KYIV, Feb 18 – Former President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday acquired the Pershiy television channel for an undisclosed amount of money expanding his television assets as battle intensifies for control over media in Ukraine.
The television assets play increasingly important role for greater political influence in Ukraine as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has recently shut down three television channels affiliated with pro-Russian politicians.
Pershiy was owned by Volodymyr Makeyenko, a Poroshenko ally. The channel maintained mostly a positive coverage of Poroshenko with some speculating he had indirectly controlled it.
“Makeyenko called me in the morning, and said we have to jointly make an effort to defend the television,” Poroshenko said in an interview with Pershiy on Thursday. “Two hours ago, we signed an agreement. I paid big money, which could have otherwise gone for charity and other projects – millions and millions – in order to pay for the channel’s debts.”
Access to television coverage in Ukraine has become more important over recent years, helping politicians significantly improve popularity. Zelenskiy, before winning the presidency in April 2019, was a popular actor playing a president who has been successfully fighting corruption in a television sitcom.
Pershiy was previously known as Tonis and was once owned by Oleksandr Yanukovych, the son of disgraced former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia during the Revolution of Dignity in February 2014.
Poroshenko won the presidency in May 2014, while Makeyenko had acquired Tonis in March 2017, later renaming it as Pershiy.
Poroshenko acquired Pershiy via Prime Assets Capital, his 100%-owned company. His other major television asset is Channel 5, a popular news channel.
Serhiy Leshchenko, a former lawmaker from Poroshenko’s group, said Poroshenko moved quickly to acquire Pershiy amid rumors that Zelenskiy may shut it down on Friday, following a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council.
“Poroshenko bought into the gossip that they want to impose sanctions on Pershiy,” Leshchenko said.
Two weeks ago, Zelenskiy imposed devastating sanctions against three television channels, including ZIK, 112-Ukrayina and NewsOne, which for more than two years had disseminated pro-Russian propaganda.
The channels were affiliated with Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of Opposition Platform-For Life (OPFL) and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A positive coverage by the three channels helped to dramatically increase popularity of OPFL, while at the same time reduce popularity of Zelenskiy’s own party.
Poroshenko’s acquisition of Pershiy may have indeed been spurred by the fears of sanctions, as he had directly addressed Zelenskiy.
“Volodymyr Oleksandrovych [Zelenskiy], tomorrow at the National Security and Defense Council you can go ahead and impose the sanctions against the terrorist Poroshenko,” he said. “But I strongly advise you to look closely at what happened to Yanukovych, who had tried so hard to shut down Channel 5.”
“I'll tell you what happened,” Poroshenko said. “He finished badly.” (tl/ez)