SERGIY TOMILENKO / Head of Information Society Department CoE
From the last year Ukrainian journalists and media, as well as our colleagues in other countries, are concerned, first of all, about the threats which the coronavirus epidemic has brought to our work. But Ukrainian journalists had reason to worry about protecting their rights, freedom of expression
and independence even before the pandemic began.
The profession of journalists in Ukraine is dangerous for health and life. This can be confirmed by dozens and hundreds of my colleagues beaten due to the performance of professional duties. And it is not about special circumstances or global unexcepted events, such as mass beatings during covering the protest on the Euromaidan in Kyiv in 2013-2014 or the injuring and capture of journalists in the Donbass. Journalists are beaten every month in a peaceful Ukraine. Last year, we recorded 77 cases of physical aggression against media workers in the framework “The Index of Physical Safety of Journalists in Ukraine” which conducted by the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine together with partner NGOs. In 2019, there were 75, in 2018, – 86. Not threats or harassment on social media, namely physical attacks. Investigative journalist Vadym Komarov was killed in the Ukrainian city Cherkasy a year ago! During the epidemic, we record attacks by citizens on journalists who simply do their jobs by reporting compliance with or noncompliance with quarantine regulations.
An unacceptable high level of physical aggression in Ukraine is possible due to the lack of precedents for severe punishment for crimes against journalists. Cases do not go to court or drag on for years, or criminals do not receive significant penalties. After all, fines of several euros or guilty pleas with simultaneous exemption from punishment for expiry of the statute of limitations cannot be called a serious punishment. In November 2019,
for the first time in 10 years, special parliamentary hearings on the physical safety of journalists were held. In fact, it was a forum of injured journalists. And holding such hearings that the previous Parliament refused to hold for years is the real merit of the new Ukrainian Parliament. (However, it is still the only one merit of Parliament for supporting journalists and media) Similarly, since the hearings, the leaderships of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and the National Police of Ukraine have significantly changed their approach to responding to reports of obstruction of journalism. And now the recording of proceedings under the “journalistic” articles of the Criminal Code is taking place quickly.
Disinformation, manipulation or superficial and unprofessional journalism is another enemy of the press. Disinformation undermines the credibility of the media and journalists and harms public life. But the fight against fakes that governments have to wage in authoritarian countries or immature democracies such as Ukraine is used by officials to fight inconvenient journalists.
The media environment in Ukraine today is polarized in political terms. Recently, my Union and some media have been attacked by some media NGOs. We do not divide journalists according to their views and we protect everyone, we call for solidarity. This is in line with European practice. Instead, some media NGOs, which receive western grants, seek to divide the newsrooms into “patriotic” and “non-patriotic” which are labeled as “pro-Russian”. Among them is the Ukrainian NGO “Media Detector”. Despite the implementation of many necessary and important information projects, their editorial office has recently begun to actively implement the policy of dividing Ukrainian journalists into “correct” (“good”) and “incorrect” (“bad”), justifying the harassment
of Ukrainian media, which the government (or politicians or some experts) call “pro-Russian.” Also, Detector.media publishes non-objective materials about the activities of the NUJU, which encourages attacks on our organization, as not enough patriotic.
This is how we face the phenomenon. Instead of uniting and fighting together for their rights, the journalistic community incites hostility. In such conditions, it is very difficult to talk about solidarity.
The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 dealt a powerful blow to the Ukrainian media. This is confirmed by the results of a recent survey among print media editors conducted by our Union. 192 journalists and editors from 24 regions of Ukraine and Kyiv took part in this survey, conducted from March 1 to 25. Format – Google-forms, which included several groups of questions. In 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NUJU, with the support of the International Federation of Journalists, conducted a similar survey. The new survey allows us to evaluate the current situation and is the next step towards protecting the labor rights of Ukrainian journalists.
Respondents answered questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the activities of their print media and editorial teams. The respondents also expressed their position on the draft law “On the media”, which strengthens state regulation of the media, and to the problems with the postal delivery of print media in Ukraine. According to this survey among print media editors: 86% of publishers lost advertisers, 50% reduced salaries, 40% reduced staff, 28% stopped cooperation with freelancers, 5% switched from paper to online, 5% completely stopped their activity. In addition to COVID, a great challenge for the Ukrainian print industry is the reform of the national postal operator, which has reduced the number of local post offices and postmen.
The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine is actively working to solve these problems. We hold large meetings, trainings, communicate with the Government, Officials and MPs. Now we wrote a special resolution, which contains 14 demands to the Government and Parliament. These requirements include the creation of a Media Support Fund such as in European countries, a “tax holiday” for the media until the end of the quarantine, unimpeded access to journalists to all government activities during the pandemic, soft loans for media development, and saving jobs and other. It was also determined that 2 working groups will be set up in the Parliament to develop proposals for the implementation of a complex anti-crisis program and create tax stimulus for the Ukrainian media. We agreed with the management of the national postal operator “Ukrposhta” that their company will not increase the tariff for subscription and delivery of newspapers in the second half of 2021. This is a great help for regional print media.
I hope that this year will be the best for the whole journalistic community. Only together will we win and will make the profession of a journalist safer.