Head of Ukraine's Contentious Information Ministry Resigns
1 June, 2017

The Ukrainian Minister of Information Policy Yuriy Stets resigned on 31 May, due to health reasons. However, parliament still needs to vote on the decision. His first deputy, Emine Dzhappar, has taken over his responsibilities.

This is the second loss for the Ukrainian cabinet – last week, the Minister of Agrarian Policy, Taras Kutovyi, resigned. However, officials have stated that the two resignations are not connected.

Yuriy Stents resigns from the Ministry of Information. Photo Credit: Oleksandr Kosarev/UNIAN

Hromadske analyses five aspects of Ukraine's first minister of information's legacy.

The Ministry of Information Policy

The Ministry of Information Policy was set up in December 2014 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine that was enhanced by powerful Russian propaganda. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko set the main task was for new cabinet position: "to repel the information war against Ukraine."

Yuriy Stents has been friends with President Petro Poroshenko (right) for many years, and worked with him on "Channel 5". Photo credit: Bohdan Bortakov / UNIAN

Some Ukrainian journalists, including from Hromadske and international media watchdogs condemned the move as an attempt to create a "Ministry of Truth". On December 2, the day the Ministry was established, journalists stood outside the Ukrainian parliament with protest posters that read “Stop the ministry of nepotism,” “Stop the ministry of truth,” “Stop censorship,” “No money for tanks? But the Ministry of Truth has,” etc. The country's Independent Media Trade Union expressed concern over the fact that “the new ministry was created without consultation from  mass journalistic organisations, without taking journalists and media-experts into account”.

Yuriy Stets has been also criticized for nepotism: he is one of President Poroshenko’s closest associates. Stets headed Poroshenko-owned TV channel, “Channel 5,” and President Poroshenko is godfather to his children.

Assembling A Social Media Army Against Russian Propaganda

One of the first major projects Yuriy Stets took on was the so-called “Information army,” designed to stand up against Russian propaganda. Participants in the project had the daily task of conducting information campaigns on social media “in the battle against Russian aggression."  Now, after more than two years since the project was launched, the site mainly deals with reprinting the daily news.

Following the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (right) Yuriy Stets retained his ministerial seat in the new government of Volodymyr Groisman Photo credit: Vladyslav Musienko / UNIAN 

In its first year, the financing for the Ministry of Information Policy amounted to less than $266 thousand (7 million UAH). By 2016, this figure was already increased to $4 million (113 million UAH) and increased again in 2017 to $8.6 million (262 million UAH). According to the state budget, most of this money goes towards television production and demand, including broadcasting abroad.

Mixed Results in Counter-Propaganda

One of the most ambitious projects from the Ministry of Information Politics was the launch of foreign broadcasts. According to official information, UATV is currently broadcast via satellite in Europe, Asia, North and Central America, as well via cable networks in Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Israel, Canada, USA, Germany, Latvia, Moldova and Poland.

However, as an online multimedia platform, it is less far-reaching. Its YouTube channel, for example, has just over three thousand subscribers.

Restoring television and radio broadcast in the Russian occupied territories was another challenge for Yuriy Stets. Since 2015, the Ministry has been introducing certain projects to expand television signals in Donbas. In December 2016, after more than a year of construction, they launched the main transmission tower in Slovyansk. However, it doesn’t have the capacity to transmit to the whole separatist-controlled territory in Donetsk, not to mention the territory controlled by the "Donetsk People’s Republic".

Banning Foreign Media

The Ministry of Information Policy played a leading role in putting together the sanctions lists for foreign journalists covering the conflict in Donbas "illegally." These lists started to appear in 2015. It turned into a scandal when British correspondents from the BBC were put on these sanctions lists.

Stets has been leading a successful campaign of banning Russian media and "anti-Ukrainian" websites, the first ever of this sort in the country's history.

Yuriy Stets did not hide the fact that he used administrative resources to support his projects. Photo credit: Vladyslav Musienko / POOL / UNIAN

Moreover, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has signed a National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine decree from April 28, 2017, which will block access to Russian social media sites "VKontakte" and "Odnoklassniki" as well as some Russian media and some other websites. 

Ukraine has banned the prominent independent Russian television station "Dozhd" (TV Rain) from broadcasting in the country after a report identifying the boundary between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine as the Ukrainian-Russian border angered authorities in Kyiv.

Read More: 5 Facts To Know About The Russian Websites Ban in Ukraine