Espreso TV: Freie Berichterstattung in der Ukraine in Kriegszeiten
PRINT&more | Give us some insight and information about independent journalism in Ukraine in general – and about Espreso TV.
Anastasiya Ravva | Espreso TV channel is a Ukrainian independent news channel. It started its work in autumn 2013 during the first days of the Revolution of Dignity. Our signal was broadcasted by the leading foreign TV channels, and the whole world followed the events on the Maidan in Kyiv 24/7 under the Espreso logo.
Today, Espreso is a Ukrainian information media brand, which includes a TV channel, a news website, a YouTube channel, profiles in social networks and an innovative mobile application. Espreso TV channel is one of the leading Ukrainian information TV channels. We can be watched not only in Ukraine but all over the world. Espreso is available on two satellites - SES Astra and HotBird and via cable operators in almost all European countries. In particular, via Germany‘s largest cable operator telekom.de. So far, we broadcast only in Ukrainian. But in the future we plan to open an English-language editorial office and an international version of the channel. Espreso is the undisputed leader among information YouTube channels in Ukraine. For example, in September 2022, our videos were watched more than 400 million times. The espreso.tv website has more than 1 million visitors daily. For many years it has been included in the „white list“ of the highest quality media according to the Institute of Mass Information. We also have a page in English Espreso TV.
Our slogan is „Ukrainian view of the world“. The channel is created by like-minded people for whom the greatest values are Ukraine, democracy and freedom of speech. Our priority is to support our country on its way to the EU and NATO. For many years we have been cooperating with leading international media organizations: BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, France 24.
How did the war change your work?
A. Ravva | Our studios are located in two cities - in the capital, Kyiv, and in the West of Ukraine, in Lviv. When Kyiv region was under occupation, the vast majority of our employees worked from Lviv. When the full-scale invasion began, we realized that a large number of our programs were no longer relevant, that our viewers wanted to watch the news 24/7. We completely changed our broadcasting grid, our content and adapted to the military realities. We have always been a news channel, so broadcasting in the mode of a round-the-clock information marathon is not something new for us. We know how to do it professionally. But some of our journalists who used to work on thematic programs had to reorient themselves or acquire new professional skills. For example, the presenter of the program on medicine and health became a news presenter, and the editor of the program on football is now working on an information talk show as well. I am especially proud of my colleagues who have radically changed their profession and are now defending Ukraine in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defense.
Today, Ukrainian independent media are going through difficult times. This is primarily due to Russia's war against Ukraine. Many media outlets had to change their working conditions, including relocation of offices to safer areas, transfer of production to basements or shelters. According to the study, almost 80% of media workers changed their location, leaving the regions where active hostilities were or are ongoing.
Due to hostilities in Ukraine, the advertising market was completely absent for several months. Until June 2022, there was no advertising in the media at all, and no earnings, respectively. Since summer, the market has gradually recovered, but reaches no more than 30% of the previous volume.
In the first days of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, 4 large media groups (owned by Ukrainian businessmen, i.e. oligarchs) and 2 state TV channels united in a joint information marathon United News. They actually abandoned their broadcasting and created a single channel. Later, the authorities obliged other information channels to broadcast this marathon. This decision was explained by compliance with the unified information policy. Espreso TV channel was not invited to participate in this marathon. This is strange for us, because we have been working for many years to create news content, and making an information marathon 24/7 is not something difficult for us. Moreover, we have become hostage to this decision of the authorities. After all, referring to the requirements of wartime, our channel was disconnected from the most widespread TV network in Ukraine - T2. This took away almost 30% of our audience. Now we are being replaced by the state TV channel Rada and the marathon United News. We remain available to our viewers on other networks - cable operators, satellite, YouTube. However, we consider such actions of the authorities as restriction of freedom of speech in Ukraine. After all, these actions were illegal and are not supported by any documents or explanations of the relevant authorities.
How are you operating your business in Ukraine? Is broadcasting without interruption possible? Do you face cyber attacks?
A. Ravva | All Ukrainians today live under constant shelling by Russian troops. Russian missiles are killing people, destroying civilian and critical infrastructure. In October, Russian troops began to shell Ukraine's energy system even more actively. Ukrainian cities and towns were cut off from electricity supply. Our TV channel was also without power supply for several days. Fortunately, we have an uninterruptible power generator and a Starlink for the Internet. Of course, this is not enough to work in full, to use all our studios and computers, but it allows the channel to broadcast uninterruptedly. But the shelling continues every day. We are grateful to Ukrainian power engineers and rescuers who are doing everything possible and impossible to quickly repair the systems.
During the first month of the war our website was subjected to active DOS-attacks from the Russian Federation. These attacks were so strong that there were days when the site did not work at all. But our ICT specialists were able to significantly increase the level of protection of our web resources and even though the attacks still happen, our website works smoothly.
Do you have restrictions or guidelines from the Ukrainian government?
A. Ravva | In Ukraine, there are certain restrictions on the dissemination of information. For example, it is forbidden to report the places of shelling and Russian missile hits - earlier than three hours after the strike, if it is a civilian object, and 12 hours in case of a military one. Of course, it is also forbidden to report on the movement of our troops and equipment. For example, there were cases when our military commanders were working on the front line and filmed the work of a tank division or artillerymen on the positions, then we are allowed to broadcast such materials only in a day or even three days later. Many state registers are closed now in Ukraine, government and parliament meetings are not available to the media. Journalists do not fully know what issues will be and have been considered, what decisions have been made, etc. Of course, this complicates the work of journalists, but we understand that this is due to the requirements of wartime.
How is the Russian and other propaganda affecting your work?
A. Ravva | Propaganda is one of the aspects of modern warfare. And we are fighting it on our information front and we do it quite successfully. One of our most popular programs is „Chronicles of the Information War“, where our journalists debunk fakes of Russian media and narratives that Russia spreads in foreign media. For example, that Ukrainians are making biological weapons in underground laboratories, or that everyone in Ukraine is a Nazi, even small children. Or that we are blackmailing Russians with a nuclear threat or a „dirty bomb“, or that we want to blow up our own nuclear power plant, which is now occupied by Russians. I do not want to list further, you see that all of this is simply ridiculous.
Every day, Russian propaganda is gaining more and more momentum and not only purely informational. From the first days of the full-scale invasion, Russia began jamming the Ukrainian TV signal and launching missile attacks on TV towers in Ukraine. In particular, Russians shelled TV towers in Kyiv, Rivne, Lutsk, Kherson. Entire TV and radio companies and newspaper offices were seized in the temporarily occupied regions. Russians turn on their TV channels instead of Ukrainian ones. They are trying to influence people who have not managed to leave, spreading disinformation and propaganda. Just a month ago, Russian troops destroyed a TV tower in Luhansk region, which was broadcasting the signal of Ukrainian TV channels within a radius of 50 kilometers to the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, providing a signal to about 200 thousand residents of the region.
Who is your audience?
A. Ravva | Our audience began to emerge along with our TV channel from the first days of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. Our viewers fully share our values - democracy, freedom of speech, Euro-Atlantic future of Ukraine. It is very important for us to "hear" our viewers, so we encourage them to communicate. We still receive paper letters to the editorial office from our older viewers, a large number of emails, posts and comments on social networks. We also regularly hold interactive broadcasts, during which viewers can ask questions to the hosts and experts or take part in a poll on hot social topics. Of course, the TV audience all over the world is older people. We attract our younger viewers through our website and YouTube channel.
How do you finance your business in times of disruption and war?
A. Ravva | The key challenge for the media in Ukraine during the war is funding. The advertising market was virtually non-existent for several months from the beginning of the war and only in July began to gradually recover. According to research, the advertising market in Ukraine is now 10-30% of what it was last year. In July, the largest Ukrainian media group „Ukraine“ ceased its operations. Many other media outlets are forced to cut their costs by laying off or sending their employees on unpaid leave. Before the war, many TV channels in Ukraine were dependent on advertising, but now most of their income comes from OTT platforms, satellite operators, monetization on YouTube and websites. Espreso, in particular, is able to function due to, among other things, grants from international organizations.
How do you keep the morale of your team and your journalists high in these times?
A. Ravva | First of all, it is the victory of Ukraine. We are convinced that it is ahead, the only question is when it happens. We live, work, breathe only for our victory. This is the most important thing for every Ukrainian and for every Espreso employee.
Many of our employees or their relatives are under the occupation of Russian troops in Kyiv, Kherson and Sumy regions. The places of several of our employees were destroyed or severely damaged during the shelling of Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel. Our company provides our employees and their families with accommodation in Lviv, as well as psychological support for those who need it. We have a well-equipped and comfortable office and studios. In particular, back in March we set up a studio in a bomb shelter. During air raids, which often happen in Ukraine, no one can be safe and we cannot endanger the lives of our employees for the sake of broadcasting. In case of an air raid alarm, the team quickly moves to the bomb shelter and continues broadcasting from there.
Do you consider yourself as a potential target?
A. Ravva | According to the monitoring of the Institute of Mass Information, 41 journalists have been killed since the beginning of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine. Among them 37 Ukrainians and 4 foreign journalists – from Lithuania, France and two from the US. On October 21, my colleague Vasyl Yavorskyi, director of Espreso, who went to defend Ukraine from the first days of the full-scale invasion, was killed at the front.
During 8 months of war, Russia committed 435 crimes against journalists and media in Ukraine. At least 215 broadcasters, online and print media have completely or partially ceased their activities due to the hostilities and occupation. So, yes... We, journalists, are definitely one of the targets for the Russians.
What are your plans for the future of Espreso TV? What are your personal plans?
A. Ravva | On the morning of February 24, everything changed. Our TV channel had very ambitious plans for the spring of 2022 – a new television season. Launching new programs, talk shows, and a new large studio in Kyiv. But since the full-scale invasion, all our plans have no longer been relevant. We could not plan anything ahead, because we did not know what awaited us. Shelling of cities, occupation of entire regions, danger everywhere. In March, we did not plan our broadcasts for more than three days in advance. Gradually, the planning period increased to two weeks, a month, etc. In September, we prepared a strategic plan for the company's development for 2023, planned the broadcasting network, identified our priorities and forecasted our earnings. We hope that we will be able to implement everything.
As for my personal plans, I only want my family and friends to be safe. I want to see everyone, hug them, and make sure that they are all right.
How can you be supported outside of Ukraine?
A. Ravva | First of all, it is to support Ukraine in the fight against the aggressor. Actions in support of Ukrainians in your cities, dissemination of information in the world about what is really happening. Donations for our Armed Forces and assistance to refugees. For Espreso, it is certainly the distribution of our products for the international audience: our website Espreso TV, our YouTube channel All about Ukraine | Espreso TV and our Twitter Account. We are also looking for grantors and organizations that support the media. We are always open for cooperation.
Freedom of the Press – what does it mean for you personally?
A. Ravva | For me, it is a guarantee and confidence that no one will influence the editorial policy of the company. Neither the authorities nor investors. This is honesty to our audience and absolute adherence to journalistic standards – reliability, balance and objectivity. In the context of the full-scale and information war that Russia is currently waging against Ukraine, freedom of the press is of particular importance. I have already mentioned that the Russian military kills and imprisons Ukrainian journalists, deprives them of the opportunity to work and commits crimes against them.
What do you wish for your future?
A. Ravva | As I said earlier, now all Ukrainians want only one thing – a speedy victory. This is what really keeps us all afloat. After the victory we will face a difficult period – the reconstruction of our beautiful country. It is also very important for us that Ukraine becomes a member of the European Union and NATO, because only this guarantees that in the future our northern neighbor will not dare to attack us again.