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Ukrainian media professionals visit Ohio University in midst of political upheaval

Jan. 20, 2005

By Andrea Gibson

As the United States watched Ukraine explode with political unrest in the wake of a highly contentious election for prime minister late last fall, two visiting professionals to the School of Telecommunications wondered how the situation would impact their homeland - and their careers in the former eastern bloc country's emerging mass media.

Joseph RichieAlex Mikhaliuk and Ruslan Petrychka of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy visited Ohio University for two months this fall to learn more about American media practices. Their trip was part of a larger partnership spearheaded by the Institute for Telecommunications Studies, which received a $247,000 grant last year to train and develop curriculum in television production to promote free and independent media in Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union. Joseph Richie, Ohio University assistant professor of telecommunications, arrived in the country on Jan. 7 for the second part of the exchange, during which he'll advise the Ukrainian university on how to set up a new media management course and bolster their existing curriculum.

Although the Ukraine shed communism during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, its media outlets continue to be controlled and financed by political groups, due to the high cost of running radio and television outfits, Mikhaliuk said. Inexpensive sources of news delivery - such as Web-based blogs - are the only media outlets that are truly independent.

Kiev-Mohyla has been bucking the conservative trend, however, by pursuing creation of a more progressive, independent news media education in the Ukraine. During the most recent elections - which pitted government-supported Viktor Yanukovych against the more democratic competitor Viktor Yushchenko - the university allowed Yushchenko to set up a press center to disseminate information to the news media.

Progressive media professionals such as Mikhaliuk and Petrychka supported Yushchenko because the country's current conservative political regime has tried to staunch the university's efforts to foster democratic journalism, they said. "Freedom of speech has been continuously narrowed by the existing government," Mikhaliuk said, noting that he feared further media restrictions if Yanukovych had prevailed in the recent elections.

Though the Ukrainians were concerned about the political situation in their country, they were inspired by the media practices and journalism education they observed during their two-month visit to Ohio University. Their trip involved attending various telecommunications, visual communication and journalism courses to better understand the American approach to mass media.

Mikhaliuk was inspired by the American philosophy of journalist as a professional, unprejudiced source of news information, and hopes that more universities in the Ukraine will embrace the concept. Petrychka, who works on television documentaries and production in the Ukraine, was impressed with the practical experience students can gain for preparation for the work world. "Here when they go to a television station, they can walk in as professionals," he said.

Richie will visit Kiev-Mohyla through March 12 to determine how the Ukrainian university can adapt the American model to fit its needs. "(The fall visit) was helpful in giving us some insight into what Ukrainian media is about and how the laws and education system work," he said.

Richie previously has served as a consultant to private media in the Baltics ? which are close to Scandinavia and more westernized ? and Russia, where media practices have been slower to change. "A lot depends on the system of government," he said. "In Russia, things are still a bit guarded. There's the press, but how much freedom there is ? that's debatable."

Other professionals in the School of Telecommunications, including Technology and Facilities Manager Ben Schneider and Assistant Professor Frederick Lewis, also will travel to the Ukraine in the next year to assist with the new curriculum creation. Richie hopes that faculty and staff from other areas of campus - such as journalism and political science - also will become involved with the effort.

And with Yuschenko's recent emergence as the Ukraine's likely new leader, Richie reports that his colleagues overseas are optimistic about the future of mass media in their homeland. "I feel great about going over now," he said, "because we get to experience the results."

The professor also is eager to see what impact the partnership between Ohio University and the Ukraine might yield. As a result of his consulting work in the Baltics, broadcasting laws changed. "This project - because of the political changes happening - might create bigger things than anything we imagined," he said.

Andrea Gibson is the director of Research Communications.

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