Thursday

22nd Aug 2019

Opinion

EU must help independent media in Ukraine

  • Protests in Kiev. Journalist Pavel Sheremet was murdered by a car bomb in 2016 - and 2018 looks like being another dangerous year for some of Ukraine's media (Photo: snamess)

As 2019 elections in Ukraine loom on the horizon, the European Union can play a unique role in protecting journalists - despite an increasingly complicated relationship.

2017 was a tough year for critical journalists working in Ukraine.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

On September 14, agents from the security service of Ukraine visited the offices of Ukraiynska Pravda and demanded that the editors take down an article that criticised Ukraine's defence capabilities.

The editor-in-chief Sevgil Musayeva said they claimed the article contained information that could "harm Ukraine's national security." A letter revealed that the security agency had opened a criminal investigation into the website's alleged disclosure of confidential information.

Such measures to 'protect national security' can restrict journalists in Ukraine.

In August, Spanish freelance journalists Antonio Pampliega and Angel Sastre were temporarily barred from entering the country because of their reporting in the east of Ukraine.

They were just two of many journalists detained or deported this year on grounds of national security. Other critical journalists have been harassed, subject to smear campaigns and cyber-bullied.

Newsrooms have been raided and press freedom advocates threatened. The outlook for 2018 does not look good for some Ukrainian journalists.

Ukraine is a country at war. The conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east - and Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula - enter into most conversations about press freedom.

This constant war footing creates a staunch patriotic rhetoric which sketches arbitrary positions deemed by some Ukrainians as either officially correct or incorrect for journalists to take.

Criticism = 'traitor'

The message is often all too clear: in times of war, you are with us or against us. Criticism is linked with being a traitor. An information war between the two countries, and deliberate attempts by Russia to spread disinformation, feed this climate of mistrust towards journalists.

And journalists are simply not safe.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recorded a total of seven journalists killed since 2014 because of their work.

A lack of successful prosecutions underscores a climate of impunity.

In July, I joined a CPJ delegation to launch Justice denied: Ukraine comes up empty in probe of Pavel Sheremet's murder, a report which looked at the failed investigations into the 2016 murder of the leading journalist.

The authorities, including President Petro Poroshenko, made commitments to us that effective investigations would take place.

As a partner to Ukraine, the European Union also pushed for this impunity to be addressed.

But the national authorities have since not acted on their commitments to invite international support for the investigation - but they could do so at any moment.

At the year's end, dealing with Sheremet's murder seems to be added to a long list of stagnating concerns. The killers need to be brought to justice and until they do, Ukrainian journalists will continue to ask themselves if they could suffer the same fate.

Brussels and Kiev

The relationship between Brussels and Kiev looks to remain complicated.

On the one hand, 2017 saw what could be seen as positive steps. The July EU-Ukraine summit was hailed as an important moment for the two sides in terms of reform and investment.

Visa-free travel for Ukrainians travelling to EU member states came into force on 11 June. MEPs and Ukrainian parliamentarians maintained strong links.

On 1 September, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement - the agreement that sparked off the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests - entered fully into force, promoting "deeper political ties and stronger economic links" between Ukraine and the EU, as well as "respect for common European values".

The potential for reform always seems to be around the corner.

Yet behind the scenes, future EU membership seems far away.

Ongoing corruption scandals involving the prosecutor general and the interior minister, the former with the apparent nod of Poroshenko, marred recent relations.

On 13 December, the EU ambassador to Ukraine told reporters at a press conference that EU funds would be withheld because Kiev had not met requirements on timber, energy, fighting corruption, trade, and social payments for immigrants.

Tensions in the country are building as the 2019 elections start to loom.

It would seem that the authorities are looking to think more of consolidating power, rather than addressing uncomfortable truths - especially those which could be raised by critical journalists.

EU institutions should continue to highlight the role that effective journalism can play in upholding shared values and take all measures to protect journalists.

This can mean practical actions like immediately and publicly denouncing threats, building visits to newsrooms into official visits and giving vulnerable journalists moral support and visibility.

Independent and critical journalism must survive and flourish in Ukraine.

Access to accurate and critical news is an expectation of Ukrainians themselves.

EU priorities, including good governance and the fight against corruption, can only really be achieved if Ukrainian journalists can hold their government to account, especially on sensitive issues.

Tom Gibson is EU representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Ukraine education law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

US warns on flare-up in Ukraine 'crisis'

Fighting in Ukraine escalated to "hellish" levels not seen since February amid warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe in the run-up to Christmas.

US probe into Ukraine 'lobbying' by former EU officials

A former EU commission president, ex-European parliament president and an ex-Austrian chancellor all deny being paid €2m by Donald Trump's former campaign chief to lobby on the behalf of the Russian-backed government in Ukraine in 2012.

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Open Arms may face fine in Spain 
  2. Belgium's EU commission hopeful in free press row
  3. Conte turns on Salvini, as Italy prepares for change
  4. Nordic-German climate action signals broader alliance
  5. The EU committee's great 'per diem' charade
  6. Spain calls for legal action against Italy on migrants
  7. Trump to meet Greenland leader in Denmark
  8. Irish border plan is 'anti-democratic', Johnson tells EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us