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43% of media news had discrimination, and more than quarter violated presumption of innocence - IMI’s research

01.02.2022, 16:07

43% of Ukrainian media news items had discriminatory wordings. In particular, 22% of publications contained sexism against women, and 12% had discrimination for an irregular stay in Ukraine. Beyond this, more than a quarter of news items (27.9%) on criminal investigations violated the presumption of innocence. 

These are the results of media monitoring "How do the media cover human rights in the news" conducted by the Institute of Mass Information commissioned by the ZMINA Human Rights Center.

The media monitoring lasted from 18 to 24 October 2021 inclusive and covered all news items (463 in total) published during this period on the websites of nine TV channels: Ukraine 24, Podrobnosti.Inter, Suspilne, 1 + 1 (TSN), Fakty.ICTV, Pershii Nezalezhnii, Kanal 5, Espresso, Kanal 24 . As well as the 10 most popular online media sites, according to Gemius, Similarweb and the monitoring of the Institute of Mass Information: Obozrevatel, Gordon, Ukrainska Pravda, Korrespondent, Politeka, RBC- Ukraine, Censor, NV, UNIAN, Vesti. 

Four personal rights were chosen for this analysis: the right to liberty and inviolability of person, the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of discrimination, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as Oksana Romanyuk, director of the Institute of Mass Media, said. The media monitoring found out to what extent the media adhered to journalistic standards in covering issues related to these well-precise human rights, whether journalists employed an appropriate terminology and whether there was hate speech in the texts. Media monitoring also indicated what sources journalists were using to cover selected human rights, whether expert comments were cited in publications, and whether the opinion of the person who was covered in the news item was cited. 

“At first, we thought that "human rights" for the media was the same category as everyone else. It seemed there was no difference. But the result impressed us, although we covered only four areas of a wide range of human rights. At the same time, the level of adherence to journalistic standards in human rights news turned out to be worse than, so to speak, the general temperature in the ward, ie in news on politics, economics, etc”, Romaniuk said. 

The presumption of innocence was violated in 27.9% of the news items covering the investigation into crimes

Thus, during the monitoring period there was a significant violation of the balance standard in news on topics related to the presumption of innocence (observed in 44% of news in this category), as well as the right to liberty and inviolability of the person (observed in 70.6% of news in this category). This standard was most often violated on the Vesti websites : 50% of unbalanced materials, Pershii Nezalezhnii : 46.5%, and the Censor : 40%.

Compliance with the standard of credibility was in shortage in the news related to the right to freedom of religion (observed in 65.7% of news in this category). 

"The revealed violations of the standard of credibility are chaotic and mainly caused by the insufficiently responsible attitude of journalists to work with sources of information ," said analyst  Nadiya Dobryanska, author of the report on the results of media monitoring.    

The standard of separating facts from comments is also more often violated in the materials which were related to the presumption of innocence. Only 58% of news items respected the standard in the news on this issue. 

"Most often, it was the result of verbatim reprinting of law enforcement reports," -  said the analyst. 

The highest level of violations of the standard of separation of facts from comments was found on tabloid sites – Politeka, Kanal 24", TSN, UNIAN.

More than a quarter of the materials (27.9%) on the investigation of crimes contained a violation of the presumption of innocence, as they called the suspects "criminals" or "malefactors”, ie guilty of committing an offense before the entry into force of sentences in their cases. 

Also, almost a fifth part (18.6%) of the news items related to the presumption of innocence portrayed a person guilty of a crime before the relevant court decision, which contradicts the requirement of the presumption of innocence, although they did not use the term "criminal" or "malefactor". For example, on October 23, 2021, UNIAN published the following news : “A lawyer who sold fake PCR tests for COVID-19 was exposed in Cherkasy region. According to Cherkasy region police, the lawyer forged PCR tests and her clients did not pass any tests”. 

43% of the news contained discriminatory sayings 

Thus, 22% of the news was about sexism. Most often, the media objectified and sexualized women: they posted photos of naked women's bodies, accompanied by sexist comments. Most sexism was recorded on the following sites: 28.4% of all materials with signs of sexism was seen on the site of Kanal 24, 22% was on UNIAN, 22% was on the site of Politeka, 13.7% was on TSN. 

"It was to be expected that the monitoring would reveal some sexist material, but for me it was a wake-up call what a multitude it was. Almost every fourth or fifth text was accompanied by a derogatory attitude or assessment of a woman, often a woman in the news was seen only as a sexual object / object for pleasure, and not an independent person. Such "news items" were all the more dangerous because not only they reflected stereotypes, but also influenced the formation of the audience's worldview, consolidating these stereotypes. This is a vicious circle that can only be broken by quality journalism , ”said  Iryna Virtosu, a journalist and non-discrimination expert.  

12% of the news revealed discrimination on irregular stay in Ukraine (“illegal migrants”): monitoring occurred at the time of the aggravation of the migration situation on the border between Belarus and the EU. Another 3% of news revealed discrimination on the grounds of age, and 1% discrimination for failure to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Also, 5% of publications contained discriminatory allegations on some other grounds, including being Roma, transgender people, the homeless and people under the effect of of alcohol. 

In news on topics related to freedom of thought and religion, the media adhered to the requirement of respect of different religions. At the same time, 75% of these publications were devoted to Orthodoxy, while 10% to Catholicism, 5% to Judaism, and 10% to other religions.

The cases of hate speech identified in the media monitoring mostly were of a mild form. Mostly such news concerned irregular migrants, who were called “illegals” (47% of publications in this category). In the analyzed publications there were isolated mentions of Roma with hate speech, transgender people, homeless people, people under alcohol effect, as well as Ukrainians guest-workers abroad. 

Olena Golub, IMI analyst, noted that the media were covering human rights as the moment arose, when there was an newsmaking event. She added, however, that some positive trends happened too: 

“At present, there are almost no tokens that have a negative connotation, such as "Ragheads". At least at this level, journalists understand that it should not be used. " 

However, according to her, the contextual language of hostility remains:

“This happens when a certain group of people is constantly portrayed negatively. This is what happened to teenagers in our monitoring. In general, the coverage of the rights of children and adolescents requires greater ethics. Adolescents generally reported negative news, such as drinking and vandalizing the cemeteries. That is, news that contains a clear negative connotation. There were also gross violations: disclosure of personal information of children, their photos. This could have negative consequences for them. " 

Only 2% of the materials contained expert comments 

In general, the protagonists of publications were usually the objects of publications, not subjects with one’s position that was covered in the news item, that is, their comments were often non-existant.

Regarding sources of information, journalists often referred to official sources in news about crimes and investigations (37%), as well as about people in places of detention (31%). In almost all news reports about sexism, the media referred to social networks (92.4%). In publications on religion, 33% of sources were reported by religious organizations. 

“It is noteworthy that a rather small amount of material generally contained information obtained directly from journalists. Among the news concerning the presumption of innocence and freedom of religion, no such material has been identified. Among the news on topics related to the right to liberty and inviolability of person, only 4% had their own news. This is one of the regretful conclusions of media monitoring , ” as Dobryanska said.

A detailed report on the results of monitoring is available at the link. The results will form the basis for the creation of a practical online course on human rights for the media, which the ZMINA Human Rights Center will present for free public access in May this year. 

The media monitoring was conducted by the Institute of Mass Information as part of a project implemented by the ZMINA Human Rights Center with the support of the US Embassy's Democracy Fund in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily coincide with the official position of the US government. 

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