Letter: Serbian media facing “very difficult” situation

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”103409″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Dear Index on Censorship,

We wish to inform you about the key issues, problems and processes related to media and media freedom in Serbia today and to explain our views and attitudes, as well as arguments we based them on.

The information provided here will help you fully understand the complexity and stratification of the problems faced by Serbian journalists and media, as well as the citizens, whose constitutional right to be informed truthfully, comprehensively and timely informed about matter of public interest is seriously violated. We would also like to explain in more detail the role of media and journalists’ associations in media processes, especially those related to the dialogue with representatives of the authorities.

Despite a very difficult, we could say dramatic, situation in the media, the associations are always ready to have a dialogue and cooperate with representatives of the authorities if that leads to solving problems. We started cooperation with the Serbian government in June this year on creating the Media strategy, having been given firm guarantees by the Prime Minister Ana Brnabic that there was an unwavering political will among the authorities to improve the situation in the media and to cooperate with relevant journalists’ and media associations in order to achieve that goal. We would like to remind you that in the period preceding our cooperation, the authorities tried to create the media strategy, but all relevant journalists’ and media associations withdrew from the process dissatisfied with the methodology and possible outcomes. A few months later, as a result of pressures, the Serbian government stopped this process and elevated it from the level of the Ministry of Culture and Information to the level of the Serbian government. OSCE was invited to facilitate the process, while journalists’ and media associations were asked to contribute by delegating members of the task force for designing the media strategy. That is good news is that this document is being drafted at the moment and, despite certain problems, it is a widely inclusive process, which is satisfactory.

However, bear in mind that the Serbian government is supposed to adopt this document and that it can undergo major, even substantial, changes in comparison to the draft, which will be submitted to the government by the working group. What is more important is that this document itself does not mean much, even if its quality is exceptional – it merely represents a promise of the Serbian government to adhere to it during a future period. Large number of strategic documents in Serbia has remained nothing but a list of nice, yet unfulfilled wishes.

It is only after the media strategy is adopted that the process of amending the existing or creating new laws will begin. It is important to note that three years passed from the moment the media strategy was  produced to the moment the laws were adopted by the parliament (2011-2014). To be honest, we are afraid that a large number of professional media in Serbia will not last long enough to see the new laws; especially media exposed to great and varied political and economic pressures.

An issue greater than passage of time is the fact that the problems in the field of media in Serbia are only in small part a result of imperfect legal solutions – they are mostly a result of violations and mocking the law, i.e. lack of the rule of law. In practical terms, it means that even if we get excellent laws, it will not mean anything, nor can it be guaranteed that the situation in the field of media will improve. Namely, even the existing laws regulating media have been evaluated as positive by international stakeholders and experts. Yet, four years later, we have, and all relevant analyses, research and reports testify to that fact, the same dramatic problems in the world of media market, media freedom and media pluralism.

We would also like to remind you that Serbia received high appraisals from relevant institutions in the process of European integrations for the media laws of 2014. We believe that you understand our concern that the goal of the authorities now, just like in 2014, is not to improve the situation in the media, but to present the state of affairs in Serbian media to the international community in a light that does not reflect reality. We would like warn if the possibility that the authorities in Serbia present the process of drafting the Media strategy as a giant leap forward and that they might use it to divert attention away from all other problems in the media.

It is because of this concern that we requested from the authorities to initiate a process parallel to the process of drafting the media strategy, in which we would jointly work on fast-tracking solutions to a number of media-related problems in the existing legal framework. Having reached an agreement, journalists’ and media associations formed a team for the dialogue, while the Serbian government established the coordination body, thus creating a platform for negotiations. The associations entered the process hoping to help overcome current problems in the field of media and that the results would be visible in a relatively short period. Unfortunately, four months after the dialogue began we still do not have a single proof, spoken reassurances aside, that there is a genuine political will on behalf of the authorities to improve the situation in the field of media and media freedom, which seriously questions the usefulness of the initiated dialogue. At the same time, the problems related to media are becoming more complex and numerous on a daily basis, thus creating extremely negative effects on the media, journalists, media freedom and media pluralism.

On August 16 2018, journalists’ and media associations submitted to the government’s coordination body 13 requests for solving the key issues in the field of media, wishing to see if there was really political readiness to solve them. We did not set a deadline for the realisation of requests, because we were fully aware that some of them required more time, but we expected to receive adequate answers, which would indicate the readiness on behalf of the coordination body to fulfil them, naturally with our help and support. Unfortunately, we have so far received nothing but partial, incomplete answers that we are absolutely not satisfied with. We have decided, as agreed on the previous meeting between the  team for the dialogue and the coordination body, to further specify our requests, prioritise them and set deadlines. Should the deadlines not be met – and they are realistic and not too demanding – we retain the right to withdraw from the dialogue, as well as to reconsider our participation in the Working group in charge of drafting the Media strategy.

As we have already stated, parallel to these processes, the situation in the field of media is becoming increasingly difficult. Representatives of the authorities publicly call names, insult and humiliate journalists and media workers, labelling them as enemies of the society or “foreign agents”, thus seriously jeopardising their safety. There are many examples of such behaviour, the most recent one was the attack of the Head of the Parliamentary Group of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party Aleksandar Martinović on the President of the IJAV Nedim Sejdinović, whom he called an “enemy of Serbia” from the podium in the National Assembly for making critical comments about the authorities in Serbia. This was not the first time Martinović had called out a journalist by name. He had already called out Sejdinović’s name before, who received a large number of death threats as a result, all of which were reported to the police, but no court proceeding has been initiated. A few days ago an official from the Security Information Agency (BIA) Marko Parezanović stated that the “greatest threat to Serbia are the foreign agents working in media, non-governmental agencies and opposition parties”, while the Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić supported the claim. As we have stated, there are many cases of representatives of the authorities attacking the “disobeying” media and journalists. In its online database, the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia recorded 72 cases of calling out, insults, degradation and discrimination of journalists, media, journalists’ and media associations by the politicians and public officials.

The latest incident took place on 19.10.2018 when the President of RS Aleksandar Vudić first called a public service broadcaster by her name and insulted and humiliated her, and then turned to TV N1 journalist who had asked him not to put pressure on colleagues from the PSB (see transcript in English here).

Serbian authorities abuse various inspection services to put pressure on the media. “Vranjske” daily were closed in September 2017, was subjected to political, economic and administrative pressures, while the owner and Editor-in-chief Vukašin Obradović went on a hunger strike. Journalists, media and civil society organisations protested for months because of this, but to no avail. The latest case from Niš, the “Južne vesti” case, is also very disturbing. Namely, the tax administration spent six months in this small media company and, even though it had conducted its business in compliance with the law, fined it. Representatives of the tax administration abused their position in various ways in order to cause damage to the company.

Representatives of Serbian authorities often sue media companies and journalists, while court decisions are not in line with the laws in Serbia and practice of the European Court of Human Rights, which envisage that public officials are obliged to be subject to critical opinion. The fines make the already difficult situation even less bearable for the media that are not close to the authorities. On the other  hand, despite being at the receiving end of threats and other forms of pressures, journalists do not have the adequate legal protection. The police, public prosecutor’s offices and courts are utterly inefficient when it comes to such cases, so the attacks on journalists remain unsolved and unsanctioned. We would also like to remind you that Serbia has still not seen court epilogue of murders of journalists that happened 15 and more years ago. On the other hand, state bodies in charge show a high level of efficiency when the targets of threats are representatives of the authorities. In such cases, the offenders are quickly found and sanctioned.

The tabloid print media are increasingly breaking the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics, as confirmed by the reports of the Press Council. It is important to note that the media that break the Code the most are those closest to the authorities and they are in large part financed from public revenues. Those media spread hate speech, call names and insult those critical of the authorities, as well as citizens of other nationalities and confessions. The authorities have completely blocked and stultified the work of the Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM), which is why chaos and lawlessness rule the field of electronic media. The media with national coverage have been turned into propaganda tools, with programmes of extremely low quality dominating the field. The Regulatory Authority is not reacting, even though the realised programmes are completely different from the submitted proposals, i.e. suggested work plans that the stations submitted when applying for frequencies. REM is not reacting even when it comes to a striking example of a breach of the Law on Electronic Media, i.e. when certain TV stations with national coverage broadcast live the sessions of the main board of the ruling party.

The case of the national news agency Tanjug is one of the most famous cases of breaching the law and endangering the legal system in the country. This agency is still actively working, even though a decision to close it down was made, pursuant to the law, on October 31, 2015. This agency is now a propaganda tool owned by the state, although the state decided to pull out from owning any media, pursuant to the laws of 2014. Furthermore, the state is, unlawfully, a co-owner of daily newspapers “Večernje novosti” and “Politika”, while the local self-government in Kragujevac is, also unlawfully, a co-owner of the previously privatised radio-television Kragujevac.

Truth be told, Serbia is allocating extremely large amounts from the budget to the media, but completely non-transparently, selectively and discriminatorily. The laws allow the state to intervene financially in some rare cases and by co-financing projects of public interest. However, it is allocating enormous amounts through other means (public procurements, promotions, advertising, sponsorships, contracts on business and technical cooperation) in a way that is completely deregulated, as highlighted by the Anti-Corruption Council. In its report, the council pointed out that the decisions made by political and economic elites on where to advertise and how much money to spend directly influenced the future of media companies. In order to attract advertisements, the council claims, the employees in such media companies try to create content which are in line with the interests of advertisers, thus neglecting the Journalists’ Code of Ethics, i.e. the ethical principles of their profession. It is with this intervention that the funds are allocated to the media close to the authorities, thus creating a serious imbalance on the media market and discriminating against “inadequate” media. No-one knows exactly how big these  amounts are (one of our requests is to have the coordination body submit a report on it, but the state is allegedly unable to obtain this information), but we are definitely talking about dozens of millions of euro annually. This is one of the most efficient recipes for controlling the media, where you subject them to both corruption and blackmail at the same time.

When it comes to competitions for co-financing projects of public interest in the media, we have been experiencing serious problems for years now. Although the law stipulates that the allocation of funds should be entrusted to media experts delegated from journalists’ and media associations and that the funds should be used in the interest of the public, this authority have turned this process into financing the media close to them and self-promotion. The funds are allocated to the media that have repeatedly broken the Journalists’ Code of Ethics, even though it is one of the basic criteria for fund allocation.

We would like to remind you that the European Commission’s 2018 Report on Serbia contains a very negative assessment of the situation in the media, where the highlighted problems are the lack of transparency in ownership structure, the state’s co-financing of media and the consequent influence on not only the media, but the freedom of expression in general. The focus is on co-financing the issues of public interest in the field of information, the model of state’s financial intervention in the field of media envisaged by the Law on Public Information and Media of 2014, as well as “the distribution of advertising funds“. The report states that Serbian authorities should ensure that informal pressure on editorial policy is not exerted through the distribution of advertising funds, including from public companies, as well as through project co-funding from local budgets.

The public broadcasters in Serbia do not obey their legal obligations, which state that they should work in public interest and report truthfully, unbiasedly and comprehensively and that they should have independent editorial policies. Researches have shown that the public broadcasters are places from which public dialogue and critical thinking have been ousted and that their news programmes are dramatically dominated by the executive authorities. We would like to remind you that two years ago many editors were removed from their positions at the Public Broadcasting Service of Vojvodina for political reasons, that the situation in this company has remained unchanged, despite the protest of journalists’ and media associations and international organisations, and that this public broadcasting service is also weakened by other numerous affairs.

A huge problem for journalists’ and media organisations is the fact that there is political pressure on the institution of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance. Since 2015, the authorities have ignored 601 decisions of the commissioner related to the complaints submitted to the commissioner because of the infringement of the right to have free access to information. This is a staggering fact. We are certain that you are fully aware how important the instrument of free access to information is to journalists and media.

Unfortunately, this is just a brief overview of the most significant problems that the media in Serbia, as well as we, journalists’ and media associations, and citizens of Serbia are facing. We hope that this overview clarifies why we evaluate the situation as dramatically bad.

We also hope that, having read this, you will better understand our doubt that there is a political will among the authorities to solve the problems in the field of media within the scope of the process of the accession of Serbia to the European Union.

Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia

Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina

Association of Local Independent Media – Local Press

Association of Independent Electronic Media

Association of Online Media[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom: Serbia” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fmappingmediafreedom.org%2Findex.php%2Fcountry-profiles%2Fserbia%2F|||”][vc_column_text]Incidents reported to and verified by Mapping Media Freedom since May 2014[/vc_column_text][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjI3MDAlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjI0MDAlMjIlMjBzcmMlM0QlMjJodHRwcyUzQSUyRiUyRm1hcHBpbmdtZWRpYWZyZWVkb20udXNoYWhpZGkuaW8lMkZzYXZlZHNlYXJjaGVzJTJGMTAxJTJGbWFwJTIyJTIwZnJhbWVib3JkZXIlM0QlMjIwJTIyJTIwYWxsb3dmdWxsc2NyZWVuJTNFJTNDJTJGaWZyYW1lJTNF[/vc_raw_html][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjI3MDAlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjI2MDAlMjIlMjBzcmMlM0QlMjJodHRwcyUzQSUyRiUyRm1hcHBpbmdtZWRpYWZyZWVkb20udXNoYWhpZGkuaW8lMkZzYXZlZHNlYXJjaGVzJTJGMTAxJTJGZGF0YSUyMiUyMGZyYW1lYm9yZGVyJTNEJTIyMCUyMiUyMGFsbG93ZnVsbHNjcmVlbiUzRSUzQyUyRmlmcmFtZSUzRQ==[/vc_raw_html][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Harlem Désir: UK counter-terrorism bill “risks creating a chilling effect on journalistic freedom”


The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, has today written to the UK government to express his concerns about the impacts of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill on media freedom, which Index on Censorship and others have criticised.

Désir recognises the importance of countering terrorism, but says that legislation should not undermine the work of journalists or impact freedom of expression.

He draws attention to Clause 2 of the bill, which would criminalise the publication of images or video clips of an item of clothing or an article in such a way as to arouse reasonable suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a terrorist organisation. He recommends that the government adopt more narrow definitions to ensure that journalistic work does not fall within the scope of this provision.

Désir expresses reservations regarding Clause 3 which would criminalise viewing or accessing online content likely to be useful for terrorism, noting that the clause could criminalise searches for journalistic purposes or other research.

The Representative also conveyed his concerns regarding the expansion of border control powers, emphasising the need to protect confidential journalistic sources.

Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy, said “Index shares the concerns that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has raised with the UK government regarding the impacts of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill. We welcome his intervention, which shows how seriously these developments are viewed internationally.”

Désir’s intervention follows a report by United Nations special rapporteur Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin who expressed concerns about several parts of the bill and emphasised that it should be brought in line with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law.

Index on Censorship made a submission to the committee scrutinising the bill in the House of Commons earlier this year calling for changes.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

As it stands, the law could have an impact on the freedom of the media. I am concerned that the provision has the potential to criminalise a too broad range of behaviour, and risks creating a chilling effect on journalistic freedom to report on the concerned organisation.” — Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, in his letter to the UK’s government.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-file-text-o” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2F2018%2F06%2Findex-on-censorship-submission-on-the-counter-terrorism-and-border-security-bill-2018%2F|||”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Index on Censorship submission on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018

Laws that protect our rights to read, research, debate and argue are too easily removed.  Index is concerned that clauses of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill will diminish those rights and freedoms. It submitted a paper to parliament to ask it to consider changes to the proposed bill in June 2018.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1538143671858-a4bdf7ba-e426-7″ taxonomies=”27743″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

An open letter to Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Dear Mr. Désir

Index on Censorship welcomes your appointment as the Representative on Freedom of the Media by the OSCE member states. We would like to extend our congratulations to you.

Like you, we agree wholeheartedly that the role of RFoM is important. In fact it is more important today than when the office was founded 1997. Since then, the media has faced pressures from a changing financial environment and — in some nations — government interference.

Through its project Mapping Media Freedom, Index on Censorship monitors press freedom violations in 42 OSCE member states. In just the last three years, there have been 3,302 verified incidents. Sadly, the number of reports we investigate is increasing. Journalists are coming under pressure from the left and the right of the political spectrum, from governments and non-state actors, from organised crime and private citizens. These multidimensional threats demand a consistent and robust response that crosses international boundaries.

We ask that, on assuming your responsibilities, you urgently consider the following as your priorities:

  • Focusing attention on how the independence of the public media in OSCE member states such as Poland and Hungary is being undermined
  • Calling attention to a continent-wide drift toward tighter regulation of the media — whether online or off — in OSCE nations such as France, the UK and Germany
  • Raising awareness of widespread interference with the professional duties of journalists through legal obstacles and demands for accreditation, most acutely in OSCE members Belarus, Russia and Azerbaijan
  • Building on the record of the RFOM office by being a vocal and visible advocate for journalists
  • Continuing a determined and consistent approach to cases of impunity
  • Resisting ill-guided attempts to use legislation to further curtail the marketplace of ideas in the member states
  • Call out use of terror legislation to silence media by member states
  • Mount a sustained campaign against criminal defamation laws in member states

Index on Censorship stands ready to partner with you to protect the media’s right to report and the public’s right to information.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at https://mappingmediafreedom.org/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reporting from Ukraine’s separatist areas is becoming more difficult


Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Soon after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, full-scale fighting began between Ukrainian troops and separatists supported by Russia in the east of Ukraine. During active fighting in 2014, it was relatively easy for journalists to access to territories controlled by separatists.

“Accreditation was given quickly and without delay,” a Ukrainian producer who worked with international TV channels said. The producer, who requested anonymity because of ongoing work in the area, admits the risk for journalists was high because of the chaotic situation on the frontline and many of them faced detention by separatist militants. “I, like many, was detained and placed in a basement, but, fortunately, it only lasted for several hours,” he added.

Anna Nemtsova, a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast, told Mapping Media Freedom that in 2014 she was abducted twice – firstly in the Luhansk region and secondly in the city of Donetsk.

“These were classic abductions,” Nemtsova said. “In Luhansk region, near Krasny Luch, armed militia wearing masks took our cell phones away from us and drove us in an unknown direction. In Donetsk, it happened near the morgue, where, according to our information, the militia had brought some of the bodies of passengers of the downed Boeing MH-17. Both detentions lasted for a few hours.”

Soon the situation with journalists’ access to uncontrolled territories would change for the worse. In February 2015, the Minsk agreements were signed and a ceasefire was established. The ceasefire agreement prompted the authorities of the two self-proclaimed republics to start monitoring journalists’ reports from the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

“If they did not like the angle of coverage or some term, for example ‘separatist republics’, the name of a journalist was immediately added to the list of undesirable persons. The press service began to summon such journalists to ‘talks’ to express their dissatisfaction,” source who works as a local TV producer told MMF.

Nemtsova also faced similar difficulties. In summer 2015 she was told that the DPR press service did not like her reports and threatened to ban her, which later they said they did. “Their complaints were unreasonable, they were not about any errors in my report, but about the term ‘separatists’, which they claimed I used in my stories,” she said.

Thus, the monitoring of publications about the separatist zone in the media has led to the fact that from the summer of 2015 many journalists who tried to obtain accreditation from the self-proclaimed authorities began to receive refusals. Some reporters who managed to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics were detained and deported. On 16 June 2015, separatists from DPR captured Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Pavel Kanygin and handed him over to Russian security services (FSB). According to the journalist, they checked his documents and released him “in the middle of a field.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black” align=”align_left”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Ukraine” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fmappingmediafreedom.org%2F|||”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Ukraine and 41 other European area countries.

As of 17/07/2017, there were 282 verified reports of violations connected to Ukraine in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”94239″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://mappingmediafreedom.org/”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black” align=”align_left”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Over the past year, arbitrary refusals to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics have been quite frequent. In December 2016, Deutsche Welle’s correspondent Christian Trippe and his crew were barred from entering the territory of the self-proclaimed DPR. Journalists were trying to get to the territory controlled by DPR at a checkpoint near Marinka. Journalists had to wait an hour in a neutral zone between two fronts, while they were not allowed to return to the territory controlled by Ukrainian forces. The crew had received an authorisation from DPR press centre and had scheduled an interview with a spokesperson for the separatists. The journalists planned to visit Donetsk with Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. However, the militants did not let them through the checkpoint with the OSCE, citing the decision of DPR special services.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed authorities continued the practice of detentions and expulsions of journalists. In November, special forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic detained and expelled two journalists working for Russian TV channel Dozhd. Correspondents Sergei Polonsky and Vasiliy Yerzhenkov were detained by intelligence agencies on the evening of 25 November in Donetsk. Polonsky said that members of the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security went to their apartment and took them to the main building of the ministry where they were interrogated. “Three employees of the Ministry of State Security were involved in the interrogation. They watched videos and deleted them. They also blocked Polonsky’s phone, broke Yerzhenkov’s phone and destroyed his notebook,” Dozhd reported. According to Dozhd, the journalists were not physically abused. “We experienced psychological abuse, but nothing more,” Polonsky said. Later, employees of the Ministry of State Security explained to the correspondents that their detention was a consequence of “false information” in the accreditation, which turned out to be a wrong phone number.

The Dozhd crew were accredited to work in Donetsk by the Security Service of Ukraine and by the Ministry of information of DPR. Journalists entered the DPR border on 24 November from Russia to interview Alexey Khodakovsky, former secretary of DPR’s Security Council. Previously, the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security of DPR said the cause of the journalists’ expulsion was “biased” and “provocative” coverage of the situation in the DPR.

Local journalists and bloggers often find it even more risky to work in the separatist territories. In 2014, many journalists were forced to leave the territory, and are now working elsewhere in Ukraine. Over the past year, a number of arrests by separatists have been reported. The latest one is an incident with blogger and writer Stanyslav Aseev who disappeared in Donetsk. The blogger was reportedly detained by militants of the self-proclaimed DPR. Aseev uses the alias Stanislav Vasin and contributes to a number of news outlets including Radio Liberty Donbass Realities project, Ukrayinska Pravda, Ukrainian week and Dzerkalo Tyzhnya. He also runs a prominent blog via Facebook.

Donbass Realities project editor-in-chief Tetyana Jakubowicz said their contact with Aseev was lost on 2 June. That day, Aseev filed the latest report from territories held by separatists for Radio Liberty. Aseev’s relatives and friends confirmed that they also lost contact with the blogger. They questioned the self-proclaimed Ministry of Public Security of the DPR, but didn’t receive any answers. The journalist’s mother found evidence that his flat was broken into in Donetsk and noticed that some of his belongings were missing, including a laptop. On 12 July, Amnesty International reported that it learned that Aseev was being held by the de-facto “ministry of state security”.

Recently, several bloggers have been arrested in the self-proclaimed LPR. In October 2016 Vladislav Ovcharenko, a 19-year old blogger, who runs the Twitter account Luhansk Junta, was detained by separatists. Later, armed representatives of the self-proclaimed Ministry of the State Security raided his parents’ apartment, taking his mother’s computer. In December 2016, Facebook blogger Gennadiy Benytskiy was arrested in Luhansk. The blogger, who is known for his pro-Ukraine views, was accused of distributing of “extremist materials” online.

Journalists take risks even when they get accreditation from the separatist authorities. A leak by the website Myrotvorets in May 2016 led to the personal data of more than 5,000 journalists becoming available online. The link to the leak was published by some Ukrainian politicians, calling journalists who received accreditation “traitors.” Some of the journalists then received threats.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at https://mappingmediafreedom.org/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]