On November 19, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma replaced Vadym Dolhanov with Ihor Storozhuk in the post of director of the National TV Company (NTC). The move was dictated by the need to improve the quality of broadcasts by the UT-1 channel, which NTC manages, with an eye to the upcoming parliamentary elections. The only television that reaches every Ukrainian household and the only state-controlled channel, it could be an ideal campaigning tool under a good manager. Yet under Dolhanov it was the least popular among nationwide channels.
As Ukraine’s state television, UT-1 is expected to serve all the branches of power equally. The broadcasting under Dolhanov failed to do so. Rosy reports about Kuchma’s everyday routine, visits and leisure intermingled with harsh, often-verging-on-offensive criticism of his opponents were given a disproportionate share of air time. Under Dolhanov, no opposition leader could dream of expressing his point of view on state television. UT-1 ignored both the presidential audiotape scandal late last year and the murders of journalists Georgy Gongadze and Igor Aleksandrov. At the same time, Dolhanov was probably the most ruthless critic of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s reform-minded cabinet. With his Soviet-brand hate journalism style, Dolhanov managed to acquire numerous enemies in the cabinet, the parliament and even the Prosecutor General’s Office. During the course of this year, various parties officially recommended, directly to Kuchma, that Dolhanov be dismissed–among them, the cabinet, Yushchenko himself, the Prosecutor General’s Office, parliament (twice) and numerous journalist organizations. Yet Kuchma, reluctant to dump his devout lieutenant, ignored the requests. Dolhanov, confident of Kuchma’s support, didn’t seem to care.
Many analysts say that what actually brought Dolhanov’s dismissal about was his personal conflict with Potebenko. Early this year, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched an investigation into financial violations reported to have occurred in the office of Dolhanov’s wife, Justice Minister Syuzanna Stanik. Dolhanov responded with investigative reports alleging corruption on the part of Potebenko’s son, a customs official. The conflict culminated in a check of the NTC’s financial activities, which Potebenko launched and which concluded that the company was badly mismanaged.
It was, however, neither the “family vendetta” or the various allegations and findings, but Dolhanov’s professional qualities that prompted Kuchma to fire him. Under Dolhanov, UT-1’s popularity ratings dropped to the single digits. Kuchma could not afford to let such a resource as the state television go to “waste” four months before parliamentary elections. And even he was beginning to find Dolhanov’s excessive devotion to himself tiresome. “You should reflect the position of state power as a whole rather than one branch of it or, God forbid, a single person,” he told Storozhuk while introducing him to the NTC management on November 20. “We do not have the right to select any part of society and then forget about everyone else.”
Storozhuk is not coming to NTC, but returning to it. He spent only a short time away. For five years, from 1996 through the end of 2000, he served as its first deputy director. In January of this year, he was appointed chief of the presidential administration public relations office and, just last month, as Kuchma’s spokesman. A television manager since 1984, Storozhuk has decidedly richer managerial experience than Dolhanov, who came to NTC and television only in 1997.
In an interview with the weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, Storozhuk pledged to make changes at NTC, denouncing the self-censorship flourishing at UT-1 and promising to give more air to facts and dissenting views and less to “analytical” brainwashing. Storozhuk is less direct and more diplomatic than Dolhanov. It can’t be expected, however, that he will actually change UT-1 ideology. Appointed by Kuchma, Storozhuk will have to cater to his preferences (Ukrainska Pravda, August 3; UT-1, November 19, 20; Kievskie Vedomosti, November 21; Zerkalo Nedeli, November 24).
PREMIER JOINS PRESIDENTIAL BLOC.