KYIV -- Many in Ukraine and around the world have pinned their hopes for stabilizing the country on the outcome of the May 25 presidential election.
One key to a free and fair election is the performance of the media, and a new report
by the Academy of the Ukrainian Media and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Telekritika gives the Ukrainian media mixed, but passing marks.
The organizations monitored election coverage of major broadcast and print media outlets from March 1 until May 18. They found that the number of suspected "paid" stories supporting one candidate or another was down significantly from past elections.
The report notes that campaign coverage has been "significantly more objective" than in previous Ukrainian elections, in part because the ongoing violence in the east and the clash over Ukraine between Russia and the West have forced election coverage out of the top news slots.
Nonetheless, the report noted that media outlets continue to reflect the political preferences of their owners. State broadcaster Ukraina reportedly gave most attention to Party of Regions candidate Mykhaylo Dobkin. Inter television, which is owned by oligarch Dmytro Firtash, showed a preference for Petro Poroshenko, while the Starlitemedia group of oligarch Viktor Pinchuk leaned toward former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Lack Of Analysis, Context
Regional media also showed biases in terms of the volume of their coverage, says Oleksandr Chekmyshev, of the NGO Equal Opportunity. He notes that Poroshenko was generally favored in western and central Ukraine, while Communist candidate Petro Symonenko (who withdrew from the race on May 16) was favored in the south.
"The [media of the] northern region for a long time backed Yulia Tymoshenko, but in recent days the indicators of Tymoshenko and Poroshenko have evened out," Chekmyshev says.
The main problem with the coverage has been a lack of analysis and context, says Rasto Kuzel, a media-monitoring expert with the Council of Europe. No Ukrainian media have done a good job of juxtaposing the positions of different candidates or of analyzing the differences between candidates' statements and their actions or positions.
"The media are covering the campaign more significantly more objectively than in previous years," Kuzel says. "But they need more analysis in their programs and articles. It isn't enough just to show the candidates and present an article about what they said or did. We need materials that analyze their programs, their activities, and their intentions."
In the wake of the overthrow of former President Viktor Yanukovych, Kyiv needs a broadly acknowledged vote to bolster the central government's challenged legitimacy.
Hoping For A High Turnout
Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on May 14, Ukrainian Central Election Commission Chairman Mykhaylo Okhendovskyy emphasized that "we are electing a president not just for parts of Ukraine, but a president for the whole of Ukraine."
"We would really like to see a high turnout for these elections and only then can the elections be a stabilizing factor in this country as well as something that can settle all of these conflicts in Ukraine," Okhendovskyy said.
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have been attempting to disrupt the May 25 election, threatening to block polling stations in areas under their control.
In comments on May 24, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk emphasized the government's efforts to make it possible for all Ukrainians to vote.
"We have not allowed bandits sponsored from abroad and foreign mercenaries to disrupt the elections," Yatsenyuk said in a video address. "We have fully secured financing and legal grounds for the poll. Your vote will never be stolen again by anyone. It belongs to you alone to make your choice. It will express the will of Ukrainians from the west, the east, the north, and the south."
Campaigning in Ukraine officially came to an end on May 24, the day before polls open.
According to opinion polls, Poroshenko has about 44 percent support, followed by Tymoshenko with 8.4 percent. If no one wins more than 50 percent in the first round, a second round will be held on June 15.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report