Ukraine Today aims to clarify Russian media misinformation

Media mogul Igor Kolomoisky has his sights set high for the 24-hour news channel

It broadcasts everything from Ukrainian athletes competing at a track and field event in China to the capture of 10 Russian soldiers allegedly fighting in central Ukraine—with lively music and weather updates in between.

Ukraine Today is the latest salvo fired in the war for hearts and minds between Russia and Ukraine. The station, currently available via satellite and online, is the brainchild of Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, whose vast holdings include 1+1 Media Group, which has an 11 percent market share within the country. The channel aims to venture into western Europe and North America via cable next year.

“The last eight or nine months, since last winter, it’s been increasingly clear that there has been a large-scale effort by Russia of misinformation,” said Peter Dickinson, the new editor in chief, in a telephone interview. “There is an obvious need to respond to it.”

This is the second project Dickinson has led with Kolomoisky, whose personal fortune is believed to be worth around $4 billion and is also governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine, where he controls a large share of industry.

The 24-hour news channel promises to provide “a fresh and uniquely Ukrainian perspective on global current affairs”—aka, a counterpoint to Russian news outlet RT. Ukraine Today’s launch Sunday was cheekily timed to coincide with a national holiday marking the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Dickinson said he has been promised independence from government and owner interference. Still, like RT, the channel will decidedly have an editorial slant. “We are a platform for Ukraine. There’s no secret about that,” said the 38-year-old UK native.

Dickinson previously worked with Kolomoisky on the launch of Jewish News One, a three year old news station that shuttered in April. Its aim had been to counterbalance Al-Jazeera, which Kolomoisky saw as a too slanted toward a Muslim point of view.

While Jewish News One was a personal project of Kolomoisky, who reportedly contributed $5 million, Ukraine Today is owned by his 1+1 Media Group. Dickinson would not discuss funding except to say he was hoping to hire correspondents in major European countries this fall.

The channel’s 10 current journalists are all former Jewish News reporters, most stationed in Ukraine. An examination of the first two days shows that they are not yet doing independent reporting or their own interviews. They take video from wire services—Reuters and TSN, the country’s largest agency—and Ukraine Today staff do the voiceovers. Dickinson said he hoped to start studio broadcasting soon.

While it was too early to judge the independence or quality of Ukraine Today, Brian Bonner, chief editor at the Kyiv Post, agreed with Dickinson that the bias and inaccurate reporting from Russia was phenomenal.

“It’s like an open sewer spewing lies, with the underlying theme that Ukrainians are the enemy and the United States and other European nations are close behind in a bid to encircle Russia and foment revolution against Putin,” said Bonner. While some of the Ukrainian government’s statements lack credibility and have a propagandistic quality to them, Bonner said, “the scale of the misinformation doesn’t approach the Kremlin’s all-out information war.” He noted that Russia was three times the size of Ukraine and had significantly more resources and reach on the world stage.

The Kremlin-sponsored state media characterized the EuroMaidan protests “as a fascist revolt rather than a democratic uprising against a corrupt authoritarian regime,” Bonner said in an email interview.

Despite this perceived need for media that tells the other side, it is questionable whether there is sustainable value in an international channel devoted to all things Ukraine.

“The international audience for English-language news about Ukraine is not large,” Bonner said.

Dickinson agreed. The project has been greeted with sympathy and skepticism, he said: sympathy for the lopsided war in Ukraine, and skepticism over whether the channel will gain traction. That is why he envisions Ukraine Today as being a niche station that provides a platform for all eastern European countries, particularly Balkan states, to tell their stories.

But for Ukraine Today to stand a chance, it must prove to be a credible source of journalism, not merely an anti-Russian or pro-Ukrainian government public relations mouthpiece.

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.