Ukrainian language set for media boost in new law

Vyshyvanka March in Kiev, 17 May 14 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kiev, May 2014: The annual Vyshyvanka march is a patriotic occasion for Ukrainians

A new law in Ukraine requires at least 75% of national TV broadcasts to be in the Ukrainian language.

It is a very sensitive issue for the country's many Russian speakers, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine partly about ethnic Russians' language rights.

The language quota for local TV and radio stations has been set at 50%. The law is still going through parliament and requires presidential approval.

President Petro Poroshenko has called for more Ukrainian language use on TV.

Ukrainian sociological research last year found Russian to be the main language of Ukrainian TV, press, the services sector and Ukrainian websites.

'Divided opinion' - Vitaliy Shevchenko, BBC Monitoring

The language issue is at the heart of the Ukraine conflict. Even though there had been little tension between Ukrainian and Russian speakers before hostilities erupted, the Kremlin said Russians in Ukraine faced "genocide" and deserved protection, by military means if necessary.

Kiev, on the other hand, has been saying that it is the Ukrainian language that needs to be protected following decades of Soviet rule.

Russian-language programming on TV has to have Ukrainian subtitles - even though it would be hard to find anyone in Ukraine who did not understand Russian. Any TV programmes that are seen as Russian propaganda are banned outright.

The latest move has divided opinion in Ukraine. Critics say it will do nothing to win the hearts and minds of Russian speakers.

"This law will violate the rights of millions of Ukrainian citizens whose mother tongue is Russian," said a statement by Inter, Ukraine's most popular TV channel which mostly broadcasts in Russian.

But Oleksandr Tkachenko, the head of another popular Ukrainian television channel - One Plus One - supported the new law, calling it "a historic event".

Language quotas for Ukraine radio shows

Ukraine bans Russian films in media war

Ukrainians polarised over language law

Last year Ukraine adopted a law stipulating that Ukrainian-language songs must feature more prominently on the radio. The quota was set at 25% minimum, but in 2018 the level is to reach 35%.

In the case of TV talk shows and other broadcasts where use of both Russian and Ukrainian is customary, they will be considered as Ukrainian-language if the host is a Ukrainian speaker.

Less than 35% of Ukrainian newspapers are in the Ukrainian language, and less than 25% of magazines.

However, Ukrainian is the dominant language in more than 91% of Ukrainian schools.

The ethnic Russian separatists controlling a large swathe of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in eastern Ukraine, do not recognise laws passed in Kiev.

In Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, Russian is the dominant language.

More on this story