Preserving Media Freedom Amid Conflict

Round table highlights cases in which heavy-handed officials prevented access to information.

Preserving Media Freedom Amid Conflict

Round table highlights cases in which heavy-handed officials prevented access to information.

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Monday, 27 November, 2023


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

The Ukrainian authorities need to improve relationships with independent media, especially amid ongoing conflict, to not only preserve free expression but also more effectively counter Russian propaganda, according to participants at an IWPR event in Kyiv.

The round table was dedicated to the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, and brought together more than a dozen Ukrainian journalists who have investigated the threats media face during wartime.

Media workers highlighted cases in which the authorities had prevented access to information or taken a heavy-handed approach to legitimate enquiry. Participants also noted the danger of local community outlets being transformed into government mouthpieces.

"Freedom of speech in Ukraine has been challenged by the full-scale war,” said Viktoriia Nazaruk, a reporter from Rivne oblast who works for 4Vlada (Fourth Power). “Journalists began to face more frequent restrictions in their work regarding access to information about the course of military operations, various threats to the civilian population, destruction caused by the enemy.”

She noted that this in effect could work to amplify Russian propaganda, adding, “In practice, restrictions on freedom of speech can lead to an inadequate perception of the situation by society, an increase in the number of fakes and disinformation, which can be part of Russia's information war."

Journalists called for the urgent clarification of the military order under which the accreditation of journalists is agreed for only six months, and the front divided into three zones - green, yellow and red. They cited examples when, referring to this order, they were restricted from covering events even in places where hostilities were not taking place, in particular in Sumy Oblast and in the south.

According to Ukrinform, 75 media workers have died in the period from 2014 to 2023. Journalists face a range of threats while carrying out their work, particularly in the occupied territories.

Iryna Yaroshynska, from Vinnitsya Oblast, said, "Officially today we know of five prisoners who are journalists, who have been imprisoned due to their journalist activity."

“We know that most of our colleagues have left occupied territories, but we know of those who stayed,” continued Yaroshynska, who writes for Vinnitsya Press Club. “They continue working and sending their materials to their editions, clandestinely, because such activity is not tolerated. Occupiers are hunting them down."

Maya Holub, from the Institute for Mass Information, said that she had had personal experience of intimidation working in Volyn, in northwestern Ukraine.

“They tried to hack my mail, social networks, and there were also warnings - I don't call it threats - over the phone,” she continued. Holub recalled how, at the time of the Euromaidan protests in 2014, local police prevented her from attending the presentation of the new head of the regional administration.

“After that, strange calls from unknown numbers began… [then] unknown persons broke the lock and broke into the Lutsk office of the Fourth Power, where I worked at the time. At that time, there was no one in the editorial office. I remember that I was going to come to the office at that time, but at the last moment I changed my mind and decided to work elsewhere. I can't imagine what would have happened if I was in the office while someone was picking the lock to get in."

The IWPR event was held on November 10 in Kyiv, hosted by Ukrinform with the support of UNESCO and the Embassy of Japan in Ukraine.

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