These are the annual results of the monitoring conducted by the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) entitled “Freedom of Speech Barometer.” Experts report on 171 cases of physical aggression against journalists.
For comparison: a total of 243 cases of violations of freedom of speech, including 172 cases of physical aggression against journalists, were recorded in 2019.
The main categories of violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine in 2020 were:
- Obstruction of lawful journalistic activity – 125 cases (99 in 2019)
- Access to information – 22 (21 violations last year)
- Beatings – 20 (23 beatings last year)
- Threats – 19 (37 cases last year)
- Legal pressure – 19 (18 cases last year)
The Main Trends of the Year
In 2020, the number of obstacles to the legal professional activity of journalists increased by as much as 26% compared to 2019. The main reasons for this growth were unlawful lockdown restrictions and local elections.
Physical aggression again became the most common violation of freedom of speech. It accounted for 74% of all violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine. Journalists had their equipment broken, they were pushed out, attacked during live broadcasts, suffered severe bodily injuries, were threatened, had their property damaged, and their cars were burned in arson attacks.
According to IMI, 62 violations of freedom of speech in 2020 related to lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for almost a third (27%) of the total number of violations of freedom of speech in Ukraine. These cases mainly involved the denial of access for journalists to local government sessions, as well as attacks on journalists in markets, hairdressing salons and shops during lockdown inspections.
Experts noticed the trend of selective invitation of media outlets during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s working trips to the regions. IMI representatives recorded such complaints from journalists in the Kherson, Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Khmelnytsky, Zaporizhzhia and Volyn regions. The strike of Kherson journalists who were not accredited to meet with Zelensky was meaningful: they published blank pages with no text and made up text to describe the events.
The closed nature of government bodies became one of the main trends of the past year. Journalists were not allowed to attend sessions of regional, city, district and village councils. The Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Poltava and Zakarpattia regions turned out to be the major violators. Last year, local authorities illegally restricted access to journalists under the pretext of lockdown. At the same time, the local authorities did not provide any other access to information from the session for media outlets, in particular, they did not organise any online broadcasts.
Media Outlets Billed for Providing Information
Another trend of the year was the restriction of access to public information. Journalists were denied responses or requested information and were billed for receiving the requested information. This was done by local governments, law enforcement agencies, and central authorities, including the President’s Office. Thus, the Vynohradiv Town Council in the Zakarpattia region issued invoices worth UAH 259.25 and UAH 86.26 for responding to information requests from Olena Mudra, a journalist of the Holos Karpat online newspaper. The Mykolaiv Region Department of the Security Service of Ukraine refused to provide journalists with information on repairs of the sidewalk near its building.
Local elections took place in Ukraine on 25 October. Based on the results of the monitoring on the election day, IMI experts concluded that the elections were held in a democratic way and with respect for the rights of journalists, and only some minor violations were recorded by members of election commissions.
According to the monitoring results, the right of journalists to their profession was most often violated by private individuals (102), local authorities (55), law enforcement officers (24), the judiciary (17), the Office of the President (7) and others.
Among the regions of Ukraine, Kyiv city and the Kyiv region led in the number of violations (71 cases). Second place was taken by the Odesa and Zaporizhzhia regions (18 cases each), the third place was shared by the Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson regions (15 cases each), the fourth by the Lviv and Poltava regions (12 cases each), and the fifth by Mykolaiv city (11 cases).
Some 103 Journalists and 90 Women Journalists Suffer Impairment of Their Rights
The journalistic community responded by issuing statements on the draft laws on disinformation and on media outlets; cases over the murder of Pavel Sheremet and Georgiy Gongadze; raids on the offices of the Sekretni Materialy, Hroshi projects and on homes of journalists for 1+1 TV channel; denial of access for war correspondents to the front line in Donbas; TV lessons on Medvedchuk’s pro-Russian TV channels; restriction on access for Kremenchuk journalists to the town council session; safety of journalists and the reputation of the StopFake project; judges’ attempts to illegally gain access to the phone of a Slidstvo.info journalist; inadmissibility of pressure on journalist Lyubov Velychko; demands to ensure full funding of Suspilne; illegal deprivation of accreditation of 19 media outlets in the Verkhovna Rada and so on.
Source: Institute of Mass Information