A record number of journalists in Ukraine are planning to stand for parliament in the country’s forthcoming election, saying that “transforming the system from within” will be more effective than simply criticising politicians.
Public reaction to the news that at least 12 journalists, including some of Ukraine’s best known reporters, have joined election lists, has been mixed.
When it was announced on social media, that Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayeem, both high profile media figures, were standing for President Petro Poroshenko’s party, there was an immediate and contradictory response. Some commentators argued that it is exciting to have “new blood” in politics, while others said that journalists should remain independent. Leshchenko justified his decision, writing on Facebook: “I am convinced that if we want changes then, apart from criticising, we should transform the system from within.”
The current election campaign has featured unprecedented focus on popular personalities who gained prominence during the 2013 Euromaidan Revolution and the subsequent war in the East of Ukraine. All the major political parties have been headhunting the new Ukrainian heroes to boost their election lists. These include commanders of various all-volunteer paramilitary battalions, civic activists and journalists.
The rush to sign up reputable personalities is explained by a huge public demand for new faces in politics and an urge for reform, the same drivers that galvanised the Euromaidan protest movement.
The journalists who have agreed to run in the October 26 election, say they have done so because they want to initiate democratic reforms and change the country’s political elites. Leshchenko, who has worked for Ukraine’s most popular news website, Ukrayinska Pravda, for 14 years, said that most of his articles dealt with corruption and dishonest politics. “I know how (corruption) schemes work,” he said, “and I know how we can get rid of them.”
However others are less sure that journalists will be able to become effective reformers. Some journalists have responded to sceptics by announcing that they will team up with other activists to create an inter-faction association to co-ordinate their efforts and hopefully set the parliamentary agenda. They have already outlined their core legislative initiatives, including a new electoral law that will foresee open party lists and transparent funding of political parties. They are also planning to introduce an anti-corruption package of laws, a law on lobbying and other initiatives aimed at democratization and increased government transparency.
Media legislation will be another focus. Natalya Sokolenko, a journalist from Hromadske Radio, running with Hromadianska Pozytsiya Party (Civil Position Party), said: “We need transparency of media ownership”. She has suggested a new media law and if elected, she intends to join the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech and information. She is also lobbying for the introduction of public broadcasting. “We need such strong public broadcasters, like those in Germany,” she said.
Whether Ukrainian journalists succeed in politics and manage to drive changes remains to be seen. Their electoral popularity, however, reveals the trust granted to them by Ukrainians, during a time of high turbulence for the country.
Photo credit: Mykhailo Liapin, Flickr