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Henry M. Robert

Interview with Petro Poroshenko and… disappointing associations

Myroslava GONGADZE: “The president should introduce a new style of communication with citizens”
13 August, 2014 - 16:44

Last week Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko gave an interview to journalists of central Ukrainian channels: First National TV channel, Inter, Channel 5, 1+1, and ICTV. The topics raised during the conversation included the internal political situation in the country, in particular, the question of overcoming the governmental-parliamentary crisis, holding of early parliamentary elections, actuality of the reforms, as well as international policy and situation in the east of the country. Media experts and journalists on the whole welcomed positively the initiative of the head of the state to address the citizens more actively with the   help of the television. However, the calloused format of the conversation, when several selected journalists ask the questions which were agreed before, produced an unpleasant impression of continued traditions of cooperation with the media typical of Viktor Yanukovych. The latter, as it is known, gave interview very rarely, and for the most part those were foreign television channels. It would seem that the new president, who is quite a media person and is versed in the rules of television, will build a modern and open Western standard of cooperation with the media. However…

“These Soviet traditions should be broken,” journalist and host at the Voice of America Myroslava GONGADZE wrote on her Facebook page after the interview was shown. Another group of selected people, like it has been for many years. For the press service to mark, the president should give either individual interviews, or press conferences.”

Myroslava Gongadze hopes that the president won’t use the Soviet naphthalene format of dialog with the citizens of the country.

“The president’s team is only beginning its work and therefore can start to work from scratch. This especially refers to the press service of the president. I understand that it is extremely hard to change the many-year hardened traditions. But we have taken up changing the country, therefore it is important to change the style and approaches of the work with journalists,” Gongadze noted in her commentary to The Day. “The president has things to say, he is freely communicating both with Ukrainian journalists, and foreign ones, therefore in my opinion he can, like nobody else, successfully introduce a new style. It would be efficient if the president made TV and radio addresses to the people once in a week. Under current circumstances it is important more than ever for the people to feel the support and power of their leader. The presidential press secretary Sviatoslav Tseholko is as well a highly competent man; he could introduce the traditions of holding press briefings and express Poroshenko’s position on certain questions. The press secretary is the image and mouth of the president, he should have the authority and he should speak on behalf of the guarantor of the constitution. As for the work with the journalists, if there is an opportunity, instead of these roundtables held in the form that not just smells of naphthalene, but also evokes negative associations, it would be more efficient to hold short individual interviews and from time to time – briefings of the president, where the representatives of the press could freely talk to him. I understand that this is a question of time, and hopefully people who have come to the Presidential Administration today understand the importance of the reforms and change of the system.”

In fact, millions of Ukrainians on their TV screens saw the same roundtable as in the interviews with Yanukovych. And the questions were asked partially by the same journalists, who were recently bringing the messages of the ex-president to the audience. The only exclusion was Zurab Alasania, director general of the First National Channel. For, as he admitted in an interview with The Day, before that UT-1 was invited to a rendezvous with the president very rarely, but it was regularly demanded to show his interviews taken by other channels. Zurab Alasania considers that the format of conversation of the head of the state with his citizens via journalists should change. The Presidential Administration is aware of this and promises to make improvements.

“Of course, the format of such interviews should be changed. This Soviet standard, which was somewhat modified by Yanukovych, does not meet the demands of time,” Zurab Alasania says, “The press service of the head of state is aware of that, that is why after the recording every journalist was asked to tell his vision of the future cooperation. We immediately drew attention of the head of state that on TV everything will remind of the time of Yanukovych: that we are sitting and talking, and, after all, the place where we are doing this. The president understood this and before the recording offered to go do a different place. I jokingly offered to do this at a graze near the Administration, like Barack Obama does. This is what refers to the place. But a much worse thing is not the place where the conversation with the president takes place, but how it is done. Frankly, in the second part of this so to say interview, we failed to have a dialog, although we wanted. The president answers sincerely every question (they were not agreed beforehand). But his answers are very lengthy, I mean he gives a vast background to every situation. He wants everyone to understand. Hence the answer to one question takes 6 to 7 minutes. This is inadmissible for dynamic modern television. What does it mean? The entire information system which should quickly bring the main messages of the head of state, from the Administration to Ukrainians, does not work. If during the conversation we quickly asked clear and concrete questions, and he answered them in the same dynamic way, like in a table tennis game, this would provide a greater effect. But for this people should know what every question is about. His apparatus should draw attention of the audience to every situation 100 times, then the head of state will only resume in a clear and concise manner. I am sure that this test interview will bury the standards of Yanukovych. We were assured at the press service that in the future they will hold classic briefings and press conferences where all accredited journalists will be admitted.”

By Vadym LUBCHAK, The Day