Home News ‘Big setback’: Concerns over shrinking press freedom in Ukraine

‘Big setback’: Concerns over shrinking press freedom in Ukraine

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A Ukrainian journalist who revealed that the state news agency had tried to ban interviews with opposition politicians said he received a conscription notice the next day.

Ukraine’s domestic spy agency spied on staff at an investigative news organization through a peephole in their hotel room.

The public broadcaster condemned the political pressure it faced over its coverage.

Journalists and press freedom watchdog groups have warned of increasing restrictions and pressure on the media under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying they are being properly managed. Exceeding the nation’s wartime needs.

“It’s really disturbing,” said Oksana Romanyuk, director of the Mass Information Institute, a nonprofit that monitors media freedom. She said that was especially true in Ukraine’s war “for democracy and against the authoritarian values ​​embodied by Russia.”

forward Russian invasion February 2022 Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has tolerated a diverse media environment, with multiple television stations aligned with opposition and pro-government parties, as well as independent news outlets. Maintaining that culture has been one of the challenges of the war.

Considering the measures necessary for national security, Ukrainian journalists have mostly accepted wartime regulations prohibiting them from reporting on troop movements or positions, the sites of Russian missile strikes, and military casualties.

They also acknowledge they engage in some self-censorship, avoiding critical coverage of the government to avoid damaging morale or preventing reports of corruption from deterring foreign partners from approving aid.

“Self-censorship in Ukraine is a wartime characteristic,” said Serhii Sydorenko, editor of the independent online news outlet Europe Truth. He added that the situation was “not a problem” and was inevitable during the war, noting that he expected things to return to normal when the fighting eventually ends.

Zelensky has not publicly called for pressure on journalists and has condemned the surveillance of journalists at the hotel.

Journalists and media groups say a series of recent events point to an increasingly restrictive reporting environment. Ambassadors from the Group of Seven, which includes many of Kiev’s key military allies, issued a joint statement in January in support of press freedom in Ukraine.

“Media freedom is a fundamental pillar of a successful democracy,” the statement said.

Analysts say the government’s moves to control the media appear aimed at reducing positive coverage of the opposition and suppressing negative coverage of the government and military.

Ukrinform, the country’s state news agency, is supposed to be nonpartisan, but late last year its journalists received a list from management of opposition figures and local elected officials who were labeled “persona non grata” for quoting them in articles.

The New York Times reviewed instructions received by Ukrainian intelligence journalists that blacklisted elected officials and civil society activists, including some veterans.

Rostyslav Karadeev, the acting culture minister who oversees the state news agency, told Ukrainian news media this month that he was unaware of such a list. Zelenskiy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Ukrainian authorities have also had sometimes strained relations with Western news organizations such as The New York Times, revoking the military press credentials of journalists from several outlets after critical reporting and following disputes over rules for covering military operations, though those credentials have since been restored.

In Ukraine, there is a dark history of behind-the-scenes political meddling due to abuses by previous governments.

Journalists considered a recent intervention in the Chernihiv region, north of Kyiv, where the elected city council was at odds with the governor appointed by Zelensky over municipal spending. The state news agency’s guidance said it was “undesirable” to quote a city councillor who was serving as acting mayor about the budget.

“The ideal speaker is appointed by Zelensky, while the undesirable speaker is elected,” said Yuri Strahon, a Ukrainian news agency correspondent in Chernihiv.

There is no indication that journalists followed the guidance, and some have even publicly stated that they were ignoring it.

“It’s a huge step backward for democracy if we name desirable and undesirable speakers,” Mr. Strehen said, adding that he had quoted the official in his article.

In the city of Odessa, journalists were asked to quote only presidential appointees in certain situations. In Lviv, journalists were told not to quote the elected mayor, Andrei Sadovy. Famous Politicians Seen as a potential candidate for future president.

Strehen, 57, said he was on public broadcaster Suspilne on May 30 to talk about reporting instructions and received a notice to renew his draft registration the next day. He said he had no proof the notice was linked to his appearance but found the timing “suspicious.”

Maryna Synhaivska, a former deputy director of Ukraine’s Information Agency, resigned this year for meddling in politics, arguing that she had violated guidelines distributed to journalists on interviewing opposition members.

“It is undemocratic to dictate to the media what to publish and who to talk to,” she said.

Sergei Cherevati, the former military spokesman appointed to lead Ukraine’s intelligence service, declined to comment on the guidance issued by his predecessor, saying he intended to run the agency “in accordance with the law and the principles of freedom of expression.”

After the Russian invasion, Zelensky’s government consolidated Ukraine’s raucous and competitive prewar television news landscape into a single, state-controlled broadcaster. The government said the arrangement, known as “telemathons,” was necessary to broadcast credible news during the war.

But it has excluded opposition channels and has continued to publish upbeat reports as the fighting has stalled, to the point that most Ukrainians now say they Don’t believe it.

Ukrainian media watchdog Detector Media said Recent Analysis From January to April this year, all channels producing the show, except for Suspilne, which is no longer involved, did not invite members of the opposition European Solidarity Party to appear on the show. Peter O. Poroshenkoformer Ukrainian president and political opponent of Zelensky.

A U.S. State Department report It said the program “gives Ukraine an unprecedented level of control over prime-time television news.”

The decision to withdraw from Telemarathon was partly driven by concerns about pressure from authorities, Svitlana Ostapa, the chairwoman of Suspirny’s public supervisory board, and Mykola Chernotytskyi, the broadcaster’s chief executive, said in interviews.

Detector Media calculated that from January to April, members of Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, which holds more than half of the seats in parliament, accounted for about 70% of the political guests at the Telemarathon. Without Suspirny, that proportion would rise to more than 80%, the group said.

In January, it was revealed that Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, the SBU, secretly filmed journalists attending a holiday party for the investigative news website Bihus by drilling holes into the coat rack in the journalists’ hotel room.

The head of Ukraine’s security service, General Vasily Maliuk, acknowledged and condemned the surveillance, and Zelensky fired an official in the service who oversaw the surveillance of domestic and foreign media outlets.

Despite the pressure, Ukrainian journalists have been able to secure exclusive news, including reports on issues such as corruption, which have led to resignations and arrests.

Sevhil Musaieva, editor-in-chief of the state news agency Ukrainian Pravda, said the government’s efforts to silence critical reporting were one measure of the influence and vitality of the Ukrainian media during the war.

“The only way people can make a difference is through journalism,” she said, “which is why some in government are doing their best to control the press.”

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