Russian and Ukrainian journalists’ unions hold fruitful dialogue during World Press Freedom Day celebrations

In the framework of World Press Freedom Day, the Russian and Ukrainian Journalist Unions, affiliates of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), have organised a discussion to highlight their co-operation during the conflict in Ukraine. The event was supported by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

“Co-operation beyond the Conflict: Dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian Journalists’ Organizations in 2014-2015,” took place in Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (Latvia), as a World Press Freedom Day Conference side event.

Co-operation between the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) and the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU) started several years ago, as part of an IFJ project on combating impunity which united seven countries of Eastern Europe (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan).

During the Maidan demonstrations and particularly since the emergence of the violence in East Ukraine the NUJU/ IMTUU / RUJ have held a regular dialogue to co-ordinate efforts to protect journalists in the conflict zones. So far, at least 8 journalists have died during the regional conflict.

RUJ Executive Secretary, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, recalled the main points of the dialogue since the first meeting at the IFJ headquarters in March 2014 and the joint statement of solidarity and commitment to the protection of journalists and professional standards during the conflict.

Since May 2014 the dialogue has been supported by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, which has organised six meetings in Vienna. A number of joint statements, a hot line for journalists, calls for release of detained media workers and joint reports on violations of journalists’ rights in Eastern Ukraine have been achieved as a result of these gatherings. Today it is the only vivid link and dialogue taking place between professional organisations of the two countries.

The dialogue’s main slogan was “Two Countries, One Profession” and continually stressed the point that journalists are not soldiers and should not be used as instruments in the information war.

Representatives of both countries expressed commitment to professional and ethical standards as well as solidarity in combating hate speech and propaganda. OSCE Representative’s adviser Aidar Botagarov briefed the participants about the Representative's efforts to enhance media freedom and journalists’ safety in both Ukraine and Russia.

Sergey Tomilenko, Acting Chairman of NUJU, condemned the propaganda use of colleagues' deaths. “This dialogue is a contribution to the safety of journalists and NUJU’s priority on the ground,” he added. As an example of this dialogue's benefits, Tomilenko described how one of its participants who had been detained by separatists, was released because of his visibility in the dialogue.

Both Azhgikhina and Tomilenko were in favour of fighting all sources of propaganda and against the deterioration of journalism. The RUJ’s Executive Secretary said media cannot be banned, even if their approach is different, on behalf of press freedom. She said that their mission is not to change the editorial line of Russian media but to agree on some basic principles, to prevent any political interference and to focus on the education and standards of journalism. “This is not just a Russian or Ukrainian issue, but a global issue and professionalism and ethical standards are kind of our religion,” she added, highlighting the importance of a decent human behaviour while on mission.

They closed the dialogue meeting hoping to promote further exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian colleagues and joint projects to help develop solidarity and to overcome hate speech.

IFJ’s President, Jim Boumelha, highlighted the importance of this dialogue last 25 February during the fifth Ukraine / Russian dialogue meeting in Vienna.

“The conflict, violence and war propaganda have created a profound atmosphere of hostility and distrust which governments are exploiting to impose their own forms of control and censorship on media,” he said then. “This dialogue is crucial for rebuilding the confidence between journalists and ensuring that they can unite against censorship and intimidation, defend their rights and freedoms and continue to provide balanced and impartial news to the public.”

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