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UN Ukraine Web Development Experience | 2000

In November/December 2000 I worked in Kiev, Ukraine for the United Nations mission on the strategic re-launch of the mission website as a portal, whilst also advising the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner on communications strategy. It was an extraordinary experience on many levels. It was a time when the Internet was fast evolving and required quick thinking and an ability to innovate; it was also a key moment in Ukraine’s history. 

The dangers at the time for communicating on the Internet were starkly clear: on September 16, the Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze was murdered. In 2013 Aleksei Pukach, former head of the surveillance department in the Ministry of Interior, was convicted of the murder. 

But despite those dangers and clear threats from the government of the time, there was a flourishing and inventive Internet and digital economy. The magazine Internet UA (whose editor I enjoyed meeting) gave a great overview of the scene in Ukraine and its creativity. Just as now, the creation of Internet stars who can exploit the medium (in this case sexy videos: a very large online market today) was driving viewers and subscribers. But there was also a vibrant online news media, blogging, commerce and gaming presence as well.

Internet UA magazine: Sex sells and the sex industry has always had pioneers seeking new ways to get eyeballs for their content. The Internet from its early days has been driven by the search for nude pictures and sex videos. In this cover feature, “Internet + TV: Double Impact”. That content mix has become the foundation of websites such as Pornhub etc.

According to ain.ua, the Ukrainian digital economy today is ” … ‘local’ only just figuratively speaking. Ukrainian startups are initially focused on international markets. Product companies are included into international industry ratings. Outsourcing works with clients from all over the world. Global players enter Ukrainian market, opening R&D offices, acquiring and investing into local companies. There are no boundaries.” 

A magazine feature on ‘Natasha’s’ Internet content offering.

It is easy to take digital freedoms for granted now but there was great resistance at the time and, unlike today, many governments were openly hostile to digital technology, online communications and e-commerce.

50 websites to bookmark in 2000.

The UN itself was evolving and embracing the communications and design revolution being driven by digital change. This was the first “dot.com” boom, which had begun in 1997. I had played a key role in pioneering online content for Mongolia (1997-1999) and could bring this experience to Ukraine. In particular, I launched an award-winning web portal for the UN Mongolia mission in 1997 (www.un-mongolia.mn) and also the country’s first web magazine, Ger

The UN Ukraine brief involved creating content that was accessible to users with low bandwidth, dial-up connections (few had mobile phones in 2000). I had been building new media experience throughout the 1990s, tracking the cable and satellite TV and mobile/Internet revolutions for the Financial Times as a journalist, as well as launching websites for various media clients. 

The Terms of Reference for the UN/UNDP Ukraine assignment.
The assignment business card.
The UN/UNDP Ukraine website before launch as a portal.
The first iteration of the new UN Ukraine portal.

Key content created and launched on the UN Ukraine portal included critical information on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Ukraine, UN Ukraine’s first online magazine to explore perceptions of volunteering and NGOs in the post-communist period, and content preparing for the visit of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by showing how Ukraine was engaging with global development priorities, for example the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and bringing together UN agencies and entities into a cohesive web and “One UN” experience.

The first UN Ukraine online magazine.
Bringing together UN agencies and entities into a cohesive web and “One UN” experience.

One highlight of this assignment was working with the “UN Chornobyl Programme” to develop its web content. This included visiting Pripyat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pripyat),an abandoned city because of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986. I have visited many abandoned and “secret” cities and towns in the course of working with the United Nations but this particular visit had the added dimension of an environmental and human health disaster hanging over it (and as a former healthcare worker at Canada’s top cancer hospital and research institute, I couldn’t forget the impact of high radiation levels on the body).  

UN Chornobyl Programme website in development, 2000.
UN agencies in Ukraine.
UNDP in Ukraine.

The power of the Internet and the digital economy to engage people, especially the young, despite living in a country with significant political repression of free speech and even physical intimidation and murder, stuck with me. This work also contributed to laying the foundations for Ukraine’s growing freedoms and greater engagement with Europe. 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052

© David South Consulting 2021 

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Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (NMM) (London, UK), November 30, 1995

The Swedish government is set to clamp down on satellite channels which carry advertising aimed at children and will tell channels to drop such advertising or face legal action.

The centre-left government’s threat of tough action follows Sweden’s winning extra powers last week through an amendment to the European directive on transfrontier broadcasting agreed by European culture ministers (NMM 13:42). 

The main focus of the Swedish government’s wrath is the TV3 channel, owned by Kinnevik, which uplinks to the Astra 1a and Sirius satellites from the UK. TV3 based itself in the UK in order to benefit from the Independent Television Commission’s more liberal rules on advertising. 

TV3’s main commercial television rival, TV4, has long protested to the government about what it sees as unfair competition from TV3 and other foreign-based channels. 

The government will initially go after TV3 and the Luxembourg-based cable and satellite channel Femmen. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs said that pro-European satellite channels such as TNT/Cartoon Network and the Children’s Channel were lesser priorities, but could face action in the future. 

TNT/Cartoon Network has a Swedish soundtrack and many Children’s Channel programmes are subtitled in Swedish on cable systems.

The Ministry of Cultural Affairs plans a two-pronged attack to remove the advertising it finds offensive and which is banned under Swedish broadcasting law: advertising aimed at children under 12 and carried in breaks around children’s programming. 

First, the consumer-protection agency the Konsument Ombudsmanen will take action against advertising agencies which produce children’s advertising. Monica Bengtsson, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Culture, said that agencies will be warned once and then fined if they violate the rules a second time. 

If this fails – and some observers believe that it will, because advertisers could move their accounts to non-Swedish agencies – the Ombudsmanen would then try the riskier move of taking channels to court to stop the ads. 

The Ombudsmanen is not expected to act until it hears the results of the case it has already taken to the European Court of Justice against Italian children’s magazine publishers De Agostini for allegedly placing commercials targetting children under the age of 12 on both TV4 and TV3. Judgement is expected in mid-1996. 

The Swedish government is also banking on public opinion to help pressure satellite channels to stop showing children’s advertising. The political climate in Sweden is strongly in favour of strict controls on advertising aimed at children. Swedish prime minister, Ingvar Carlsson, made cracking down on such advertising a key part of his opening speech to the present session of the Swedish parliament. 

The amended directive (which still needs the approval of the European Parliament) allows a member state to ban children’s advertisements under its own rules even if the channel satisfies the rules of the country from which it is broadcast. 

The Swedish government believes that the combination of the amended directive provisions and its ban on children’s advertising is all it needs to prevent the adverts. 

Per Bystedt, vice-president of TV3, insisted this week that the channel is UK-licensed and therefore does not fall under Swedish law: “We are following the Independent Television Commission’s rules.”

New definitions on which countries are responsible for regulating channels, adopted by the European culture ministers last week, could lead to TV3 being regulated in Sweden rather than the more liberal UK if it is deemed that the channel is really established there. However, the Swedish government has investigated the extent to which TV3 is based in the UK and, according to Bystedt, has declared that it is satisfied that the company is British. 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021