Testimony and remarks

Ukraine: Ensure Journalists’ Safety and the Public’s Right to Truth

Statement given on June 23, 2020 at the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression 

Freedom House calls on OSCE participating States, and the Representative of Freedom of the Media (RFoM) to:

  • Under pandemic conditions, assist Ukraine in following the international norms and standards to which it is obligated, as well as Freedom House’s pandemic principles, including transparent justification of restrictions around access to information and freedom of movement;
  • Continue to offer technical support for Ukraine’s media reform agenda to ensure that the draft law on media, and other related initiatives, are developed in close consultation with local civil society and do not restrict media freedom.

Freedom House calls on the Ukrainian government and policymakers to:

  • Ensure that law enforcement officials on the national and local levels refrain from violence and restrictions on the media, and transparently investigate incidents of violence and interference in the work of media;
  • Implement recommendations made by the RFoM to improve the draft law on the media;
  • Assist existing networks of civic journalists inside Crimea to ensure a reliable flow of information from an otherwise closed space, especially under pandemic conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing challenges facing freedom of the media in Ukraine. Since March 12, the Institute of Mass Information has documented 30 violations of journalists’ rights throughout the country. These include restricting journalists’ freedom of movement by preventing their access to publicly admissible government meetings and sessions, using pandemic conditions as an excuse. There have also been documented instances of the government’s use of force against journalists, most notably that of Hromadske TV journalist Bohdan Kupetov, which are allegedly justified by the current quarantine restrictions.

Ukrainian policymakers are considering proposals to regulate the media, including an expansive law on the media. The RFoM recently conducted an analysis of this draft law and identified provisions inconsistent international standards, OSCE commitments, and best practices on media freedom. These included limitations on discussions related to matters of public interest. Should the law be passed in its present iteration, the current pandemic restrictions could worsen its effects on media freedom.

Under the Russian Federation’s de facto control, local authorities in Crimea continue to directly and indirectly control of all media outlets on the peninsula. While a small cadre of independent civic journalists work in Crimea, they operate under constant pressure from the authorities. A recent analysis details at least 300 instances of threats and harassment, torture, and false accusations of extremism. The COVID-19 pandemic amplifies the challenges that Crimean civic media face under normal conditions, including their ability to objectively report on the situation on the peninsula with the rest of the world.