Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Ukraine's Media in the Context of Global Cultural Convergence

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Ukraine's Media in the Context of Global Cultural Convergence

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper reframes conventional views of Ukraine by showing how global trends of cultural and media convergence are influencing its identity. It looks at how the country's media system developed after independence, particularly television, and how this reveals the ongoing struggle to define what it means to be Ukrainian. Media representations illustrate that three visions coexist: a cosmopolitan, pro-Western one which embraces the forces of globalization; a residual Soviet Ukrainian one that is open to change but has a strong cultural affinity to Russia; and a new/ old Ukrainian identity that draws on deep-rooted local (national) values, which coincide with universal ones such as democracy, with a contemporary flavor and without a Russian dimension. It argues that despite certain unique features caused by "the Russia factor," the new/old country is also being strongly influenced by globalization through mass media, and is part of larger worldwide trends where identity, values, society, and political practices are in flux. (1)

Ukraine became independent when modern globalization went into high gear. (2) Thus the new country with an ancient history has been re-defining its identity and relations with the world in the larger context of global cultural convergence. (3) Mass media are at the center of this process, both reflecting and influencing it. In Ukraine, the state has not systematically imposed a single vision of identity from above, and no consensus has emerged from below on what it means to be Ukrainian today. At the same time, the media system changed radically. Thus the media can be seen as a site where the struggle for representation power, or identity, is visible. In many ways Ukraine is following larger global trends.

A quick look at media consumption patterns and trends shows that Ukrainians now have many comparable tastes and habits to other Europeans and North Americans. In 2012 the most watched TV shows in Ukraine were strikingly similar to those in the US and UK: sports, reality shows, sitcoms, and drama. (4) Over 30 million social network accounts were registered in Ukraine in 2012s, approximately 66 percent of the total population, which puts it on par with the US" and UK. (7) The current state of affairs is dramatically different from the situation in 1991 when Ukrainians were watching Soviet-sanctioned programming on the three state-owned TV channels and the internet, still in its infancy, was not yet available in Ukraine.

In today's globalized world, media is one factor causing identity to be fluid, and this is certainly visible in Ukraine. After twenty years of independence, no consensus has emerged on what it means to be Ukrainian, and media representations show that a number of competing visions coexist. One is a cosmopolitan, pro-Western Ukrainian identity which embraces the forces of globalization. Another is a residual Soviet Ukrainian identity that is open to some change but has a strong cultural affinity to Russia. A third is a new/old Ukrainian identity that draws on deep-rooted local (national) values, which often coincide with more universal ones such as democracy, but with a contemporary flavor and without a Russian dimension. These three are simultaneously distinct yet overlapping. (8)

Ukrainians' evolving identities have profound implications for democracy. While Ukraine's media watchers have focused on censorship," other political scientists and media scholars have been noticing that mass media are transforming politics and identities globally. A new style of politics has emerged in established democracies, where media are changing symbolic frameworks and transforming citizens into audiences. (10) This approach has also become the norm in Ukraine, where politicians reach out to society directly through media and use cultural icons and symbols to construct their public images.

This article presents an overview of how Ukraine's media changed from the Soviet era through the first twenty years of independence, both in terms of the structure of the system and media content. …

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