Media workers in Ukraine are facing increasing attacks, both physical and verbal, from a range of sources. These attacks threaten not only the safety and wellbeing of individual journalists, but also the ability of the media to fulfill their crucial role in informing the public and holding those in power accountable. This report will examine the nature and extent of these attacks, the reasons behind them, and the implications for Ukraine’s media landscape.
Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the country has made significant strides towards democratization and freedom of the press. However, in recent years, there has been a worrying trend of attacks on journalists and media outlets. According to the Institute of Mass Information, a Ukrainian media watchdog, there were 196 cases of attacks on journalists in 2021, up from 135 in 2020. These attacks range from physical violence, such as beatings and kidnappings, to verbal abuse, such as threats and harassment.
Between 2017 and 2019, there was a decrease in the number of threats to journalists in Ukraine, but in 2020, there was an increase in attacks, particularly via judicial and/or economic means. The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022 saw an additional category of threat added to the Media Risk Map: “from the Russian military”. In 2022, the Russian armed forces were responsible for 46 percent of attacks against journalists in Ukraine. There was also a significant increase in threats from unknown perpetrators, with cyberattacks and harassment being major issues. Most research suggests that these attacks were ordered by Russia.
Killings of Journalists:
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 46 media workers have been killed, including 12 journalists and producers who died while performing their professional duties. Five foreign journalists and three Ukrainian journalists were among the victims. In addition, at least four Ukrainian media workers were tortured and killed in Russian-occupied territories. These include journalist Yevgeny Bal, who was detained, tortured, and beaten by the Russian military before dying from his injuries; freelance journalist Zoreslav Zamoysky, who was found dead with signs of violence; journalist Roman Nezhyborets, who was taken by Russian troops and found dead with gunshot wounds to his knees after the city was liberated from Russian control; and photojournalist Ihor Hudenko, who died while filming military developments in Kharkiv.
Since February 24, 2022, there have been 101 verified cases of attacks against journalists committed by the Russian military in Ukrainian territories (excluding Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic). These attacks include physical attacks, cyberattacks, and attacks via judicial and/or economic means. At least 18 physical attacks were classified as attempted murder. Journalists were also kidnapped and wrongfully imprisoned, and their editorial offices and equipment were destroyed or seized for Russian propaganda purposes. Ukrainian media workers in de-occupied territories have had to rebuild from scratch, and many have become internally displaced persons and refugees. Attacks of a non-physical nature and/or cyberattacks were primarily committed by the Russian military, with 43 cyberattacks taking place in rapid succession. These attacks are considered war crimes under international law.
Reasons Behind the Attacks:
There are several reasons behind the increasing attacks on media workers in Ukraine. One of the main reasons is the country’s ongoing conflict with Russia. The conflict, which began in 2014, has created a highly polarized political climate in Ukraine, with different groups holding strong and often divergent views on issues such as Ukraine’s relationship with Russia, its geopolitical orientation, and its domestic politics. This polarization has spilled over into the media landscape, with media outlets often taking sides and promoting particular agendas.
Another reason is the lack of accountability for those who carry out attacks on journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a global press freedom organization, Ukraine has a poor record of prosecuting those who attack journalists. In many cases, attackers are not identified or brought to justice, creating a culture of impunity that encourages further attacks.
In addition to these factors, media ownership in Ukraine is often opaque and politically connected, leading to concerns about media independence and bias. The government has also been accused of using legal measures, such as defamation lawsuits, to harass and intimidate journalists and media outlets critical of its policies.
Implications for Ukraine’s Media Landscape:
The increasing attacks on media workers in Ukraine have significant implications for the country’s media landscape. One of the most immediate implications is the physical safety and wellbeing of journalists. Attacks on journalists not only put individual lives at risk but also create a climate of fear that can deter journalists from reporting on sensitive or controversial topics. This can lead to self-censorship and a lack of diversity in the media landscape, as journalists may avoid reporting on issues that they perceive to be risky.
Another implication is the impact on the public’s right to information. The media play a crucial role in informing the public and holding those in power accountable. Attacks on journalists can limit the ability of the media to fulfill this role, by creating a climate of fear that leads to self-censorship, limiting access to information, and reducing the diversity of viewpoints available in the media.
The increasing attacks on media workers in Ukraine are a cause for concern, both for the safety and wellbeing of individual journalists and for the country’s media landscape as a whole. These attacks threaten the ability of the media to fulfill their crucial role in informing the public and holding those in power accountable. Addressing these attacks will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the Ukrainian government, media outlets, civil society, and the international community. Key steps that could be taken include improving the accountability of those who attack journalists, promoting a culture of tolerance and respect for media freedom, and providing support and protection to journalists who are targeted. By taking these steps, Ukraine can help ensure that its media landscape remains vibrant, diverse, and able to serve the needs of its citizens.
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