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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Freedom and responsibility

Volodymyr Rizun on Ukrainian journalism and his career plans
13 February, 2007 - 00:00

Last Monday Volodymyr Rizun, the well-known journalist and director of the Institute of Journalism at Kyiv Taras Shevchenko National University, celebrated his 50th birthday. For his achievements in the fields of journalism and letters Rizun was awarded the Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko prizes, and the Order of the Holy Equal to the Apostles Prince Volodymyr the Great, 2nd and 3rd degrees. The Day wishes Mr. Rizun good health, domestic happiness, long life, and every kind of professional success.

What growth problems is Ukrainian journalism grappling with today?

“All that is typical of a society also occurs in journalism. Ours is the journalism of a young democracy in the making. This comes through in the vagueness of basic social categories. Take the problems of freedom and responsibility. As we gained independence, we focused on absolute freedom. People all thought they could say whatever they wished. And journalists suddenly forgot about responsibility. In the Soviet era responsibility was overemphasized. Finally, I would not give an expert estimate of the current percentage of freedom and responsibility in journalism. I had a few meetings the other day, where we discussed journalism in the European context. We noted that the quality of Ukrainian journalism is improving. Before, we missed out on reportorial journalism, but now we have restored it - much to the detriment of quality political journalism that was once the Ukrainian school’s asset.

“What is quality journalism? It is analytical, art-oriented, and civic journalism, the journalism of commentaries and attitudes. It seems to me that Ukrainian journalists are beginning to understand that they lack analysis. They are already reflecting on the extent of responsibility that goes with freedom. This is responsibility not only inside a collective, towards one’s colleagues, but above all to society.”

You constantly deal with students. What is the face of young Ukrainian journalism?

“We have the younger generation, but it hasn’t built up enough muscle. Youth is always a little free-wheeling, but once a professional generation is raised on a new basis it begins ‘to sprout a moustache,’ it becomes wiser and is the bearer of eternal categories, this time on new, democratic, foundations. There are diverse political views in Ukraine, there are diametrically opposing viewpoints that are not always based on love of Ukraine. In this sense, our freshmen are not little angels but the real products of this open society. And it is very difficult to lick young people into shape by making any romantic efforts in the current social conditions.

“We are very well aware that patriotism and love of the nation and people are normal things. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, we also tossed out these important things, together with all that was related to totalitarianism. But now that we are traveling freely to the West, we see that it is good form to love your country. But we had to pass this stage in order to understand that there are categories that do not depend on a regime. I think the young people who are growing up in independent Ukraine are mostly people who know that they have a homeland to love and cherish. It is easier to bring up youth in this kind of environment.”

What are the most important things that a young journalist should know?

“First of all, they should know purely professional things: how to hold a microphone and a voice recorder, and how to compose a text. But the main thing for a journalist is the question of choice. In spite of all our claims that we are trying to paint a more or less true and complete picture of the present and are writing a daily history, a journalist always faces the choice of topic, an event, a hero, etc. Young journalists should be taught selection methods: this is what can be really taught. It is a matter of culture, conscience, and historical memory.”

What are you working on?

“There are lots of plans. I am writing a manual on mass communication theory. I am planning to develop, in co-authorship with our institute’s lecturer Tetiana Trachuk, a manual on Ukrainian journalism research - these are the courses that I teach. October will mark five years of my radio program ‘The Right to Speak.’ I would like to publish One Hundred Best Live Broadcasts with Volodymyr Rizun. Of course, I have more than a hundred, and the book will contain transcripts of the most interesting shows. I also want to issue a CD with the best recorded fragments.”

What do you like most about your work?

Our greatest pleasure is that we always work with young people. The younger generation will not let you grow old. Working with students means stepping onto the same plane as the younger generation. You have to understand young people, because once a teacher breaks away from students, he or she comes into psychological conflict with them. But if you maintain this communication, you seem to grow younger. I absolutely don’t feel that I am 50 years old.”

Interviewed by Olha POKOTYLO, The Day