A A+ A++

Journalist documenting events at the Independence square during the clashes in Ukraine, Kyiv, 18 February, 2014.
© wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov

Media Freedom

Author: Ella Kapsomun (BA student of Corvinus University of Budapest, Erasmus Placement at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Padua)

During the first decade of independence, the Ukrainian media went through a period of transition from communist regime in which it established non-governmental media. Today Ukraine has legislation regarding media, including both domestic regulatory acts and the ratification of international conventions. Ukraine has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1997 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1973 that outlay basic principles of freedom of speech and media. The Constitution of Ukraine guarantees freedom of speech, expression of views and collection, keeping, use and dissemination of information (Article 34), it bans censorship (Article 15) and collection, keeping, use and dissemination of confidential information regarding individuals without their consent and guarantees legal protection and the right to refute untrue information (Article 32). In addition, the article 34 states: “the exercise of these rights may be restricted by law in the interests of national security, territorial indivisibility or public order.”

The development of Ukrainian media during that transition, along with the deep economic crisis and high level of corruption raised serious concerns. In 1999 during the presidency of L. Kuchma the freedom of the press was limited through tax inspections, libel cases, subsidization, and intimidation of journalists; this caused many journalists to practice self-censorship, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media reports. Moreover, numerous anonymous attacks and threats have persisted against journalists, who investigate corruption or other government misdeeds. The most sensational case, which is still discussed, was the murder of the editor of “Ukrainska Pravda” (Ukrainian Truth) - an Internet news publication critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine – Heorhiy Gongadze, who was kidnapped and murdered aftermath in 2012.

According to the report of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, since 2000 positive developments were made, in particular media pluralism started to seem more noticeable, which led to the regular criticism of politicians in media. However, in the broadcast media, specifically on television it seemed to be least developed because of the Government’s remaining position on the most popular channels. During 2001-2004 there existed a term like “temniki” (closed directive) issued from above on daily basis and forwarded to Ukrainian media leadership, which played a role of internal guidelines as to how the media should cover current events. They were not press releases but instructions on how to cover political developments in the country and they in fact originated from inside the Presidential Administration, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media reports. After the orange revolution in 2004 the practice of Ukrainian temniki came to an end. In the years after 2005, Ukraine has served as an outstanding example among the CIS countries in upholding media freedom commitments. The work of independent media has improved considerably, media pluralism flourished and liberal legislation, including decriminalization of defamation was adopted to create an environment that encouraged a wealth of ideas and opinions.

In the 2013 report of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media it is noted that since 2010 there has been a clear deterioration of the media freedom situation, which included attempts to suppress media freedom via censorship and interference in the work of media outlets and staff. The abolishment of the National Commission on Freedom of Speech, the political appointees to the National Council on TV and Radio and the pressure on critical media via threats to licensing restrictions have been also a matter of concern.

Another problem remains the increasing number of violent attacks against journalists and impunity from prosecution. Besides, since 2010, the complaints of censorship started to increase which resulted adoption of a law on strengthening the protection of the ownership of mass media offices, publishing houses, bookshops and distributors, as well as creative unions. It is said in Reporters without Borders (RSF) report that by 2012 many journalists had still been subject to threats and pressures and majority of the attacks remained unpunished. It was also noted that judiciary was unable to solve high-profile cases such as the murder of editor Gongadze as well as investigate the disappearance of missing editors. Starting in 2010 these restrictions contributed to the current political and media freedom crisis in Ukraine.

Since the end of November 2013 there have been nearly 300 reported cases of violence against journalists, including murder, physical assaults, kidnappings, threats, intimidations, detentions, imprisonments, and damage and confiscation of equipment. There were cases of illegal switching off the broadcasts stemming from conflict-ridden areas, often accompanied by violence and threats. In Crimea and eastern Ukraine these broadcasts have been replaced several times by state media channels originating from the Russian Federation.

During the first phase of this crisis between November and February one journalist was killed and nearly 200 others were victims of violence. The second phase is linked to the current crisis and events in the south and east of the country. Starting in March in Crimea, in April in Sloviansk and Donetsk, and in May in Luhansk, broadcasting stations and related infrastructure were attacked by unidentified and often armed individuals who then replaced television programming with state media from the Russian Federation. Journalists in Crimea face regular threats and harassment and those who are not considered loyal to the effective de facto authorities or refuse to change citizenship are under the threat of possible eviction from the region.

Apart from all these events there were reported the following ones:

• around 30 cases in which journalists were denied entry into Ukraine, as well as in cases of de facto authorities in Crimea denying entry to journalists crossing into the peninsula;
• several attacks on the print media – the ransack of the editorial offices of some newspapers;
• the intimidation of the editors and directors as well as resignation made by force;
• kidnap, murders and tortures of people working in press (7 killed, 270 assaults);
• seizure and destruction of equipment and harassment of the journalists;
• manipulation of media, propaganda; information and psychological wars. 

A pin of this in-depth analysis offers a List of journalists murdered since Ukrainian independence.

Last update