CPJ: Attacks on journalists in Ukraine lead to information vacuum
"There are no [independent] Ukrainian journalists left in Donetsk," said Aleksei Matsuka, chief editor of the regional news website Novosti Donbassa (News of Donbass). "They have fled the region since pro-Russia separatists started targeting and kidnapping reporters," Matsuka told CPJ during our brief meeting in Kiev.
Matsuka said that separatists--particularly those from among the local population--know many regional reporters, and have threatened and targeted them in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict with Ukrainian forces. Matsuka knows this firsthand. On an April night, he says, a security camera at Matsuka’s apartment building in Donetsk
I visited Ukraine’s capital in early July on a CPJ fact-finding mission, and met Matsuka and more than a dozen other local and international reporters to learn firsthand of the press freedom conditions in the country. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in November 2013, CPJ has
As is usually the case with press freedom violations, the ultimate victim is the public. I found that the ongoing attacks on journalists have resulted in a lack of information, leaving people on the ground--especially in the conflict areas and Crimea--in the dark about developments nearby. Those outside the conflict area often receive a distorted picture of the human toll of the ongoing conflict, and have limited understanding of people’s needs. Important news, including agreements to establish humanitarian corridors for refugees and progress in peace negotiations, might not reach people in the war zone.
In the eastern part of the country now, Matsuka told me, there are virtually no Ukrainian television or radio broadcasts; most of it was switched off and replaced by Russian television after separatists
"They [the separatists] have thoroughly wiped clean the media, it was one of the first steps in the ongoing information war," Matsuka said.
His testimony was endorsed by other journalists with whom I spoke in Kiev.
"Separatists see Ukrainian reporters as enemy number one," said another local journalist, who was briefly detained by separatists while reporting in eastern Ukraine, and did not wish to be identified for security reasons. He is one of several journalists to be held by the separatists. Shortly before my trip to Kiev, journalist Anastasiya Stanko and cameraman Ilya Bezkorovainy, both with the Kiev-based online broadcaster Hromadske TV, were
While the attacks and detentions on local reporters have kept Ukrainian journalists away, international correspondents can access both sides of the conflict, provided they obtain the required accreditation--denied to Ukrainian journalists--from the self-styled information ministries of the self-declared people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, freelancers working for international outlets told CPJ. This unequal treatment of reporters became most visible after the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17; only a limited number of Ukrainian journalists were able to access the site where the plane was
But while international journalists have better access, they told me that Americans are watched closely. In April, Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter with the New York-based news website Vice News, was
Ukrainian authorities have also detained journalists, CPJ
And Ukrainian authorities did not get much praise for their response to abductions by the separatists. Both local and foreign journalists told CPJ that the government does not seem to have a strategy for dealing with such cases. Many described it as "a complete mess," with no agency taking responsibility. According to various accounts, including
Sergei Lefter, a Ukrainian reporter with the Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation, spent 17 days in the
Meanwhile, with the Ukrainian media subsumed by the conflict--local journalists often said they know someone fighting the separatists or killed in the conflict--and drawn into an information war with Russia, government actions, or lack thereof, are not receiving critical coverage in the press, journalists told CPJ. Instead of holding the Ukrainian government accountable for its actions, journalists said that many of their colleagues are siding with the authorities under the banner of war. While, unlike under the previous regime, there is no direct censorship, patriotic sentiment is affecting news coverage, local journalists and press freedom defenders told me.
I do not think they exaggerate the problem: During my stay in Kiev, Russian state-funded broadcaster Pervyi Kanal (Channel One) broadcast a story (still
The plethora of Russian news outlets available in Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., through Internet and cable networks, have been producing such stories since the protests in Kiev started in November, and there are no active media watchdogs in Russia to call out lapses in journalistic ethics. As such, pro-Kremlin outlets quickly jumped on the Malaysian Airlines plane crash to
They also asked for close monitoring and reporting on the worsening climate for the media in Crimea, where attacks on the press that followed Russian annexation of the region in March pushed independent journalism to the brink of extinction. As a result of raids and attacks on local journalists and broadcasters,
For example, staff members of Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya (Black Sea TV), an independent, popular broadcaster that aired programming throughout Crimea from its newsroom in the regional capital Simferopol, were forced to pack and leave for Kiev after pro-Russia authorities issued
Ukrainian TV channels shared a similar fate--the new authorities shut off their broadcasts, and allocated their airwaves to Russian state TV. Seeing no prospects for doing business under a Russian government, many Ukrainian cable operators have closed their local offices and stopped serving the region. The few left behind, including ATR, a broadcaster owned by Crimean Tatars, and a few newspapers are forced to be cautious in their reporting, journalists said.
And, they said, this is just the beginning of a media and human rights crisis in Crimea: the multitude of