Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 18 June 2015
We welcome the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Ms. Dunja Mijatović, back to the Permanent Council and thank her for the comprehensive overview of the media related issues across the OSCE region, presented in her Regular Report “Issues raised with participating States” for the period from November 2014 to June 2015.
Today, we would like to once again reaffirm the importance that we attach to the work of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media aimed at monitoring media developments in all OSCE participating States and providing early warning on violations of media freedom in the OSCE space. We fully support her mandate.
The Government of Ukraine stays committed to further consolidating freedom of expression, free media and strengthening the safety of journalists in Ukraine in line with the OSCE commitments.
The RFoM’s Regular Report proves to the close cooperation between the Ukrainian authorities and the OSCE Representative in addressing the issues related to the implementation of the relevant OSCE commitments, and we highly appreciate this fruitful dialogue.
Ukraine fully shares the RFoM’s view that independent public broadcasting has great potential to foster the freedom of speech by setting the standards of truth, pluralism and openness. With the adoption of a Public Broadcasting Law in Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada introduced international standards of public service broadcasting and institutionally reinforced media freedom in the country.
On 14 May 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament took important legislative steps to further enhance journalists’ safety in Ukraine by introducing criminal responsibility for hindering journalists’ work.
In addition, amendments have been adopted to the law on state support of mass media and social protection of journalists, which enhance support to journalists or their families if a member of the media is killed or injured on the job.
The competent Ukrainian authorities examine with great attention all RFoM’s recommendations and will thoroughly consider how these recommendations can be effectively implemented to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine against the backdrop of the Russian aggression.
Let me also reiterate that the Ukrainian side gives due attention to all issues raised by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ms. Dunja Mijatović in her Regular Report, including cases of violence and intimidation of members of the media, and takes measures with a view to ensuring impartial investigation of all cases to bring perpetrators to justice.
We appreciate RFoM’s monitoring of the media situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, illegally occupied by the Russian Federation, as well as in certain areas of Donbas, where Russia continues to pursue its military aggression against Ukraine. We thank Ms. Mijatović for paying a visit to Ukraine in March 2015 to collect objective information regarding the media situation in the country.
Her findings testify to the crackdown on media freedom in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as in the illegally occupied Crimea, which are not under control by the Ukrainian Government.
Numerous cases of violence against members of the media, including murders, physical assaults, kidnappings, detentions and threats continue to be committed by the Russia-backed militants in certain areas of Dontesk and Luhansk oblasts. The ongoing hostilities and violations of the cease-fire regime by militants continue to jeopardize the overall security situation in the affected region, including safety of journalists.
We urge the Russian Federation to exercise its influence on the militants to free Maria Varfolomeyeva, the Ukrainian journalist with “Svobodny reporter” media outlet, who has been in captivity for almost five months already – since January 9, 2015. While the conditions in which Ms. Varfolomeyeva is being kept remain unknown, she was forced by militants to make numerous video addresses and confessions, and the Russian media, including LifeNews and NewsFront, turned her illegal detention into a show. We call on the RFoM to closely follow this case and use all available instruments to facilitate the immediate release of Maria Varfolomeyeva.
The recent detention and assault on Pavel Kanygin, the Russian journalist with “Novaya Gazeta”, by militants in Donetsk on 15 June, is eloquent evidence that those journalists, who seek to objectively report on the situation in the affected region, are among the first targets of the militants.
The RFoM’s Regular Report convincingly demonstrates that the media freedom situation on the Crimean peninsula has seriously deteriorated since its illegal occupation by Russia and is marked by regular threats, assaults and harassment against those media, who are not considered loyal to the occupying authorities. Practically all independent journalists and free media were forced to leave the peninsula, Crimean Tatar media outlets forced to close, and Ukrainian television channels switched off and replaced with channels originating from the Russian Federation. Remaining media are under extensive censorship, and also subject to raids and detention of staff.
All those violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms constitute a serious threat to national security and peace in Ukraine and need to receive an adequate response of international actors in line with the norms of international law.
We invite Ms. Dunja Mijatović to take all possible steps with a view to protecting the rights of Ukrainian and foreign journalists in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as in Donbas.
We call on the RFoM to continue closely monitoring and report on the media situation in Donbas and in the occupied Crimea, where the members of the media face ongoing intimidation and threats and where the committed crimes remain without due investigation. We underline the need to take account of the negative impact of external information aggression and Russian propaganda while reporting on the media freedom situation in Ukraine.
As Russia pursues its aggression outside its borders, it has further clamped down on human rights and fundamental freedoms internally, including by targeting freedom of expression, media and journalists. According to the Russian Union of Journalists, for two decades Russia has consistently been one of the highest killing grounds for journalists with over 350 journalists killed since 1991. Too many of them have been the subject of targeted killings where the killers are rarely prosecuted. While persistently oppressing freedom of expression at home, Russia accuses others of violations of freedom of expression.
We express our concern over the shrinking space for independent media in Russia that finds confirmation in the RFoM’s Regular Report and comprises extensive list of violations, abuses, restrictions and pressure imposed by the Russian authorities. The Russian authorities continue to impose severe legislative restrictions, which negatively affect and threaten those free media, which remains operational in Russia. The few Russian journalists and media outlets who attempt to objectively report on the events in Donbas or Crimea are attacked, harassed and threatened.
We invite the Representative on Freedom of the Media and other international actors to give due attention to those issues threatening freedom of the media in Russia and beyond.
We take this opportunity to once again thank you and your team for organizing the Conference on journalists’ safety, media freedom and pluralism in times of conflict on 15-16 June in Vienna. The Conference became an important contribution in securing within the OSCE area an environment where the media can work freely, effectively and without fear.
It also played the role of excellent awareness raising event informing about the dangers of propaganda, and contributing thereby in addressing this serious threat to the freedom of expression. We are convinced that more efforts should be done within the OSCE to counter propaganda. Among many freedoms people are entitled to in a democratic society, one must be freedom from propaganda.
The Conference has served as yet another proof that despite many challenges to the freedom of the media and safety of journalists in the OSCE region, those stemming from the on-going Russian aggression against Ukraine continue to dominate the OSCE agenda and present the primary threat to media freedom.
Abundant first-hand testimonies by members of the media exercising their activities on the ground, substantiated the findings of international institutions, which identified that violence against independent journalists in the illegally occupied Crimea and Donbas, dissemination of the Russian state propaganda by the Russian media on the territory of Ukraine, as well as defiance of norms of journalistic ethics and falsifications by the Russian media reporting on the situation in Ukraine are the main elements of this dire landscape, severely undermining the OSCE principles and commitments regarding freedom of expression and free media.
We believe that two days of open and thorough discussions produced good basis for the elaboration of a set of comprehensive recommendations aimed at ensuring safety of journalists at all times, including conflict situations, tackling the spread of state-driven propaganda and countering information war of one participating State against another, as well as ensuring adherence to the ethics of journalism.
Ukraine is one of over 40 participating States, who co-sponsored the last years’ Draft Ministerial Council Decision on Freedom of Expression. We are convinced that Belgrade Ministerial Council Meeting will offer an opportunity to give a response to the current challenges to human dignity and security in the OSCE region, including by addressing the respect to and promotion of the freedoms of expression and the media.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.