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Reaction of journalistic community. Summing up of 2021

21.12.2021, 16:04

IMI is starting to sum up the results of the year in various aspects of the media sphere. This is the first text on this topic

During 2021, the Ukrainian media community issued 20 statements on the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine and two statements in support of Belarusian journalists. 

These are the results of the IMI's annual Freedom of Speech Barometer monitoring, which tracks the reaction of the journalistic community to violations. 

Statements by the media community and journalists concerned:

-condemnation of the practice of traffic of press cards to the persons who do not conduct journalistic activities and do not adhere to the ethical norms of the profession; 

-support for journalist Yuriy Butusov, whose video was used a pretext for proceedings of the SBI;

-support for journalists of the "Skhemy" program, who were aggressed in Ukreximbank;

-support for sanctions against Medvedchuk's NewsOne, 112 Ukraine and ZIK channels;

-support for the “Zvorotnyy Vidlik” on Suspilne broadcaster after case of pressure from the "Servants of the people";

-restriction of access to information and selectivity in admission to city councils, such as Zaporizhzhya and Kremenchuh city councils;

-requirements for transparency in the investigation of crimes against journalists;

-demands to ensure a transparent investigation into the murders of journalists Georgy Gongadze, Pavel Sheremet and Vadym Komarov.

Separately, IMI issued a statement due to illegal restrictions on the rights of journalists in the courts.

Six statements were initiated by the Media Movement professional community. Among them are statements in defense of journalists of the "Skhemy" program, who were attacked in Ukreximbank; editor-in-chief of "Censor.Net" Yuriy Butusov; on the issuance of journalistic press cards to persons who do not conduct journalistic activities; on sanctions against NewsOne, 112 Ukraine and ZIK.

Media and human rights NGOs also intensified cooperation with law enforcement agencies and signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation with the Prosecutor General’s Office.

This year, journalists took part in protest rallies to protect their rights and actions in memory of their killed colleagues. In particular, the actions were held in defense of the rights of "Bukvy" photojournalist Oleksander Kuzhelny ; journalists of the "Skhemy" program, who were attacked in Ukreximbank. Journalists, who were not invited to President Volodymyr Zelensky's press marathon, staged a rally in Kyiv, accusing of the selective accreditation of the media to cover events involving Zelensky.

There was also an action in memory of Georgy Gongadze, dedicated to the 21st anniversary of the murder of a journalist, in memory of Pavel Sheremet.

Beyond this, some media outlets and journalists made two public appeals to the authorities about prejudice to their professional rights. 

Statements of Ukrainian media and media organizations:

- On January 24, a statement by the Media Movement calling on the National Police to immediately investigate the actions of the NGO "Journalists Against Corruption" and to refrain from harassing activists for comments in the media. 

- On January 27, the appeal of the Commission on Journalism Ethics to the National Police and the Ministry of Justice with a request to check the news agency and the newspaper "Journalists Against Corruption", the National Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine, news agency "Tavria News", the newspaper "Liga Inform" and the magazine “Business Companion” for forgery of documents, abuse of the rights of journalists, obtaining a certificate of state registration under a false pretense. 

- On January 31, more than 20 Zaporizhzhya journalists openly appealed to the central authorities to intervene and to prevent systematic denial of access for media professionals at the sessions of the Zaporizhzhya City Council and meetings of standing parliamentary commissions. Due to the journalists' request, the issue was submitted to the parliamentary committee for freedom of speech, the police opened a criminal case, and in February the journalists were admitted to the City Council session, although they were not allowed to move around the city council building. 

- On February 3, the journalistic and media community could not help but react to the sanctions imposed on February 22 on 112 Ukraine, ZIK and NewsOne. In particular, a number of NGOs stated that sanctions against Medvedchuk Group TV channels didn’t threaten freedom of speech, as these channels were instruments of foreign influence and posed a systemic threat to Ukraine's information security. 

-On February 4, Ukrainian NGOs called on the president Volodymyr Zelensky to veto the Law #3450 “On Amendments to Some Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning the Regulation of Certain Issues of Protection of Whistleblowers” ​​and return it to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for revision. The experts noted that despite a number of forward-looking rules, the law restricted the rights of whistleblowers and weakened their protection, contradicted the very definition of "whistleblower" and did not provide clear guarantees for the anonymity of sources. In particular, the whistleblower must explain where he got the information about the offense. This, the statement says, contradicts the basic principles of protecting sources of information and is in fact impossible, as the whistleblower himself is a source of information about corruption. On March 3, the president Volodymyr Zelensky returned to the Verkhovna Rada with his proposals the Law "On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine" On Prevention of Corruption "on Regulation of Certain Issues of Protection of Whistleblowers", which was adopted on February 4, 2021.

- On February 6, sanctions against Medvedchuk's channels were supported by the Media Movement , that noted that "Lies, which are persistently and often repeated, foment hatred, are detrimental to society and have nothing to do with journalism."

  • - On April 1, IMI filed an open letter to the High Council of Justice, the High Qualifications Commission of Judges, the Council of Judges of Ukraine, and the Supreme Court over the illegal restriction of journalists' rights in the courts. The Institute of Mass Information has recorded several cases of journalists not being allowed to attend public hearings without proper legal grounds. This is especially true of high-profile cases, which are the subject of increased public interest. IMI called on the highest bodies of judicial self-government and supervision: to secure ceasing of the practice of unlawful selective non-admission of journalists to public court hearings, to bring judges who have allowed illegal restrictions on the rights of journalists, violation of the requirements of publicity of the trial, to disciplinary or other legal liability provided by law.


-On April 7, the journalistic community demanded an honest and impartial investigation into an incident in March involving well-known photographer Yevhen Nikiforov, who is accused of a fatal accident in the Odesa region.

-On May 7, journalists from Kremenchuk (Poltava region) declared that the city council resorted to selectivity and discrimination. They addressed an open letter to the deputies of the City Council with a request to inform the local media about the official events with the participation of the mayor or other representatives of the executive committee and to adhere to equal treatment of all media.

- On July 2, Dnipro journalists called on law enforcement agencies to conduct an objective and impartial investigation into the beating of OTV operators Ihor Hutnik and D1 Serhiy Fayzulin while filming the dismantling of advertising structures on the city streets.

- On July 7, media organizations called on parliament to limit the interference of the tobacco industry in the work of the media. In particular, NGOs asked to adopt in the second reading and in general the bill on public health protection from the harmful effects of tobacco №4358 as soon as possible.

- On September 16, human rights and media organizations appealed to the authorities on the anniversary of the murder of Georgy Gongadze. They demanded that the Ukrainian authorities ensure a transparent investigation into the murders of journalists Georgy Gongadze, Pavel Sheremet and Vadym Komarov, and identify and name the perpetrators of the killings. 

- On October 6, the Independent Media Council (IMC) and Detector Media expressed outrage and demanded a proper investigation into the October 4, 2021, attack on journalists of the Schemes: Corruption in Detail program at Ukreximbank.

- On October 6, the Media for Conscious Choice Media Movement demanded the immediate dismissal, not the temporary suspension of Yevhen Metzger as chairman of Ukreximbank's board. 

- On October 20, Suspilne made a stand for the editorial board of the "Zvorotniy Vidlik" (Countdown) program and stated that the absence of representatives of the "Servant of the People" party on October 18 was a decision not of the talk show editorial board, but of the parliamentary faction.

- On October 25, the Independent Media Council called for an end to all attempts to put pressure on the Suspilne public broadcaster, including illegal restrictions on funding, and for the sustainable development of the Public Broadcasting. The corresponding statement is connected with the statement of the host of the talk show "Countdown" on the TV channel "UA: Pershiy" Myroslava Barchuk about the pressure on the editorial office of the program by employees of the President's Office. According to her, subordinates to the head of the Office of President Andriy Yermak accused the talk show of not meeting professional standards (lack of the balance of opinions in the program aired on October 18) and set their conditions for the presence of deputies from the "Servant of the People" in the studio. According to her, on October 11, the President's Office sent them an "ultimatum" precising that "two" servants "(both non-experts) or none" would be present in the program about energy security. 

- On October 29, human rights groups condemned the persecution by Russian authorities in occupied Crimea of ​​Crimean Solidarity journalist Amet Suleimanov and three other prisoners of the third Bakhchisaray group in the Crimean Muslim case, Rustem Seitmemetov, Osman, and Seitumer Seitumer.

- On November 2, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Ukraine's media and human rights groups called on the government and law enforcement agencies to conduct effective and transparent investigations into crimes against journalists, and to reform law enforcement and judicial reform to prevent impunity.

- On November 21, the Media Movement called on Ukrainian journalists to unite themselves to resist pressure.

- On November 29, the Media Movement claimed that the pressure of government officials on journalist Yuriy Butusov was unacceptable and that the State Bureau of Investigation should not become an instrument for political reprisals. The statement was caused by the fact that on November 28 the SBI reported as part of the initiated criminal proceedings studying the video posted on November 27 by Censor.Net editor-in-chief Yuriy Butusov on his Facebook page.  On this video, the journalist fires a 152-mm D-20 howitzer. Criminal proceedings have been instituted under Articles 414 of the Criminal Code (“Violation of the rules of handling weapons, as well as substances and objects that pose an increased danger to the surroundings”) and 437 of the Criminal Code (“Planning, preparing, launching and waging an aggressive war”). Yuriy Butusov himself considers such actions revenge of President Volodymyr Zelensky for the conflict at the press marathon on November 26. 

- On December 8, the Media Movement stated that it opposed the issuance of journalists’ press cards to outsiders, as it undermined trust in the profession, encouraged corruption, and made it difficult to protect the rights of real journalists. The Media Movement also called for a public audit of the NUJU's membership. The reason for this statement was the statement of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NAU) on the actions of the National Police, which tried to gain access to the list of members of regional organizations of the Union of Vinnytsia and Ternopil regions.

Actions of journalists:

-On August 17, a protest rally took place near the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kyiv , demanding that investigators investigate crimes against journalists. The reason for the action was the attack on the photo correspondent of "Bukvy" Oleksander Kuzhelny, which happened on August 14 in the center of Kyiv immediately after the action near the President's Office.

-An action in memory of Georgy Gongadze dedicated to the 21st anniversary of the journalist's murder took place in Kyiv on September 16. The participants of the action were journalists and human rights activists who reminded that no instigators of the murder has been established yet.

- On October 6, a protest rally was held near the Ukreximbank building in Kyiv in support of “Skhemy” journalists who were aggressed while recording an interview with the head of the financial institution, Yevhen Metzger. Before the protest began, a flower pot fell out of the bank's window. Journalists held placards condemning the actions of the bank's management and in support of journalists of the "Skhemy’s" project.

-On November 26, journalists who were not invited to President Volodymyr Zelensky's press marathon staged a protest rally in Kyiv. They emphasized the selective mode of accreditation for the media to cover events involving Zelensky. It will be recalled that on November 25, the President's Office announced a press marathon of the president Volodymyr Zelensky on November 26 , dedicated to the "equator" of his term. The OP said that only 30 journalists were invited to the press marathon " due to the bad epidemic situation in Ukraine and taking into account the experience of previous press marathons."

- On November 28, in Kyiv, at the site of the murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, Belarusian and Ukrainian journalists came to honor his memory : he would have turned 50 that day. The action, initiated by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, was supported by Ukrainian journalists and a number of Belarusian non-governmental organizations established in Ukraine by Belarusian refugees.

Appeals of journalists:

- On February 4, in Zakarpattia, investigative journalists Stanislav Danko and Olena Mudra called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to respond more effectively to violations of their rights. They sent an appeal to the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov and to the leadership of the Transcarpathian police regarding the inappropriate response of some local police units to complaints of eventual violations of journalists' rights. The letter listed the facts, in particular, the closure of criminal proceedings for failure to respond to Stanislav Danko's journalistic request from the Road Service, the refusal of the Vynohradiv police to open criminal proceedings on the statement of journalist Olena Mudra for failure to respond from the City Council on an information request. The journalists received a response from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to their appeal, but they were not satisfied with this response. 

- On February 25, the Vinnytsia-based online publication “20 Minutes” responded to a decision by the Holosiivsky District Court in Kyiv to block access to 426 websites as part of criminal fraud proceedings. The publication said that it considered the decision of the court to block his site, which was included in the list of 426 resources, to be under pressure from the authorities. The edition will appeal against such a decision. On February 25, Nadiya Maksymets, a spokeswoman for the Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office, said police had closed a criminal case in which the Holosiivskyi District Court of Kyiv had decided to block access to 426 websites. 

In addition, Ukrainian media professionals made two statements in support of Belarusian colleagues 

- On February 16, Ukrainian NGOs called on the Ukrainian authorities to publicly condemn repression and political pressure from the Belarusian government on human rights defenders and independent journalists.

-On February 18, Ukrainian journalists and media outlets expressed their support for convicted Belarusian Belsat journalists Kateryna Bakhvalova (Andreeva) and Daria Chultsova, who had been imprisoned for two years for protests. On February 21, in a joint statement  the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba and the Minister for Culture and Information Policy Oleksander Tkachenko condemned the persecution of journalists in Belarus. " "The whole democratic world recognizes the media as the fourth estate and does not interfere in their professional activities. The attack on the freedom of speech, life and health of journalists in the Republic of Belarus openly violates these basic principles, ”the statement reads.

It will also be recalled that on September 14, 2021, media and human rights NGOs and the Office of the Prosecutor General signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation. The memorandum was signed by the Institute of Mass Information, the Crimean Human Rights Group, the Institute for Regional Press Development, the Human Rights Platform, the Detector Media and the ZMINA Human Rights Center.

The signing of the memorandum was preceded by the fact that on May 25, 2021, The Institute of Mass Information provided the Office of the Prosecutor General with a list of violations of journalists' rights for investigation and proposed to form a working group to achieve more progress of such investigations. The PGO has expressed its willingness to contribute to the investigations of the crimes against journalists.

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