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No longer like that: what regional journalists lost in 2019

27.12.2019, 15:49

Life, health, work and right to information, these have been the losses the regional journalists had in 2019. Some of these incidents have united them, something disunited. IMI is to sum up the main facts that occured in the regional mass media * this year.

Murder of the Year

This is undeniably, the most high profile developments in Ukraine media community has been unsolved yet murder of the journalist Vadym Komarov in Cherkasy. We will remind, at about 9.30 a.m. on May 4 almost in the center of Cherkasy some passers-by saw a man with a broken head without consciousness. They called the ambulance and the police. The victim was found out to be the local journalist Vadym Komarov . Some tens minutes earlier, the victim was walking down by the Heavenly Hundred Street, where an unknown man suddenly attacked him at the intersection with Nadpilna street, causing him an open cranio-cerebral trauma and then ran away. On June 20, Komarov died at the hospital, he has never recovered from the drug coma after the May attack. That was the first time in three years the murder of the journalist in Ukraine that IMI recorded.

The police have reclassified Komarov's criminal case from "intentional grievous bodily harm" to "attempted premeditated murder." The investigation had three main working lead: professional activity of the victim, a sudden altercation with an unidentified person and murder for mercenary purposes. But despite the fact that there have been already a photofit of the alleged assailant, records from surveillance cameras, a large number of witnesses have been questioned, various scenarios have been passed through and dozens of suspects have been under investigation, the police failed to make any more or less resonant statements in this case. The latest information is currently being published on November 25 in the Unified Registry of Judgments - a ruling relating to a motion by the investigating officer to get permission to get access to information about a mobile phone communications of an allegedly involved person. All that, at the end of December, the regional IMI correspondent was told by the head of the communications sector of the Main Directorate of the National Police in Cherkasy region Dmytro Gryshchenko, came to: “The investigation is underway. The investigation did not provide additional information for disclosure in the case.”

The beating of the year

During the year, regional journalists have been beaten, sometimes quite cruelly. For example , in Kharkiv, on June 7, Vadym Makaryuk , the camaramen for the Kharkiv news edition “Vesti” , was brutally beaten as he was shooting in the territory of the Barabashovo marketplace. Vadym was sent to the hospital, he got cerebral hemorrhage resulting of this assault, he was in a grave condition. Doctors diagnosed him with a hemorrhagic stroke that occurred as a result of bleeding of the brain. The next day, several Kharkiv journalists signed an open letter : " We demand from the head of the National Police Sergei Knyazev, the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to ensure providing by their subordinates the public reports of their subordinates on progressing and results of the investigation of this case. We demand that the instigators and the perpetrators of this attack were brought to justice, regardless of their names and positions. We will not let this case drop! The guilty must be punished!” 

And on July 11, the European Federation of Journalists submitted information about Vadym Makaryuk's beating to a special Council of Europe platform on media protection. Police have pressed suspicion to four assaulters: Serhiy Kozlyuk, Mykhaylo Basaley, Oleg Radchenko and Ilya Aleshkin for obstruction to legitimate professional activity of journalist, hooliganism and threat or violence against journalist, as it is stipulated by the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Vadym Makaryuk is currently undergoing medical rehabilitation.

In the Chernihiv region during the parliamentary elections, namely in the Pryluky of the Chernihiv region, on June 13, deputy chairman of the election headquarters of the candidate for parliamentary election, Oleksandr Chaliy, beat two journalists of the ”Stop Corruption” project, Maria Gural and Vladimir Tsyganov. The journalist came to Pryluky to verify an information they got saying the candidate for legislative election would be buying votes. At first, Chaly first tried to snatch a microphone of Mariya Gural, and then he beat her. He beat her colleague Volodymyr Tsyganov as well, who was trying to defend her. As a result, Mariya Gural got a brain concussion and Volodymyr Tsyganov got many racomas and bruises. Chernihiv region police opened criminal proceedings under Article 345-1 (2) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine - threat or violence against a journalist. On June 14, police arrested the suspected person and served him with charges.

In the same Pryluky, in July, the blogger Ihor Stakh, who was frequently slamming one of the candidates for parliamentary election, made public a video message claiming that he was threatened of physical violence. And in August, some unknown persons beat Ihor Stakh near his home in Chernihiv. He was diagnosed with the brain concussion. In an IMI commentary Igor Stakh said that he related the assault to his journalistic investigations into the candidate for parliamentary election Serhiy Korovchenko and the representative of the voluntary organizations of Chernihiv Vadym Yovenko.

In Zhytomir , the attack on the TV crew with online portal "Zhytomyr-Life" caused an outcry. an executive of the transport company “Sheriff” tried to prevent the TV crew of “Zhytomir Life” web-based edition to work. He tried to knock the camera out of hands of the cameraman Serhiy Omllechuk, as to “Zhytomir Life”. This incident happened on March 2nd at 12:50 a.m. near the public transport station, in front of the cinema house “Ukraina”. The TV crew was going to film a story reacting to complaint of a disabled person. Notwithstanding that he presented his disabled person card to the bus driver, he refused him to take the bus. After the journalist spoke to author of complaint, a person got in the bus and named himself as executive person of the transport company. He attacked the cameraman and began to knock the camera out of the cameraman’s hands. As the journalists could precise afterwards, that person was engineering technical. The journalists called the police and filed the complaint over the fact of obstruction to their professional activity.

And in July, another assault occurred, that time on the editor of the district newspaper Zvyagel Oleg Bryukhanov. He was attacked at about three o'clock a.m. in Novograd-Volynsky when a journalist walked into the courtyard of his home.

 Threats of the year

In Zaporizhzhya, the most serious violation of journalists' rights this year was the row involving the journalists and relatives and friends of detainees suspected of being members of an organized criminal group (OCG) at the court hearings in Ordzhonikidze district court on December 2. At that time, journalists were threatened and finally just pushed out of the courtroom. As a result, two journalists were compelled to quit the building of the court, escorted by police officers for their safety. On that day, the trial lasted until 2.00 a.m., and jourbnalists could not take photos of the detainees, not only due to their supporters, but alsodue to the court staff, judges and bailiffs.

In Lviv, a notable trend in 2019 was the intensification of threats and making obstacles to journalists for Zaxid.net which is part of the Lux media holding related to the Mayor Andriy Sadovy. For example, on December 12, the editorial board of the online edition of Zaxid.net appealed to the law enforcement officers for attempts to impede their journalistic activity by some radically inclined representatives of several Lviv NGOs. The journalists requested they guaranteed that the editorial board could work to the ful extent and the journalists could be in safety.

In the Sumy region in March 2019 there was a pogrom in the newspaper office. So, on the night of March 9 in the city of Bilopilly, some unknown people broke a window in the premises of the editorial office of the local newspaper Media Plus, stole three laptops and a professional camera, They left a note with threatens at the table of the editor in chief “Get away, things!” Based on this fact, the criminal proceedings have been instituted under the article over the fact of robbery and intrusion into some premises, but does not relate the incident to professional activity of journalists of the editorial office. As Tetyana Kuksa, editor in chief told, lately, the newspaper did not publish any highly critical report, nor story to the benefit of some candidate for the presidency. But the incident could be linked to the business competition at the media market. The employees of the editorial office had been threatened not once by the competitors in the past, through social networks or in person, she said.

.In Chernihiv, on October 27, some unidentified person threatened to a journalist  with UA:Chernihiv Olga Dvoynos to break her phone and forbade her to take pictures from the scene of an accident involving the Mayor of Chernihiv Vladyslav Atroshenko.

And in Chernivtsi, the most frequently there were complains to the police about obstruction of professional activity, including threats, due to covering of some religious issues from the journalist for “Chernivtsi.Online” Galina Eremytsa. She repeatedly faced impediments in her work, threats in social media, and even curses. According to her, she had no support in the journalistic community, because she was covering this topic alone. According to the journalist, the majority of criminal proceedings over her complains had been dropped by the police due to lack of corpus delicti. 

It is worth noting that another Chernivtsi journalist and editor of the Talnyv Novyi Dzvin newspaper, Anna Dragun, could obtain opening of the criminal proceedings for threats from the chairman of the Talnyv district council against her only in court.

Trials of the Year

There are some positive news: sometimes, the judges periodically stood up for the journalists. The same thing happened in 2019. In Zhytomyr, the long-awaited event was the adoption in March 2019 of a sentence to the persons involved in assault against the correspondent for “20 minutes. Zhytomyr” Ruslan Moroz (Kunavin), which happened in June 2017. He was then severely beaten and sustained multiple moderate injuries. The Zhytomyr Korolyovsky District Court repeatedly extended the house arrest detention to suspects. Finally, on March 29, the assailants were found guilty of assault with intention to rob.

And in Sumy the saga with the investigation into the beating of Panorama editor-in-chief Yevgeny Polozhii, which happened back in April 2014 was on. On April 15, 2014, in the evening of Sumy, two strangers in the balaclava brutally beat the editor-in-chief of the Panorama newspaper Yevhen Polozhy in the garage. As a result, he suffered a severe concussion, numerous traumas and open dislocation of the arm.

The police qualified the case as hooliganism. However, after the incident had provoked much of  outrcy in the community, the case was re-qualified as "intentionally causing moderate bodily harm." The police noted that the attack on Polozhii could be related to his professional activity. Yevgeny Poloziy told IMI that he related the attack to his journalistic activities.

Four years later, on May 2018, the Kovpakivsky district court acquitted the suspected assaulter, but finally, in April 2019, Susmky court of appeal reversed that decision. The case is to be re-considered.

.In 2019, in Chernivtsi,  a conflict was resolved between the Chernivtsi newspaper Chas and the Metropolitan of the UOC Meletiy (Valentin Yegorenko) for the benefit of journalists. The Court of Appeal upheld the complaint of the newspaper and overturned the decision of the court of first instance, which obliged the editions to publish a refutation of the publication “Illicit dealers wearing cassoks. How do the Moscow ecclesiastics live in Bukovyna region? ” The Metropolitan of Chernivtsi and Bukovynian Meletii sued the editorial office demanding to refute information that he owned five cars and two apartments in Chernivtsi. Having won in the court of first instance, the Metropolitan of the UOC-MP lost his appeal to the journalists and was forced to reimburse the media representatives for the costs of 3800 hryvnias.

Election of the year

This year's double election became a test for values ​​and professionalism that not every regional mass media have passed. “Make jeansa, while you can”, this slogan is perhaps the most exact, as one lloks at this year's regional media election strategies. What can be said if, according to IMI’s survey, during the first round of the presidential election, 44% (!) of the regional mass media materials on presidential candidates were jeansa. According to the survey, online media of Zaporizhzhya (22%) and Ternopil (19%) became front-runners by the number of jeansa stories during the presidential election, while the least jeansa were produced by Rivne online media (3%).  Yulia Tymoshenko (28%), Petro Poroshenko (22%), Yuriy Boyko (15%) and Oleksandr Vilkul (9.5%) were the leaders in the placement of materials with signs of being paid-for in the regional mass media.

The journalistic experiment in Rivne only confirmed the unfortunate trends duting the parliamentary elections: almost all local media (television, newspapers and websites) were OKto publish jeansa stories / hidden advertising. Then, in the framework of an experiment, a would-be PR-company journalist offered to all Rivne mass media a story about (fictitious) meeting of (fictitious) candidate with residents of the district and business, as well as an interview with him. She sent proposals to publish that political image story to 21 Rivne mass media, including her media. As a result of the experiment, 19 mass media agreed to do it.

Another issue of this year's election, which is not new one, is the falsification of press cards, which were widely were distributed during the election to people who have nothing to do with journalism. This year, in Zhytomyr, the police even opened a case of such forgery. Thus, the head of Korostyshiv district state administration Vyacheslav Polishchuk was found out to dispose the “journalist” press card.

Again, in Rivne, during the elections, they exposed a number of media outlets that published false ratings, “news” produced by the HQs of the candidates. Inaccurate studies were published, in particular, by Rivne sites Radio Track, Rivne Vechirne (site and newspaper), Rivne-1. "Rhythm", "Rivnynski novyny”, "Sphere-TV", "Press Center", "7 Days". Due to the publication of such ratings, the lawyers of the project "Press on" (Bihus.Info) have prepared and sent a complaints to the police. Since the site ratings were revoked after the elections, the administrative protocol was only drawn up regarding the editor of the newspaper Rivne Vechirne, Valentyna Shakh. Later, the judge of the Rivne city court Oksana Kryzhova did not find the body of the administrative offense in this fact and closed the proceedings. Although in February 2019 in Volyn, the court found guilty the editor of the newspaper "Nash Krai" for the same article and under similar circumstances.

Loss of the year

One of the most notable losses of the year on the regional media front was the dismissals in June 2019 of the Lviv edition of the ZIK news agency, which was used to fill up the zik.ua website by 85%. The resource continues to exist, but it has lost both in quality (the number of materials committed, in particular, to the “Opposition Platform - For Life!” has grown significantly), and in the amount of news. As reported by IMI, the reason for the dismissals was that the new owner of the holding was Taras Kozak – an ally of Viktor Medvedchuk, owner of 112 Ukraine and NewsOne channels known for his propaganda activities. Then much of the channel team and the news agency team left. “My ZIK is over. I am going to resign, "  the editor-in-chief of IA ZIK Tatiana Vergeles wrote. In fact, the whole team of the Lviv editorial office went with it. Journalist Serhiy  Rachmanin also claimed he would terminate his cooperation with ZIK.

In Cherkasy this year, in the beginning of September the newspaper Nova Doba ceased to be published and its website ceased to function. It was one of the oldest editions of the region: the newspaper was published twice a week since 1998 and at some time, it had the highest number of subscribers in the region.

Solidarity of the year

This year, journalists also held several solidarity actions. For example, in September in Zaporozhye journalists from 15 editions gathered under the walls of the city hall, demanding a press conference of the mayor Volodymyr Buryak. Such an action was conducted by the local online media due to another refusal of the mayor to give a press conference. During his entire term, the mayor held only one press conference and no longer met with journalists in this format for three years. The participants of the action told about that in an open letter, which was published almost simultaneously in the news wires of all media which signed it. For a month and a half, at the end of October, journalists again held a protest action already in the session hall of the City Council. They again demanded the mayor to hold a press conference.

In Zhytomyr , the candidacy of the MP from Opposition Platform - For Life Nestor Shufrych as the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech provoked active discussion and media reaction. A protest by the Media Mouvement against this appointment was picked up in the regions. Then the journalists, together with the activists, held an action near the premises of Zhytomyr Regional State Administration under the slogan @ fuckoffshufrych.

 Overall results of the year

One of the most negative trends for the media is still the lack of full punishment for violations against freedom of speech violations. This year was no exception. At the end of the year, no fewer than 41 violations of journalists' rights and freedom of expression were reported in the analyzed regions. Leaders among the violations against journalists were Zaporozhye and Chernivtsi (eight violations), Rivne (six violations), Chernihiv (five). The journalists in Sumy faced the least amount of pression (one violation). However, even these cases are usually rarely terminate with indictments. Thus, in Chernihiv in the last two years, 14 proceedings were opened, nine of them were closed, only one case was brought to court, the remaining four are still under investigation, but no charges have been filed. In Rivne, all criminal proceedings under Article 171 opened in previous years have already been closed by the police. None of them were brought to court. Currently, the police of Rivne region investigated only three criminal proceedings based on the article “Obstruction of the Legal Professional Activity of Journalists”. In 2019, Chernivtsi they filed 10 complaints from mass media professionals about violations of their rights: seven of them were entered into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations. Pre-trial investigations into obstacles to journalists in 2018-2019 are conducted in only five criminal proceedings.

Analysis of the mass media condition was held  in the following regions: Zhytomyr, Zaporizhia, Lviv, Rivne, Sumy, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi, Chernihiv.

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