Four months ago, the Ukrainian government launched The Gaze website in English to inform foreigners about current events in Ukraine and about Ukraine’s economy, culture, and history. All the content for The Gaze is created by private contractors, whose services are paid for by the state enterprise «International Broadcasting Multimedia Platform of Ukraine», using the finances from the budget of the Ministry of Culture.
NGL.media learned that only in four months, over UAH 60 million was spent on The Gaze, and these expenses are likely to increase with time. This being said, most content, at least in a text form, can hardly be called creatively different – very often, these are just re-written materials from other mass media.
Why did the government decide to spend dozens of millions of taxpayers’ hryvnia on a new English-language media during the war when it has already been financing several similar projects? Let’s figure it out.
What is international broadcasting, and what is The Gaze for here?
In 2014, when Ukraine faced Russian aggression, the country needed understanding and support from the world. One of the ways to receive this support is the high profile of the country in mass media, i.e. spreading the information about events in Ukraine among foreigners.
Until 2014, the Ukrainian state international broadcasting was represented by the UTR і the World Service «Ukrainian Television and Radio Broadcasting» , the television and radio broadcasting company, which broadcast news coverage in English since 2009. Considering the general quality of the work of state broadcasters at the time, the programmes of the UTR had no particular impact on the formation of Ukraine’s image abroad. Therefore, in December 2014, the decision was made to launch full-fledged international broadcasting.
In October 2015, the International Broadcasting Multimedia Platform of Ukraine, created based on the UTR and BTB і «Bank Television», the television and radio broadcasting company of the National Bank of Ukraine , started its work under the brand name UATV і the satellite TV channel, UATV, broadcast in Ukrainian, Russian, Crimean Tatar, and English languages and the state information agency «Ukrinform» і in addition to the Ukrainian version, «Ukrinform» has its English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, and Polish versions .
However, after a few years, UATV stopped its TV broadcasting – it was used as the foundation for the SE International Broadcasting Multimedia Platform of Ukraine to create two exclusively Russian-language channels in 2016 – «Dom»
і a satellite TV channel, «Dom», was created in 2021 for the residents of occupied territories and internally displaced persons
and «FreeDom» і created in 2022 to broadcast the TV marathon about the course of the Russian-Ukrainian war .
Obviously, the Russian-language TV channels, financed from the budget, had no impact on the formation of Ukraine’s image in the world, so in early June 2023, the SE International Broadcasting Multimedia Platform of Ukraine (IBMPU), financed from the budget of the Ministry of Culture, launched an English-language digital platform, The Gaze. It has been designed to highlight the events in Ukraine for the Western audience – the residents of the USA and the UK, first and foremost.
The representatives of the SE IBMPU claimed to have first developed several concepts of a new media, which they had tried to use with Americans, the British, Australians, and even the residents of the Netherlands. Having taken the trial results into consideration, they decided that the content of The Gaze would consist of three main blocks: textual news feed, analytical articles, and videos.
Yulia Ostrovska, the Director-General of the SE IBMPU, believes that the content for The Gaze «should meet current demands of the Western audience and have intrinsic inclusions of Ukrainian narratives; if required, it should contain the comments of speakers, experts, analysts, and necessary statistical information».
«In some materials, we can talk about Ukraine directly, if there is a top event or topic, like grain deal and consequences of Russia’s leaving it […] But in most materials, our authors should mix Ukrainian stories with those from other countries or global informational trends in a very delicate and measured manner,» Ostrovska explained in her written comments for NGL.media, and stressed that at present, The Gaze fulfils all its designated tasks. But is it really so?
What has UAH 60 million of the budget money been already spent on?
The state budget has already spent over UAH 60 million on The Gaze, including UAH 11.6 million for the development and technical support of the platform; the rest has been paid for the content.
The Gaze is elaborated and supported by Computer Information Technologies LLC. The first order for the amount of UAH 10 million was received by the company in 2022 at the open tender, where it was the only participant. This year, the company has signed an additional contract for UAH 1.6 million even without any formal tender – via a direct agreement.
The company Computer Information Technologies (CIT) belongs to Oleksandr Yefremov and Serhiy Malomen, Kyiv residents who also own CIT Group LLC, CITSoft LLC, and CITSoft Plus LLC. These companies have experience in elaborating large-scale services; for instance, the Ministry of Digital Transformation placed an order for them to elaborate the Diia portal of online services.
The entire content of The Gaze, i.e. news, articles, and videos, is produced by the third-party contractors selected by the competition committee, consisting of four employees of the SE IBMPU, in early May 2023 by the results of creativity competitions і the official results of creativity competitions for the production of videos and text materials for The Gaze .
Direct agreements were signed with all the third-party contractors. As per the data of the Prozorro portal of state procurements, the cost of the agreements for video production, already signed by the parties, has reached UAH 35 million, and the ones for the news coverage and articles – UAH 11 million. Taking into account the elaboration and support for the website, the total cost of the project has already exceeded UAH 60 million for four months of its existence.
We have failed to find out how many people create the content for The Gaze, as most contractors have refused to provide this information.
Who produces video content?
On its website and YouTube, The Gaze posts a total of seven programmes with not quite clear frequency і sometimes, they post several episodes of the same programme in one day, and sometimes, there are no new episodes for several weeks .
Four of these – a puppet show, «Hidden Angle», a socio-political programme, «Talk For More», a cooking show, «Chefs Next Door», and a comic show, «European Edge» – are produced by Marker Media LLC, which has signed with the SE IBMPU 12 agreements for the total amount of over UAH 26 million for the content production till the end of the year.
The cooking show is the most expensive – UAH 261 thousand for one episode, and each is viewed about 900 times on YouTube on average. Yet over UAH 8 million has already been spent on producing «Chefs Next Door».
At present, the official owner of Marker Media LLC is 33-year-old Denys Sezin from Bucha. However, till 2016, this company belonged to a well-known Russian showman, Oleksandr Tsekalo, and Ruslan Sorokin from Belarus.
Denys Sezin is sure that his programmes enjoy great success abroad, including television, «As far as I know, these programmes have a nice rating there.» Yet his words contradict the official response from the SE IBMPU, which states that all The Gaze programmes are available only online and are not broadcast on TV at all.
Three more programmes on historical topics і «History», «Shunned History», and «The Power of Reason» are made by different contractors – Dmytro Petrovych, a sole entrepreneur і UAH 2.6 million for 22-minute-long programmes , Maksym Yuriyovych Krul, a sole entrepreneur і UAH 4.4 million for 22–25-minute-long programmes , and «1+1 Production» і UAH 1.6 million for 15-minute-long programmes .
Very expensive news
NGL.media analysed the tender documents of all the contractors, creating the textual content for The Gaze, and learned that the estimated cost for the creation of one short news item і the volume of the news item, stated in the agreements, is «at least two thousand symbols» – and the contractors follow it almost literally: among The Gaze news items, analysed by NGL.media, none exceeded 2.5 thousand symbols is UAH 4,000, and the article і of at least 5,000 symbols costs UAH 8,500.
These are high prices for the Ukrainian market. «If this is a simple re-written text, on average, it costs about UAH 250 for one thousand symbols. A news item for two thousand symbols should cost UAH 600 at most, maybe UAH 700, if it is really interesting», explained Tetiana Honchenko, a freelance journalist, to NGL.media. «Yet if a person dived into some documents and found something significant, then it can cost even UAH 2,000.»
«As for the texts, I think that [UAH 8.500] is rather an overcharge, but it is not sky-high; this is an English-language website, after all. But if the re-written news item costs UAH 4,000 – it is not real. This could be the price of a nice creative analytical text», believes Natalia Lyhachova, the editor-in-chief of Detector Media.
According to the signed agreement, for UAH 4,000 per one news item and UAH 8,500 per one article, the contractors should have created the texts «to promote Ukrainian narratives […], positioning Ukrainians and Ukraine as a part of Europe.» Yet, at least every other post of The Gaze does not touch on Ukraine even indirectly – for instance, the news about taking the oldest whisky in the world to the auction in the UK or the news that Germany may legalise the use of cannabis, the largest batch of cocaine was confiscated in Ireland, and Arnold Schwarzenegger suffers from dyslexia.
The topics of the articles on The Gaze are not much different from the news coverage. While the materials, at least mentioning Ukraine, prevail in the sections on Politics and Economics, the sections on Technology, Life, and Culture do not present many of such texts. Instead, the readers are suggested selections of movies and serials, information about equipment for picnics or the director Roman Polanski.
At first, all the articles are written in Ukrainian
Although The Gaze is a solely English-language resource, the agreements with the contractors stipulate that all the materials shall be written in Ukrainian and English and indicate the requirements for their translation.
Ihor Petrenko, the founder of the think tank «United Ukraine» NGO, which creates the news items for The Gaze, confirmed for NGL.media that all the texts are written in Ukrainian and then translated into English because «it is easier this way».
«Since the very beginning, it was about writing in English right away. All of us here are fluent in English, but we write in Ukrainian so that it is easier to discuss some nuances of the materials and then the authors translate them. Or we employ a translator», explained Ihor Petrenko.
The leadership of the SE IBMPU explains the high cost of the news and articles for The Gaze by the fact that it encompasses the cost of the entire production process – the work of the author, editor, corrector, translator, and administrator of the content.
No contractor was willing to disclose the actual salaries of journalists, editors, or translators. Yet, in one of the recruiting websites, NGL.media found a vacancy posted by one of the largest The Gaze contractors for the production of texts – Imaginarium LLC. Three months ago, this company was willing to pay UAH 20–40 thousand to the English-speaking editor, a native speaker, for editing the news after local translators.
Judging by the declared scope of work, the editor with excellent English should have been paid about UAH 125 per news item. Even if we assume that the translator of the lower rank, a corrector and an administrator receive UAH 125 per news item too, and add the standard market fee for the author (UAH 600), the total cost of the news item should not have exceeded UAH 1,200 – as opposed to UAH 4,000, paid by the SE IBMPU.
How popular is the content of The Gaze?
In addition to the website, the video clips of The Gaze are also posted on the YouTube channel with the same name, which currently has 6.55 thousand subscribers and less than 2.8 million views. In four months, this channel posted more than 1,100 clips which were viewed by several dozens to several hundreds of people. However, some video clips «fly up» to thousands of views, and only limited content is viewed tens of thousands of times і on average, the video of The Gaze on YouTube is viewed about 2,500 times .
In a written response to NGL.media, Volodymyr Tovkachevsky, the representative of the SE IBMPU, states that the videos of The Gaze on YouTube are primarily popular in the UK (79% of all the views); the rest are viewers from Ireland, the USA, Ukraine, and Canada. We cannot confirm these data using independent sources. Still, according to the information from the SimilarWeb service, for some reason, the website of The Gaze is most popular in the Czech Republic (43.8% of all hosts), the USA (24.1%), Hungary (7.6%), Ukraine (6.5%), and Lithuania (3.5%).
Generally, the website of The Gaze, the elaboration and administration of which has already cost over UAH 11.6 million, does not enjoy great popularity yet. It has been visited about 65 thousand times in four months. For comparison – the English version of Ukrinform, which is also financed by the state budget, has had 8.8 million views in the same period. Meanwhile, the private The Kyiv Independent has had over 18 million visits during this period.
A considerable part of the news items on The Gaze is rewriting і writing someone’s news items using one’s own words the coverage of international news platforms like Bloomberg, Reuters, etc., with relatively good quality. NGL.media checked several news items for plagiarism і using the online scanner plagiarismdetector.net and the results demonstrated about 90% authenticity.
«The aim has been defined rather nicely: to showcase Ukraine as a part of Europe. Yet the concept of the website is not clear from the standpoint of implementation. It seems to me they have not realised how to achieve it yet,» contemplates Natalia Lyhachova, the editor-in-chief of Detector media, the profile online publication about mass media, in the conversation with NGL.media . «As for analytical materials, there actually are some analyses, some work. Sometimes, one really should write not only about Ukraine. But I can’t understand why this news feed should spark the interest of an English-speaking reader. Why does a reader have to see the news about Schwarzenegger on the website, seemingly dedicated to Ukraine? We want to showcase Ukraine in the European context and instead fill the news feed with the rewritten materials from the English-language sources which the English-speaking reader can read in those very sources.»
However, the contractors preparing the news and articles for The Gaze are of a different opinion and quite happy with their work results.
«Of course, we have high regard for the quality of our work and the correspondence to the concept and aim of the project,» was the response to NGL.media from Volodymyr Tatarenko, the owner of Imaginarium LLC, which is to produce 1,140 news items and 86 analytical articles for the price of UAH 5.3 million by the end of the year.
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Alesia Olehivna Shtohrin, a sole entrepreneur, received UAH 5.3 million for creating the content for The Gaze and is to produce 1,026 news items and 112 articles by the end of the year. Previously Alesia Shtohrin was the producer of such programmes as «Turnkey Deputy» and «Exchange of Wives» on «1+1» TV channel.
Another contractor that will work for The Gaze is the think tank United Ukraine NGO (100 news items for UAH 400 thousand), which belongs to Ihor Petrenko from Kyiv. He owns several more companies, including We Ukraine LLC, established by former employees of Rinat Akhmetov’s media holding. Besides, Ihor Petrenko is a person from the database of pseudo-experts of the Texty.org.ua project.
Yulia Ostrovska, the Director-General of the SE IBMPU, assures that The Gaze is a unique proposition because «currently there are no Ukrainian media which would be oriented solely on the Western audience and promote Ukrainian narratives in the general context of new Europe».
But Ostrovska stretches the truth because The Gaze is far from being the only Ukrainian media oriented at Western audiences. We have already mentioned the English version of Ukrinform and The Kyiv Independent. Still, noteworthy is the YouTube channel UATV English, launched six years ago, which became the leading English-language resource of the SE IBMPU in 2020. At present, this channel has over 400 thousand subscribers and translates the key messages and announcements of the President and other representatives of Ukraine for the English-speaking audience.
While UATV English has been getting its 400 thousand subscribers for six years, the other YouTube channel, United24, run by the Ministry of Digital Transformation, has received about 660 thousand subscribers in one year only, and the number of views has exceeded 340 million. Yet contrary to UATV English and The Gaze, United24 is financed not by the state but by corporate donors.
It is highly likely that the government will continue financing The Gaze platform as the leadership of the International Broadcasting Multimedia Platform of Ukraine holds its efficiency in high regard. In addition to over UAH 60 million that was already spent, now the activity of this website costs taxpayers about UAH 12 million every month, although the need for and efficiency of these expenses is doubtful, to put it mildly, especially during the war fought by the country for its survival.