PEC press release
UKRAINE. The second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion: professionalization of military journalism, pressure on investigative journalists, and misinformation in Telegram – Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) welcomes a significant decrease in the number of casualties, condemns Russian disinformation and censorship in the occupied territories
report by Andrii Ianitsky, PEC representative in Ukraine
Kyiv (Ukraine), 20 February 2023.
- The professionalization of military journalismAccording to the Press Emblem Campaign, 38 media personnel have been killed during Russia’s war with Ukraine since February 24, 2022, but only 4 in 2023, a significant drop. They died while on editorial assignment, or as soldiers on the battlefield or from Russian missile attacks. Two have been killed by Ukrainian strikes. Dozens more journalists were wounded.
Most journalists died in the first year of the war. Over time, the number of casualties decreased thanks to better organization of journalists’ work on the front lines, the localization of combat operations, and the professionalization of war journalism. Specially trained staff have been introduced in newsrooms to cover the progress of the war. These employees are now well-equipped, capable of providing first aid, and knowledgeable about the rules of conduct in combat zones.
The journalistic community is divided into those who regularly cover the war and those who have returned to the usual peaceful topics: economics, culture, and sports news.
The Ukrainian military’s approach to working with journalists has also improved. While in 2022 and early 2023, journalists often complained about the military, accusing them of having a selective approach to representatives of different news outlets, excessive bureaucracy, and constantly changing rules, now such complaints are fewer. In early 2024, the Armed Forces of Ukraine even made positive changes to the rules for journalists covering the war, extending the validity of accreditation cards from six months to one year.
- The new media law has yet to pose a problem for editorial work
Last year, we wrote that the new Ukrainian media law raised concerns and that it could be used to pressure journalists. Fortunately, our concerns have not been justified. The process of re-registering media according to the new media law is ongoing. For the first time in Ukraine, online media can register as media and thus gain greater legitimacy — in previous years, such publications were operating outside the law. Official media pages on social networks can also be registered to gain more trust from their readers.
Ukraine’s media law was one of seven conditions laid down by Brussels for fast-track EU-candidate status. The Parliament of Ukraine approved it at the end of 2022.
The new legislative changes have also relieved Ukrainian journalists of the obligation to coordinate interviews with their interviewees. Previously, such a requirement was contained in copyright laws.
At the same time, the issue with state and quasi-state media has not yet been resolved. In Ukraine, both the state and municipalities can have their own media outlets, and these publications are often not editorially independent, distort the advertising market, and compete with independent media in the labor market.
- Authorities are attempting to control the information space
The so-called Telethon continues to operate — the Unified News channel, which is run by several private companies and a public broadcaster. This channel broadcasts on multiple frequencies. “Unified News” was created immediately after the Russian invasion to mobilize Ukrainian society in the face of the threat of external aggression. Initially, it served such functions: providing the population with timely news and psychological support to Ukrainians. Over time, it became clear that the unified channel distorts reality in favor of the authorities. United News Channel is de facto controlled by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.
During the period from May 2022 to October 2023, trust in unified news decreased from 69% to 48%, according to data from a sociological survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). And the viewership share decreased over the past year from approximately 13% to approximately 10% according to Nielsen company measurements.
At the same time, in 2022 three Ukrainian TV channels were taken off the air, allegedly due to links with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, an opponent of Volodymyr Zelensky. These TV channels continue to broadcast via satellite, the Internet, and cable networks, but their audience has declined markedly.
- Social media as a threat to the spread of misinformationAccording to USAID-Internews research, Ukrainians mostly read news on social networks, in particular, on the social network Telegram. And it is social networks that are becoming the main channel spreading Russian disinformation in Ukraine, WP writes, citing European intelligence.
Ukrainian intelligence also sees a threat from the social network Telegram. At the same time, it is impossible to ban the work of this social network. And it is not so much a question of the technical side of the issue — Ukraine has already banned the work of Russian social networks VKontakte, Odnoklassnik, and several Russian websites. However, this time many official Ukrainian authorities themselves are effectively using Telegram for their promo.
- Russian-occupied territories remain news deserts
The work of independent journalists in the occupied territories remains impossible. Russia has introduced a regime of strict censorship, and any manifestations of honest journalism are suppressed. The occupiers kill Ukrainian journalists, and arrest or deport them.
Occasionally, they organize fully controlled press tours for Western journalists to show the “normal life” of Ukrainians under occupation. For example, on January 29, 2024, a film crew from the German TV channel ZDF visited occupied Mariupol. The journalists were there in violation of Ukrainian law, through the territory, and with Russia’s permission. They devoted part of their report to retelling Russian propaganda narratives. This caused great anger among Ukrainian journalists and officials. The Ukrainian public broadcaster and the Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated the matter.
The situation in the occupied territories is still being reported anonymously by individual journalists or citizen journalists who, for various reasons, cannot leave. Even in Crimea, which Russia seized ten years ago, there are still such brave people. They use all the measures of secrecy: encrypted communication channels, pseudonyms, and contacts only with trusted persons. It is also difficult for them to get paid for their work due to sanctions and lack of economic ties, but money is not the main motivation for such journalists.
Another part of the truth about life in the occupied territories can be obtained through critical analysis of propaganda messages from there, monitoring of Russian social media, and documents of the occupation administrations.
- Pressure on investigative journalists
Investigative journalism is strongly developed in Ukraine thanks to the support of Western grantors. A high-profile investigation by Bihus.info (named after its creator Denys Bihus) about theft in the army under former President Petro Poroshenko was one of the reasons for his defeat in the 2019 elections.
A series of publications about corruption in the army by another well-known investigative journalist, Yuriy Nikolov (NashiGroshi project and publications in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia), led to the resignation of Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in 2022. It was under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and during a full-scale war with Russia.
At the beginning of 2024, both these journalists were attacked. The Security Service of Ukraine conducted surveillance, phone tapping, and covert video recordings to discredit Denys Bihus and his team. Additionally, unknown individuals intimidated Yuriy Nikolov and attempted to break into his apartment. Other Ukrainian media outlets are also facing pressure, mostly in the informational sphere via anonymous channels on Telegram.
The scandals involving Bihus and Nikolov have caused a wide resonance both within the country and abroad. Ambassadors from G7 countries personally met with both journalists. President Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to dismiss the head of the Security Service of Ukraine department that monitored the journalists. At the same time, in the case of Yuriy Nikolov, the police only arrested the perpetrators but not the instigators of the provocation.
It cannot be said yet that this is a consistent policy of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Rather, the above-mentioned facts are the result of initiatives by certain individuals within Zelensky’s circle who are involved in corruption and fear the results of journalistic investigations.
Andrii Ianitsky is a journalist now based in Lviv and PEC Representative in Ukraine ([email protected])