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CJE demanded from “Journalists against Сorruption” to stop issuing press cards for money

29.12.2020, 17:01

The Commission on Journalismtic Ethics has issued a public condemnation of Serhiy Kot, editor-in-chief of news agency “Journalists against Corruption", and demanded to stop granting journalistic status to the persons who did not practice journalism, as well as to stop the advertising campaign to attract such "journalists".

The Council of Journalism Ethics said it in its decision of the of December 29 replying to Serhiy Kot's complaint over publications: "Journalists Against Corruption" continues to traffic the press cards" ("Detector Media") of December 3 and" Police must respond to the press cards traffic - Oksana Romanyuk " (The Institute of Mass Information) of December 3, 2020.

CJE considered Serhiy Kot's complaint against these publications and came to the conclusion that the mentioned publications did not infringe of the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists, and the facts mentioned in the texts were true.

At the same time, the Commission found in Serhiy Kot's actions a gross violation of the Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists, in particular paragraph 17: "Illegal receiving of profit or any benefits for any journalistic material done or not done is incompatible with the status of a journalist. A journalist must not use his (her) official position for private profit, with the purpose of easy money, self-advertisement, making his (her) own ways up or willing to please any powers or individuals. A journalist has no right to use financial data before publishing with the purpose of his (her) own enrichment." and publicly condemned Serhiy Kot.

The commission demanded that the editor-in-chief of news agency "Journalists against Corruption" and the head of the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine Serhiy Kot immediately stop granting journalistic status to the persons who did not perform journalistic activities and stop the advertising campaign to attract such "journalists". – the CJE’s decision said.

Herein, you will find the full text of the CJE decision:

Decision of the Commission on Journalism Ethics on Serhiy Kot's complaint against the publication of the "Institute of Mass Media" and "Media Detector" websites

Description of the situation

The Commission on Journalistic Ethics has received a complaint from Serhiy Kot, Editor-in-Chief of news agency "Journalists against Corruption", over the publication "Journalists against Corruption" goes on trafficking press cards ("Detector Media ") dated December 3, 2020 and " Police must respond to press cards traffic - Oksana Romanyuk " (website of the Institute of Mass Infiormation) dated December 3, 2020.

The complainant believes that the publications "failed to present any evidence of any illegal activity that the Ukrainian NGO “Journalists against Corruption” had performed”. Serhiy Kot claimed that the reports saying the NGO “Journalists against Corruption” trafficked press cards did not meet reality and found that its authors of the publication "violated professional standards, journalistic ethics, and the principles of an unbiased reporting and pluralism of opinions".

The applicant requested "to publish a refutation of the disseminated information that was untruthful and degraded the honor and dignity of journalists and the NGO “Journalists against Corruption”, or to provide any evidence of illegal activity of “Journalists against Corruption”, and to remove the publication from imi.org.ua.

The Commission received an answer to the request as to the content of this complaint from the editor-in-chief of the website of the Institute of Mass Information Kateryna Dyachuk. According to her, IMI has repeatedly recorded cases when press cards had been delivered not to better inform the public of socially important information, but to use the status of a journalist to meet other needs, including personal ones, which were not related to any public interests. For example, in the early elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on July 21, 2019, IMI experts recorded cases of issuance of press cards to some outsiders in Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Poltava and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.

“Regarding the complaint from Serhiy Kot, Editor-in-Chief of news agency "Journalists against Corruption", I would like to draw your attention to the fact that it contains some manipulative distortion of information and does not correspond to the content of the publication “Police must respond to press cards traffic – Oksana Romanyuk”of December 3, 2020. Namely, the article, in no way, said that NGO "Journalists against Corruption" was a criminal organization, there were no direct accusations against officials of NGO "Journalists against Corruption" in committing a criminal offense under Article 358 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

IMI is not a law enforcement agency and does not have the authority to convict anyone of a criminal offense. However, in order to implement its statutory tasks, IMI is in position to and is obliged to draw the attention of authorized state bodies to certain facts and phenomena in order to verify their compliance with applicable law, as well as to make appropriate decisions, including those provided by criminal law.

Thus, based on the above, we consider the complaint from Serhiy Kot, editor-in-chief of NA "Journalists against Corruption", unfounded and manipulative, aimed not at raising the standards of journalism and improving the activities of journalists and media in Ukraine, but, quite the opposite, to promote action, which undermine the credibility of journalistic activity and the status of a journalist.

The Commission on Journalism Ethics did not receive a response to the request sent to the editorial office of the “Detector Media” website.

Relevant ethical standards and their observance

The Commission carefully examined Serhiy Kot's complaint in order to examine which specific points of the Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists the applicant found to have been violated. However, I did not find references to such items of the Code in the complaint. At the same time, the commission found that Serhiy Kot justified the violation in his complaint, referring to the Code of Ethics for Professional Journalists adopted in 2002, a document that expired in 2013 after the adoption of the Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists. The new code has been used by Ukrainian journalists for seven years, and its text is available both on the commission's website and on the websites of the organizations that signed the code. 

As the applicant, who calls himself the editor-in-chief of the news agency, did not demonstrate familiarity with the text of the current Code of Ethics of the Ukrainian journalist, the commission checked the facts set out at its own discretion.

The publication "Journalists against Corruption" goes on trafficking press cards” ("Detector Media ") said: "The All-Ukrainian NGO" Journalists against Corruption " traffics a press card for 1,700 hryvnias. This is advertised on the social network Facebook by the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine. "These are messages that are posted on the Facebook page of the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine and have links to the site" Journalists against Corruption ". An announcement which is spread as an advertisement piece on Facebook with pictures of press card press and has the following caption: "How can an ordinary Ukrainian get more rights? A simple solution. "

The publication reported that the website "Journalists against Corruption" said that "every Ukrainian can become a journalist." To do this, the organization asked to pay 500 hryvnias of registration fee and 1,200 membership fees per year; participate in public events of the organization and publish on its website at least one material per month. The authors of the publication also draw attention to the fact that "in addition to the press card, anyone would receive an "order of appointment to the position of journalist "," civil contract "," journalist's letterhead (for journalistic inquiries) "," Press "sticker on the windshield of a car ","business cards of a journalist "and" methodical literature ".

The authors of the publication asked Oksana Romanyuk, the executive director of the Institute of Mass Information, to comment it on, she

Oksana Romanyuk “recalled that press cards traffic was violation of journalism ethics, as well as of the Criminal Code. The articles 358 (forging of documents, seals, stamps) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine provided for up to two years of restriction of liberty. "

"As for the ethical side of the issue, it certainly undermines the credibility of journalists, because they really have a huge responsibility. And those rights and protection that are given to the journalists by law, they get it, because they have a huge responsibility in informing the public. Manipulating such protections, this is both a violation of ethical standards and a crime under the law,"as “Detector Media” quoted the IMI executive director.

In the publication of the site "Detector Media " the quotes are clearly separated from the journalistic text, the sources of information and comments are indicated, the illustrations and the headline correspond to the content of the news. The commission concluded that the headline "Journalists against Corruption" goes on trafficking press cards” had an opinion based on information obtained during the preparation of the material and did not accused any specific individuals.

The publication on the IMI website "Police must respond to press cards traffic - Oksana Romanyuk" also covered activities of the NGO "Journalists against Corruption" in terms of issuing journalist press cards for 1,700 hryvnias. The quotes of the executive director of IMI coincided with the quotes on the site " Detector Media ", while the publication contained a link to the original source and additional information about the activities of the NGO "Journalists against Corruption": a link to a previous statement of the Commission on Journalism Ethics , a link to Zaxid.net etc.

In addition, the” Detector Media” website published the news "Journalists against Corruption" denied trafficking press cards” on December 8, outlining the position of this non-governmental organization contained in a letter to the editorial office.

Conclusion and recommendations

The inspection carried out by the commission confirmed all the facts smentioned in the publications on the sites " Detector Media " and "Institute of Mass Information".

1.An advertisement on Facebook, ID: 102568478380855, which refers to the website of the NGO "Journalists against Corruption" with prices for a press card, is active. The announcement was launched on behalf of the page "National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine", created on December 2, 2020.

2.The website of the NGO "Journalists against Corruption" really contains the conditions under which anyone can get the status of a journalist. The website states that "a journalist's certificate will be useful for a volunteer, public activist, human rights activist, lawyer, MP, entrepreneur, motorist who travels a lot," and so on. Anyone who pays 1,700 hryvnias to the organization is promised a press card that allegedly guarantees "the journalist's immunity and protection of your rights under Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine," as well as a number of other benefits over other citizens, such as obtaining a gun permit. 

3.The NGO "Journalists against Corruption" does not explain what responsibilities the journalists have under the law and what ethical standards apply in the profession. Instead, the organization's website is only about the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that the law provides to journalists compared to ordinary citizens. The Commission on Journalism Ethics sees this as an abuse of the status of a journalist and warns holders of "certificates" against such violations.

Serhiy Kot is the head of both organizations, the Journalists Against Corruption NGO and the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine. The organizations headed by Serhiy Kot are quasi-journalistic and simulate well-known journalistic organizations: for example, they use images of certificates with the inscription "national press card" in advertising; use a name similar to the name of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, etc.

In 2017, the Commission on Journalism Ethics already adopted a complaint condemning the activities of the NGO "Journalists against Corruption". The statement stressed the inadmissibility of providing certain legal benefits to certain persons for money. The Commission has received and continues to receive appeals containing examples of advertising proposals for obtaining the status of a journalist from the said organization.

Like any non-governmental organization, “Journalists against Corruption” cannot avoid criticism, public discussion of activities, or evaluations of such activities by citizens or other organizations. However, other organizations or citizens may express their views on the activities of this organization, and these responses will not always be favorable. However, instead of taking into account the remarks and stopping the issuance of press cards for money, the NGO "Journalists against Corruption" demands to remove publications from the sites and threatens to file a lawsuit and a "statement of criminal violations to the police."

The attempt of this public organization to ban critical evaluations of its activities in the media through lawsuits and statements is nothing but pressure and intimidation of those who draw attention to the problem of issuing press cards to persons who are not engaged and do not intend to work as journalists.

The press card gives the right to receive traumatic weapons, to attend election commission meetings, to freely visit the premises of subjects of power, and so on. Such abuse of the status of a journalist without performing the functions of a journalist, without observing the duties of a journalist, including those defined by the Code of Journalism Ethics, undermines public confidence in journalism in general and the status of a journalist, which threatens free and professional journalism the right of society to receive truthful, objective and comprehensive information from qualitative and professional sources.

Having considered Serhiy Kot's complaint against the publications "Journalists against Corruption”goes on trafficking press cards" and "Police should respond to press cards traffic - Oksana Romanyuk", the commission concluded that these publications did not violate the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalists and all mentioned facts met reality.

The commission found in Serhiy Kot's actions a gross violation of the Code of Ethics for Ukrainian Journalists, in particular, paragraph 17: Illegal receiving of profit or any benefits for any journalistic material done or not done is incompatible with the status of a journalist. A journalist must not use his (her) official position for private profit, with the purpose of easy money, self-advertisement, making his (her) own ways up or willing to please any powers or individuals. A journalist has no right to use financial data before publishing with the purpose of his (her) own enrichment., "and publicly condemned Serhiy Kot.

The commission demands that Serhiy Kot, editor-in-chief of the “Journalists against Corruption” news agency and head of the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine, immediately stop granting journalistic status to persons who do not perform journalistic activity and stop advertising campaigns to attract such "journalists."

As IMI reported, on December 21, 2017, the Commission on Journalistic Ethics recommended that persons willing to adhere to such public organizations, in particular as the NGO “Journalists against Corruption”, first had to inquire and check whether these organisations have been registered in the manner prescribed by law, whether they have the right to issue certificates, what kind of certificates, to avoid potential violations of journalists' rights and to mislead as to the status and scope of legal guarantees. 

On November 22, 2017, Zaxid.net published a material saying that in Ukraine the public organization "Journalists without Corruption" offered press cards and "immunity of a journalist" to anyone for joining its ranks and paying the membership fee.

In December 2019, five journalists refused the award of the National Union of Independent Journalists (NUIJU).

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