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Why is the “European CNN” becoming the voice of the Kremlin?

Euronews Ukrainian service
Why is the “European CNN” becoming the voice of the Kremlin?
Article by: Dmytro Homon
Translated by: Alya Shandra
A scandal has erupted at the Euronews TV channel, caused by plans to close the Ukrainian service and a prohibition to criticize Russia and Türkiye

Recently, about 50 journalists of the TV channel Euronews held a warning strike against the decision of the channel’s leadership to close the Ukrainian, Persian, and Arabic desks. EurActiv wrote referring to one of the journalists that after the new investors arrived they were forbidden to criticize Türkiye and Russia. An online survey conducted among employees showed that 205 out of 291 employees do not trust the leadership.

So far, the company is trying to talk down the problem and the situation is heading towards the broadcaster, which is partially directly funded by the EU (in 2016 the European Commission allocated  EUR 25 mn to Euronews) turning into a media loyal to Putin’s regime. I.e., the EU will actually fund propaganda against itself.

Targeting the Ukrainian service

Euronews TV channel was born in 1993 as a European response to CNN and BBC. Plans to cut the Ukrainian and several other services arose after new investors appeared in the company. It’s unknown whether the decision was driven more by Russian intrigues or attempts to “optimize costs” due to the financial crisis which the channel is going through.

“Of course, we can say that Euronews is a private company, but it receives 28% of the funding from the EU. Therefore, the EU should check how its costs are spent and whether the decision to close the Ukrainian desk is not discriminating against the Ukrainian service,”  Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Ariev commented on the strike [which took place on 5 December 2016 – Ed.]. He also published the open letter of the strikers.

In it, they write that the Ukrainian service is the only one that is being reduced completely. This is a total of 17 journalists. According to them, the event is politically important because it may lead to imbalanced coverage during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, the Russian desk remains a priority. According to some sources, there are even plans to expand it.

The first discussions on cutting the Ukrainian service started in April 2016. The Russian service at that time had five vacancies but was not allowed to hire Ukrainians. According to journalists, this was a direct order from Moscow.

They were officially at first given the explanation that Ukrainians don’t have sufficient knowledge of Russian and don’t have the necessary cultural and educational baggage. After a scandal, the channel’s leadership changed its rhetoric and said that they would “think it over.” However, the Ukrainians shouldn’t hope for a vacancy in the Russian service.

One reason for the reduction is insufficient funding for the Ukrainian service from Kyiv’s side. There are several reasons for this.

Firtash’s money

In general, the appearance of a Ukrainian service in Euronews is full of contradictions. It was launched amid much  fanfare in 2011 with the participation of Walid Harfouch, who then served as deputy director of the National Television Company of Ukraine (NTU). In June 2013, Harfouch, who never made a secret of his sympathy for the Party of Regions and Yanukovych personally, was the leader on the development of Euronews TV channel in the CIS countries. After the Euromaidan Revolution [which ousted Yanukovych – Ed.], Harfouch and the [now-essentially defunct – Ed.] Party of Regions lost influence on Euronews.

Euronews Ukrainian service
Former NTU deputy director Walid Harfouch, former President Viktor Yanukovych, head of the supervisory board of Euronews Pier Luigi Malesani and CEO of Euronews Michael Peters. Kyiv, October 2011. Photo:

In August 2014 Ukraine “banned” the Russian service of Euronews. Monitoring of the National Council on Television and Radio revealed that the Russian desk distorted the facts in their stories, spread disinformation, and used such phrases as “people’s militia” and “punitive operation” [all phrases used by Russian state media to portray Russia’s war in Donbas as a “people’s uprising” – Ed.].

The Ukrainian service stopped being broadcast in Ukraine after the NTU   of the broadcast stopped due to the NTU renounced its license. This decision was explained by the astronomical price agreed upon by Azarov’s government (EUR 5.5 mn) and the huge debt that the previous management accumulated (EUR 10.8 mn).

In 2015, [Russian-leaning Ukrainian oligarchs – Ed.] Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Lyovochkin from the Inter Media Group purchased the Ukrainian service. They even planned to expand it by adding a team in Kyiv to the team of 20 people in Lyon. The former would have prepared news from Ukraine. The channel was planned to be broadcasBroadcast channel planned from the same premises in the street Dmitrov where the TV channel “Inter”. It is easy to imagine what would be the subjects of Ukrainian Euronews Ukraine to foreign audiences.

However, things did not go well, Firtash’s company Firtash terminated the contract and the Ukrainian desk is about to be closed altogether due to lack of funds.

The Kremlin’s money

Moscow, represented by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, is one of the channel’s investors. Money is invested primarily in the Russian service. Russia started financing Euronews in 2004 by acquiring 17% stake in the channel. In total, Euronews originally had 21 shareholders, mostly state and public broadcasters of EU countries. But a search for new sources of funding resulted in attracting countries with an ambiguous reputation as investors. As a result, Russia soon became one of the four largest owners – along with France’s Televisions, RAI Italian and Turkish TRT.

Participating in the complex financing gave Russia access to a major lever of influencing public opinion in the EU. And even at the expense of the Europeans themselves – the European Commission and the European Parliament allocated the channel about three-quarters of its funding.

Interestingly, the speaker of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova repeatedly chided the channel’s English version for its “distortion” of news, putting the Russian service as an example. In particular, it was an episode about the anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Although this could well be a cover operation, so that external observers would not get the impression that Moscow’s ears are sticking from behind all of the desks of the channel.

The Egyptian-American chord

Now the main shareholder of Euronews is the Egyptian tycoon Naguib Saviris. He owns 53% stake in the channel. In addition, negotiations on the American channel NBC News joining the number of investors are ongoing. They want to buy 15-30% of shares. However, even with the arrival of the Americans, there are no plans to preserve the Ukrainian service in the restructuring the channel.

In a comment to EurActiv, one of the journalists said that the channel, which receives significant infusions from the European institutions, has been destabilized after the arrival of foreign investors and has become a “bad CNN.” And the Russians, in his opinion, are becoming more influential.

Translated by: Alya Shandra
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