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Insecure region. How to protect journalists in Lutsk

26.09.2019, 17:59

Journalists’ Safety Day. Such an event was held by the Institute of Mass Information in Lutsk on September 12. The group of IMI experts and lawyers headed to Western region of Ukraine to talk to local journalists about security and safety.

It is not for nothing that this city was chosen. According to IMI's Barometer of Freedom of Speech, the region is among the three anti-leaders where the journalists' rights are violated the mostly. The worst situation is seen only in Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

“Volyn is one of those regions where they use physical aggression against the journalists. Many journalists also complain about denial of access to the court hearings. Moreover, the journalists are often non-admitted at the session of the regional council, the regional officials fail to reply to inquiry letters (incident with RFI to Igor Palitsa, head of the regional council previously, actually MP). Several cyber threats to the journalists in the region, phishing attacks were identified,” as said Kateryna Dyachuk, expert for Freedom of Speech Monitoring at the Institute of Mass Information.

IMI held a master class “Risk Assessment and Planning” for Volyn journalists.

Iryna Zemlyana, IMI media expert holds training course

“For a long time, the safety of journalists has only been associated with war. But journalistic work poses constant risks. We train them to foresee the main dangers in the day-to-day work of journalists, to assess risks, to build an action plan, and to face the major dangers. The scheme of risk assessment and planning has been elaborated in detail,”- IMI expert Irina Zemlyana described the master class for the journalists.

The journalist has right to exercise his own profession, in particular to seek protection of the law enforcement bodies. What are the rights of journalists and how to protect them, how to file complaint about an offence to the police and how to proceed if the police decline to prosecute, how to defend their rights, beside calling the police, - IMI lawyer Ali Safarov explained it to the  Lutsk journalists.

Media lawyer of IMI, Ali Safarov spoke of threats the journalists face

Considering the various specific examples that, in particular, happened to the present journalists, analyzing different options for possible developments, citing different legal mechanisms for responding to violations of rights, the lawyer gave journalists the opportunity to learn how to get a proper response from the state if freedom of speech is violated.

Also,during the discussion, the journalists asked to analyze the case of the row involving the local TV channel Avers and the customs officers. In particular, attendees wondered, why IMI drew attention to this story? Because the TV channel and the journalists actions raise questions: did they violate those standards or not. 

The TV channel belongs to one of the most influential persons in the region - Igor Palytsya, already mentioned above. And the journalistic community in Lutsk complains that Avers TV has a complementary enough coverage of Igor Palytsya and issues politically engaged stories for his opponents.

The customs incident happened in May this year. Journalists of the channel came to a local restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of the customs officers. As a result, the guests assaulted the TV crew,as IMI had reported.

“We are aware that the journalist of Avers TV was provoking. But the question is: they fulfilled their professional journalistic activity. Is the restaurant a private territory? OK, it is. But this is a high-level official. According to the Anti-Corruption Law, one of the ways to reveal the fact of corruption is to check: do the expenses correspond to the property of an official. How to do it? The journalist can come and see, in what restaurant and how much money the official spends.

In this precise case, we see that despite it was somehow provocative, the journalist of Avers TV performed one’s professional duty, she came and filmed some images. The official could file a civil lawsuit, complaining the journalist was trying to gather some private information and inflicted damage to his business reputation. But instead, the official undertook other actions, which violated the law on journalist's rights. We put this incident in the barometer, ” Ali Safarov told.

He also added that the incidents involving the 112th and NewsOne TV channels, which have pro-Russian owners, also were taken in Barometer of Freedom of Speech. But only in those cases where these media suffer because of its journalistic activity and not because of propaganda.

“If there are some acts are made toward the journalists that really come within purview of the criminal code, then the question arises to the government. If today someone transgresses the law against the journalist of Avers TV, then tomorrow no one can guarantee that another journalist won’t be targeted too. The basic concept in the Western democracies is that, regardless of regime, of whether this is good or bad journalist, provocative or not, one cannot violate the law against him. Another issue is when a journalist himself does violate the law, ” Safarov explained.

During the discussion panel, journalists were asked if they felt their profession was dangerous? Only few of them answered positively.

Discussion panel

“Frequent dangers and violations of the rights of media professionals, this is usual, this is part of the profession,” said the journalist and media expert for IMI Oleksiy Bratushchak. - All these tips you hear today about how to protect yourself, all this will help you not to suffer “by stupidity”. But if they really want to eliminate you, either in your profession or physically, it really won't help… Still, you need to realize the dangers do exist. And by realizing what are the dangers you face, you are preparing your defense. ”

Besides the safety issues, the participants and the experts spoke of the responsibilities of the journalists and the media. In particular, they mentioned one of the problems of news sites, when the news reports are made exclusively based on posts from social networks, without further work to ask the authors of these posts to clarify, to take comments on they said in social pages.

The IMI's regional representative in Volyn Maya Golub called on the journalists to talk frankly,  who is who in the media sphere. And in this way, to pay attention to the journalists and the media outlets who are lying or manipulating its audience.

“It is important to complain about such negative incidents to the Commission on Journalism Ethics and the Independent Media Council in order to document the fact of spread of untruthful information. Because we will just look at the manipulative news, it will be broadcast, and people who are not so well-versed in journalistic standards, they will just think this is true. If no one says that this is not true, then people can believe that it is really true, ” Maya Golub explained.

During the discussion, they also noted the latest trend that pro-Russian media, such as NewsNews and 112th are trying to present themselves as the biggest defenders of press freedom in Ukraine. At the same time, they use different reports and incidents as pretext to form a negative perception of freedom of speech condition in Ukraine, both inside and abroad. And this should make the media to raise the issue of self-regulation.

At the end of the discussion, IMI asked the Volyn media representatives about their attitude to the statements of the authorities that they do not need journalists to speak with society. Does this position of officials pose a threat to the Ukrainian media?

“These are their problems, whether they need us or not. Our task is to "not to be under their thumb" and not to ignore it. To keep writing, as we did it. To ask them questions, as we asked it. Just to do our job. We work for the community, ” as one of the participants said.

Lutsk became the first city, where IMI held a Safety Day for Journalists. By the end of the year, similar events are scheduled in three other cities.

By Oleksiy Bratushchak

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