Ukraine - Media targeted in eastern Ukraine

by Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders
Thursday, 10 April 2014 11:04 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the attacks on journalists and news media in connection with the unrest in eastern Ukraine since 6 April. The offices of several regional TV stations in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk were attacked on the night of 7 April, and journalists have been harassed and attacked in Kharkiv and Lugansk.

"Journalists must be able to do their job of reporting the news with complete safety and without having to chose one side or the other," said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"We urge all parties to the conflict to respect the media's work and to stop taking hostages for political purposes. The Ukrainian authorities have an obligation to protect journalists and to bring all those who attack them to justice."

Ukraina TV journalist Grigori Pirlik was harassed by a group of pro-Russian activists while doing a report in Kharkiv on 6 April. Commenting on this event, he said many news media were poorly perceived in Kharkiv.

Around 50 masked activists stormed ATN television's premises in Kharkiv on the evening of 7 April, destroying all of its computer equipment and journalists' notes and files, and announcing that they intended to "control" the station's work. They ordered the resumption of broadcasting of Russian programmes and threatened the station's CEO, Oleg Yuhtu.

Unsuccessful attacks were made on the regional public TV broadcaster's Donetsk and Kharkiv offices. Dozens of men also tried to enter the offices of the IRTA TV station in Lugansk but were prevented by the security guards protecting the building.

Pro-Russian demonstrators stationed outside Lugansk's security service headquarters harassed TV journalists with NTN and Ukraina on 9 April. Alexei Movsenian, a cameraman with local TV station LOT, was hit on the head in similar circumstances in the same place on 6 April. The police opened an investigation into the incident, treating it as "deliberate obstruction of a journalist's professional activity" under article 171 of the penal code.

Journalists demonstrated in Kharkiv on 8 April in protest against these attacks and to demand that they be allowed to work freely. The National Union of Journalists and the Union of Independent Media issued a joint statement stressing the need for the authorities to provide journalists with effective protection.

The two organizations previously expressed outrage at the passivity of the police in the fact of the attacks on ATN's premises. They also stressed the importance of journalists displaying impartiality and objectivity amid the ongoing tension.

The unrest of the past few months has had a big impact on freedom of information and journalists' safety. IMI, an NGO that is a Reporters Without Borders partner, registered 196 attacks on journalists in the first quarter of 2014 alone.

Journalists were harassed, abducted and illegally detained by pro-Russian militias in Crimea in March. Retransmission of local and Ukrainian TV stations was stopped in Crimea, and then retransmission of the leading Russian national TV stations was stopped in the rest of Ukraine.

Since Crimea's incorporation into Russia, several Russian media have reported cases of their journalists being turned back at the Ukrainian border. When Kommersant reporter Andrei Kolesnikov and photographer Dmitri Azarov tried to visit Kharkiv on 8 April to cover the events there, border guards denied them entry on the official grounds that they did not have enough money on them.

Since December 2013, foreign nationals have had to be able to prove that they have a minimum amount of funds at their disposal in order to visit Ukraine. Kommersant insists that Kolesnikov was carrying more than the minimum required under the new decree.