TV channel closures and attacks on journalists spark international calls for the protection of media freedom.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 18/03/14
Russian TV channels have replaced many Ukraine stations. [AFP]
Media experts and journalism associations worldwide condemned the continuous closure of television channels and attacks on journalists in Crimea, and are urging officials to protect press freedom in Ukraine.
"Extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately," Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE's representative for freedom of the media, told SETimes.
In times of crisis, he said, people must have unimpeded access to a plurality of media sources, or else they can be subjected to the worst kind of propaganda.
''Those who introduce censorship of the media have no place in a democracy," Mijatovic said. "I reiterate my call to those responsible for law and order in Crimea to stop this destruction of freedom of the media and do their utmost to ensure safety of journalists. The final responsibility lies with them."
The terrestrial signals of Ukrainian television stations Inter, Briz, 1+1, 5 Channel, 1st National, and STB have been cut, along with the signal of the independent Chernomorskaya TV. They were replaced with Russian channels NTV, 1st Channel, Rossiya 24, Rossiya RTR, TNT and Zvezda. The internet connection of Crimean Tatar ATR channel is also down.
"Officials from Kiev are not able to protect journalists in Crimea, they have no influence in Crimea. Separatists and Russian troops there are providing Russian-style media work," Artur Rudzitsky, chief of Ukraine's wing of the Association of European Journalists, told SETimes.
At least six Ukrainian activists and journalists opposed to Russia's involvement in Crimea have gone missing in the peninsula, according to Radio Free Europe. Crimean prosecutors said an investigation has been opened.
On March 7th, two Bulgarian freelance journalists, Dimitar Kenarov and photo reporter Boryana Katsarova, were attacked by paramilitary personnel who forcibly confiscated their equipment. The two were uninjured and continue their work in Crimea, according to the Association of European Journalists.
"It is very worrying that attacks on foreign journalists are becoming more and more frequent. There seem to be absolutely no rules here," Kenarov told the association.
According to the European Federation of Journalists, there have been at least 61 violations of journalists' rights in Crimea since mid-February.
Federation officials urged Ukraine authorities and the Council of Europe to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.
"We can, without any doubt, say that media freedom is currently under siege in Ukraine," Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, told SETimes.
"We demand that Ukraine authorities fulfil their obligations and ensure that all attacks on journalists, media workers and media organisations immediately cease. We also call on Ukraine authorities to recognise the fundamental right of the public to receive accurate and diverse information and to refrain from blocking, censoring or otherwise obstructing independent media, and encourage development of an independent and viable media market."
In order to calm the situation, the heads of the four major Ukrainian media groups wrote an open letter to their counterparts in Russia in early March, asking them to be responsible in describing the crisis in Ukraine.
''We have known each other for a long time, we are united by a collaborative project, similar world views and all of us are madly in love with television. We believe, and know that you also, do not want war between two brotherly nations, Russians and Ukrainians,'' the letter said.
Several Russian media chiefs -- Konstantin Ernst, director-general of Russia's Channel One; Oleg Dobrodeev, head of state channel RTR; and Vladimir Kulistikova, NTV general director -- responded in a letter on March 4th, saying that ''with regards to objectivity and responsibility, we would like to similarly appeal to you."
''Let's be objective and responsible, let's weigh the words and restrain emotions, let's not do this apart as has become a tradition in recent years, but together. It will certainly give an objective picture of reality. Which now for all is the most important thing," the response said.
How will a free press help the public understand events in Ukraine? Tell us your thoughts on the issue below.