Monitoring Desk: Slowly but surely and honestly, Ukrainian journalistic community is sharing thoughts with international media about how much Ukrainian media was subjugated, harassed and intimidated under the rule of President Poroshenko.
Ukraine media waited for final results of runoff Presidential election to speak up about pressures it had been facing while performing their professional duties in past.
Sergiy Tomilenko, the Chairman of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) described the state of press freedom in Ukraine and role of NUJU in upholding quality journalism while warning journalists against propaganda and encouraging political leaders to stand for freedom of speech.
In an article titled “Ukraine: pressures on investigative journalists during the electoral campaign” published by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on April 26, the state of media freedom under the President Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko and in Donbas Regine is expressed in detail.
The article said that free speech in Ukrainian media and journalism worsened in the past years. Attacks on journalists began in 2016, commented Tetyana Popova, an expert of the NGO “Information Security” a partner of NUJU, with the publication of the “Myrotvorets” list containing the personal data of thousands of journalists, who worked in the war zone of Donbass.
Article further said that journalists who investigated the MH17 tragedy were branded “accomplices of terrorists” and “collaborators”. They faced constant attacks and bullying in social networks, some of them received threats by e-mail, others on their mobile phones.
Another illustration of government interference with the press was the attacks on opposition media during elections. The “1+1” media group suffered from constant raids by the tax authorities or the National Television and Radio Council – the group that owns the biggest part of the television programmes produced by the TV production company of the then leading presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.
There were also attacks and attempts to block Ukrainian channels that are associated with Russian President Putin’s ally Mr. Medvedchuk. The result of this was a decrease of criticisms of Poroshenko (President of Ukraine 2014-2019) on these channels.
Article explained the atmosphere of hostility towards critical voices in the media in Ukraine and stated that there was an atmosphere of hostility towards critical media and investigative journalists who revealed cases of corruption in the highest power circles.
In particular, anti-corruption investigations led by journalists of the “Scheme: Corruption in Details” programme, which were broadcast on Radio Liberty, were repeatedly discredited. Journalists working on this project were subject to persecution and judicial pressure.
A similar situation occurred to the information portal, Bihus.info, which, a month before the election, exposed smuggling activity around military equipment from Russia being sold to local armed forces at inflated prices, involving close business partners of President Petro Poroshenko. Journalists involved in the investigation were accused of manipulating the truth.
However, not all media outlets abided by an honest editorial policy. Some of them published materials that were aimed at discrediting opposition candidates for the post of President of Ukraine.
Since the beginning of 2017 NUJU has recorded an unacceptably high level of physical aggression against journalists. However, the union also noted that there were no direct obstacles or use of force against media workers at polling stations or during the preparation of election related materials, although some journalists were denied accreditation for events related to the election campaign of President Petro Poroshenko. And there was also limited communication with the media from candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.
NUJU’s initiative: a Declaration of free speech
On the eve of the 2019 elections NUJU called on leading Ukrainian politicians to sign the “Declaration on the Defense of Freedom of Speech.” The document specifies that the applicants for the highest office in the state would commit among others to:
Respect freedom of speech not to exert pressure on journalists and the media and do not use force to prosecute journalists
The initiative was supported by 13 candidates for the presidency, including the leader of the race – actor and TV presenter Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Our (NUJU) efforts are aimed at ensuring that those who attack journalists will face severe punishment and understand that the defense of freedom of speech must be a priority for the newly elected government”, said Sergiy Tomilenko.
Index of Physical Security of Journalists of Ukraine released on World Press Freedom Day on May 3 by NUJU
Since the beginning of the year, 23 incidents of physical aggression against journalists have been recorded.
According to data compiled by National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, during the first two months of spring, 10 physical attacks on journalists were recorded: in March – 8 incidents and in April – 2 incidents are recorded.
In total, during the 4 months of 2019, 23 incident of use of force against journalists were recorded.
In April-March, the most – 3 attacks – were recorded in Kiev and the oblast. 2 attacks occurred in Volyn, in addition, in the territory of Western Ukraine there were 3 more incidents, namely in Transcarpathia, Bukovinita, Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Also, journalists were face use of force against them in Odessa and Zhytomyr – one attack was recorded in each region.
The above mentioned data was released on World Press Freedom Day on May 3 by NUJU which released the “Index of Physical Security of Journalists of Ukraine”.
Just 2 attacks on journalists, which happened on March 10 in Transcarpathia and Bukovina, occurred due to religiously-based conflicts. The correspondent of the “Bukovina online” magazine Galina Yeremitsa, which, by the way, is not the first time to report the impediment of professional activity during shooting on the territory of the temples, this time he suffered in the village of Ryngach, which is in Transcarpathia.
A local priest at a community gathering attacked a journalist, taking her mobile phone from her. Another similar situation happened with the journalist of Zastatna Today and Bukovina online Olga Shendyrovskaya on the territory of the church in the village of Dobrynivtsi, Chernivtsi region. During the meetings of the faithful, an aggressive man came to Olga and started pushing journalist outside the church.
During the election campaign, in particular Petro Poroshenko’s meeting with voters in Kovel, on March 14, journalist of the Astra TV station Natalia Polishchuk (Volyn region) was forced to leave the place. Police detached the girl from the meeting, explaining that she was not allowed to be so close to the scene.
– Our journalist, to meet with Petro Poroshenko, has passed all the accreditation requirements as well as the “frame”. However, at the very event, law enforcement officials said that she was not in place and began to demand a departure from the scene. We believe that this behavior is due to the attitude of our channel in the region – Avers has always been an opposition media and criticized the authorities. And when the representatives of other TV channels were invited to the event in person, we were not even informed about his conduct, – says director of TRK “Avers” Natalia Moskowka.
Although the course of the presidential election itself did not trigger tangible aggression against journalists, on March 31, on the night after the first round of voting, Volodymyr Romensky, a journalist of the Russian television channel “Rain”, reported the impediment of professional activity near the building of the Central Election Commission. Aggressive young people with the words “Go to Russia” were pushed out by the crew from the square – they explained their actions to the fact that the journalist allegedly took off a negative plot for the Russian media.
At the same time, the experts of the Index of Physical Security of Journalists decided not to include in the monitoring two incidents of open hostility towards the media, which occurred on April 22 with journalists of TV channels NewsOne and “1 + 1” during the promotion-thanks to Petro Poroshenko for 5 years at the post of President of Ukraine. The gathering gathered around the NewsOne film crew, began to insult journalists, call them propagandists and those who work for Russia and create fake ones. Also, the aggressive supporters of Petro Poroshenko boasted the film crew of the TV channel “1 + 1”: they prevented journalists from taking off the plot with the cries of “Shame”, “Shame of the Pros!” And “Zhurna lyuchi”, one of the demonstrators struck the camera. civic organizations, the fact is obvious of the impediment to journalism, but the result of the actions of the protesters did not become a public danger.
Let’s remind that “Index of Physical Security of Journalists” is a monthly monitoring of facts of physical aggression for journalists and media of Ukraine. The “Index …” is jointly concluded by the NJSC and partners: NGO “Information Security”, NGO “Human Rights Platform”, Academy of Ukrainian Press and Institute for the Development of Regional Press.