On August 17, 2018, Russian state-owned channel «Russia 24» published video material by Aleksandr Sladkov, which was dedicated to Donetsk journalist Stanislav Aseev. This is the first factual proof of Aseev being prisoner of «DPR» group since the day of his disappearance in 2017 in Donetsk city. And, unfortunately, it is not the first case when Russian media grossly violate the rules, norms and ethics of journalists at the time of armed conflicts and when preparing information about hostages or prisoners of war.
We, the journalists, Ukrainian media and advocacy organizations, express our deep indignation by publication of this material which violates all possible standards of ethics and professional norms of journalism. We have grounds to assume that for publication of this «confession» of the journalist Stanislav Aseev he was subjected to physical or psychological influence measures. Such inadmissible practice was already used in 2014-2015 against Ukrainian journalists who were prisoners in so-called «DPR» and «LPR», where one of the conditions of release was giving this kind of interview.
Taking and holding hostages, and Aseev is a hostage in this case, as well as forcing them to testify against themselves, is an open and gross violation of the standards of international humanitarian laws, and such video publication is at the same time evidence and shameful and cynical «popularization» and normalization of such violations, which is inadmissible based on basic humanitarian laws. Preparation and publication of such media stories is not compatible with the status and role of mass media in a democratic society from moral, ethical, and legal point of view.
We emphasize that such materials cannot be considered journalism based on the following grounds:
- The material does not cover facts as such: nothing is known about conditions Aseev is held in, if he has any access to an attorney, what is his health condition, about any actual proof of «violations» he is accused of.
- The material is built only on personal opinion of the author about the hostage. Due to the format and content of the video – the goal of this material is not informing the audience, but making public the message benefiting the self-proclaimed «authorities» of the part of Donetsk oblast, and, as this material was aired by Russian state-owned channel, also benefiting Russian authorities. This is a gross violation of the standards of journalism, ethics, and causes instigation of the conflict.
- The author of the story openly manipulates, humiliates and denigrates the hostage.
As a reminder, basic recommendations of OSCE for journalists who prepare materials on specific people becoming hostages include the following:
- the information should be verified thoroughly and only from competent sources;
- journalists must present information based on facts the origin of which is known to them, and to clearly indicate sources.
At the same time, Sladkov’s material about Aseev, all these things are missing. Instead, the author provides his own explanation of the prisoner’s words and actively promotes his personal opinion.
Due to this reason, we, the journalists, Ukrainian media and advocacy organizations, address NGOs and international organizations, and also to specialized institutions and bodies, to diplomatic agencies in Russia and in Ukraine, and to the governments of democratic countries, with the following appeal:
- to decisively condemn publication of such media materials, and to clearly note that it is inconsistent with status and role of media in the democratic society;
- to take all possible efforts to stop the victimization of journalist Stanislav Aseev, who is held hostage, and to achieve his immediate release;
- to take all possible efforts for representatives and agents of OSCE and the Red Cross to organize meeting with Aseev in the location of his confinement and to clarify facts about his health condition, conditions of his imprisonment, and other important information, for reporting to the general public.
We appeal to the International Federation of Journalists, the member of which is the Union of Journalists of Russia, to step up against using mass media as a tool of propaganda and instigation of conflicts, and of gross violations of international humanitarian laws.
We also appeal to the Union of Journalists of Russia to express the organization’s position about publication of materials with gross violation of standards and ethics of the journalist work in the broadcasts of Russian television, and to take necessary measures for such materials not to be published in Russian mass media in the future.
On our part, we, the journalists, Ukrainian media and law enforcement organizations, in future refuse to acknowledge the status of professional media and/or journalists who practice such information activities, and the status of their agents who practice things inconsistent with their status.
NGO «Detector media»
NGO «Institute of Mass Information»
Donetsk institute of information
Pylyp Orlyk Democracy Institute
National Association of Journalists of Ukraine
Ukrainian Crisis Media Center
«Zaborona», NGO «Cross Media»
NGO «Internews Ukraine»
Digital Security Laboratory
Center of Democracy and Supremacy of Law
Independent Media Council
Commission for Journalist Ethics
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