaj.ua, 112.ua, Korrespondent.net, Apostrophe.ua, Gazeta.ua, Censor.net, Telegraph.com.ua, Newsone.ua, Liga.net, Glavcom.ua, zik.ua, Facenews.ua, Unn.com.ua, Politeka.net, Expres.ua, Hronika.info, Bagnet.org, Ukrinform.ua, Radiosvoboda.org, Slovoidilo.ua, Kp.ua, Focus.ua, Fakty.ua, Zaxid.net, Podrobnosti.ua, Comments.uа, Vesti-ukr.com, Bykvu.com, From-ua.com, Hvylya.net, Zn.ua, Ukranews.com, Hromadske.ua, Interfax.com.ua, enovosty.com, kp.ru, vesti.ru, ria.ru та lenta.ru.Roman HOLOVENKO, Olena Holub
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