The International Federation of Journalists today condemned "misguided and dangerous" plans by the Ukraine government to provide weapons for journalists in response to a wave of violent attacks on reporters.
"It is the responsibility of government to protect all of its citizens and this misguided and dangerous invitation to specialist journalists to take up arms will increase risks to all reporters and media staff," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ following an announcement that the country's Interior Ministry plans to allow journalists reporting on politics, crime and corruption to carry guns that fire rubber bullets to protect themselves.
"Even under controlled conditions, this policy is an admission by the authorities that they are powerless to defend the press," said the IFJ. "The government would be better advised to step up security for all media and journalists and to root out the corruption and lawlessness which has made journalism such an unsafe profession."
The IFJ says that the right of citizens to bear arms is a matter for every country to decide according to constitutional principles. "But journalists are not soldiers, or police officers. It is unacceptable for them to be expected to arm themselves because the government is not doing its job of providing security."
In addition, the IFJ believes that the measure could put all journalists in even greater danger. "Journalism must not become an armed struggle for the right to report," said Aidan White, "every citizen has the right to protect themselves, but the authorities must not abdicate their primary responsibility to create safe conditions for media."
The IFJ says that the Ukrainian journalists should have access to risk-awareness training and that special security provisions, including armed guards if necessary, should be provided for media offices and targeted correspondents who request them.
Ukraine's record of providing protection to journalists is already poor, says the IFJ, which has joined other press freedom groups in demanding answers from the authorities over the killing of journalist Georgiy Gongadze who disappeared in September last year. He had been investigating links between Ukrainian officials, business and crime. His corpse was found two months later and the case caused national uproar when tapes were published on which a voice similar to that of President Leonid Kuchma was heard ordering officials to deal with Gongadze. The President denies involvement, and the case remains unsolved.