Ensuring the safety of journalists is pivotal for the free flow of reliable information, in particular in a tumultuous time of war.
During the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council ARTICLE 19 underscored the critical importance of protecting journalists. International and European human rights standards require that journalists are protected during armed conflicts and any intentional attack causing death or wounding of a journalist constitutes a war crime. Nevertheless journalists, seeking to provide the Ukrainian people and the global public with a timely and realistic picture of developments, are operating in an increasingly hostile environment and risking their lives on the ground.
An attack on a Swiss journalist who was shot at and robbed by Russian military forces, despite press marks on his car and on his bulletproof vest, clearly illustrates that reporters are being targeted deliberately during this war.
Ukrainian journalist Oleh Baturin was kidnapped by Russian soldiers and went missing for eight days. “I was beaten. Humiliated. Threatened. They said they would kill me”, he said upon his release. Since Russia launched its full-scale onslaught on Ukraine, several media crews have come under fire, many reporters have sustained injuries, and two journalists have gone missing. As of 28 March, six journalists were killed in crossfire.
Amid the incessant escalation of threats to the immediate physical safety of journalists working in Ukraine, urgent and extensive assistance programs are needed. This should include financial support to independent media outlets as well as necessary safety equipment, relocation plans and other forms of practical support. Journalists who decided to remain in Ukraine need bulletproof vests, body armour, satellite phones, or emergency bandages.
In addition, the tragic death of Oleksandra Kuvshynova painfully reminds of the critical role played by journalists who work as field producers with international media outlets to help them identify stories, find sources, translate interviews, and manage state bureaucracy. They do so often risking their own lives and not being given credit for all the work they do. They are wrongfully called ‘fixers’ which only downplays their impact.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not only an open attack on the core principles of the democratic world but has also further deepened the precarious position of independent journalists in both Russia and Belarus.
Journalists covering anti-war demonstrations in Russia are facing harassment and arbitrary detention. Many of them have lost their jobs and have been ostracised especially if previously working for media outlets labelled “extremists”. More than 150 Russian journalists have already fled the country seeking refuge from repression as they are facing the most severe and wide-ranging crackdown in years.
Since the fraudulent presidential elections in Belarus, the regime has further curtailed press freedom. Currently over 30 journalists remain behind bars on baseless charges. Rapidly escalating violence, manifested in mass arrests and rampant prosecution, has led to exodus of dozens of journalists, including into Ukraine.
EU Member States have an opportunity to raise the bar and set a global example of support for media freedom in crisis by extending emergency shelter and visa waivers to Russian and Belarusian journalists . This would help them to re-establish their bases of operations and continue reporting.