Ukraine: pressures on investigative journalists during the electoral campaign

After Ukraine elected its new president on 21 April, Sergiy Tomilenko, chair of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) describes the state of press freedom in the country and his union’s role in upholding quality journalism, warning journalists against propaganda and encouraging political leaders to stand for freedom of speech.

Sergiy Tomachenko, chairman of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU).

Ukrainian authorities’ attempts to muzzle the press

Free speech in Ukrainian media and journalism has worsened in the past years. Attacks on journalists began in 2016,  commented Tetyana Popova , an expert of the NGO "Information Security" a partner of NUJU, with the publication of the “Myrotvorets” list containing the personal data of thousands of journalists, who worked in the war zone of Donbass.

The list was published after flight MH- 17 was shot down by a Russian missile. All journalists who investigated the MH17 tragedy were branded "accomplices of terrorists" and "collaborators". They faced constant attacks and bullying in social networks, some of them received threats by e-mail, others on their mobile phones.

Another illustration of government interference with the press was the attacks on opposition media during elections. The “1+1” media group suffered from constant raids by the tax authorities or the National Television and Radio Council – the group that owns the biggest part of the television programmes produced by the TV production company of the then leading presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.

There were also attacks and attempts to block Ukrainian channels that are associated with Russian President Putin’s ally Mr. Medvedchuk. The result of this was a decrease of criticisms of Poroshenko (President of Ukraine 2014-2019) on these channels.

An atmosphere of hostility towards critical voices in the media

There was an atmosphere of hostility towards critical media and investigative journalists who revealed cases of corruption in the highest power circles.

In particular, anti-corruption investigations led by journalists of the “Scheme: Corruption in Details” programme, which were broadcast on Radio Liberty, were repeatedly discredited. Journalists working on this project were subject to persecution and judicial pressure.

A similar situation occurred to the information portal,, which, a month before the election, exposed smuggling activity around military equipment from Russia being sold to local armed forces at inflated prices, involving close business partners of President Petro Poroshenko. Journalists involved in the investigation were accused of manipulating the truth.

However, not all media outlets abided by an honest editorial policy. Some of them published materials that were aimed at discrediting opposition candidates for the post of President of Ukraine.

Since the beginning of 2017 NUJU has recorded an unacceptably high level of physical aggression against journalists. However, the union also noted that there were no direct obstacles or use of force against media workers at polling stations or during the preparation of election related materials, although some journalists were denied accreditation for events related to the election campaign of President Petro Poroshenko. And there was also limited communication with the media from candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.

NUJU’s initiative: a Declaration of free speech

On the eve of the 2019 elections NUJU called on leading Ukrainian politicians to sign the "Declaration on the Defense of Freedom of Speech." The document specifies that the applicants for the highest office in the state would commit among others to:

  • respect freedom of speech
  • not to exert pressure on journalists and the media,
  • not to use force to prosecute journalists

The initiative was supported by 13 candidates for the presidency, including the leader of the race - actor and TV presenter Volodymyr Zelensky.

"Our efforts are aimed at ensuring that those who attack journalists will face severe punishment and understand that the defense of freedom of speech must be a priority for the newly elected government", said Sergiy Tomilenko.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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