Journalists must not be targeted during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
With journalists on the ground in danger of being targeted as Russian tanks roll into Ukraine, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on belligerents and international organisations to guarantee their safety.
As frontline witnesses of the Russian invasion, reporters run the risk of being hit by the missile strikes and shelling taking place throughout the country. Some regional correspondents fear being surrounded and not being able to escape. Others would like to be evacuated but find themselves stranded, like many civilians, particularly in the eastern city of Kharkiv and southern city of Kherson.
In addition to the Ukrainian journalists, more than 1,000 foreign correspondents have been on the ground in Ukraine in recent days, according to figures provided the Ukrainian military, which issues accreditations.
As part of what it calls the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine, the Kremlin has drawn up a list of people who are “to be killed or sent to camps,” according to the US government. Those on the list have not been named but they reportedly include journalists.
“We are familiar with Russia’s methods,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Journalists are prime targets, as we have seen in Crimea since its annexation in 2014, and in the territories controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbass region. We call on the Russian and Ukrainian authorities to respect their international obligations regarding the protection of journalists during conflicts, and on international bodies to ensure that the obligation to take protective measures are respected. We also call on the embassies of governments present in Ukraine to grant journalists asylum whenever necessary.”
Both Resolution 2222, adopted in 2015 by the UN Security Council (of which Russia is a permanent member), and international humanitarian law require that journalists are protected during armed conflicts in the same as any civilian, even when accompanying military forces for the purposes of their reporting. Ten journalists were killed at the height of the conflict in the eastern Donbass region from 2014 to 2016.
Censorship of information about the “special operation”
This war is also being played out at the information level. Many rumours are circulating and there have been cyber-attacks on at least two Ukrainian media outlets – the website of Kanal 5, a TV channel owned by former President Petro Poroshenko, and the Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper owned by pro-government businessman Adnan Kivan.
In Russia, the authorities have imposed censorship on information about the “special operation” now under way. Roskomnadzor, the Russian media regulator that is on RSF’s list of digital press freedom predators, has told the media that they must “only use the information and data they receive from official Russian sources” or else they could be prosecuted for spreading false information.
In this latest phase, the Kremlin is continuing the narrative it has developed in recent weeks, which culminated in President Vladimir Putin’s speech three days ago in which he held the Ukrainian government responsible for any incursion that Russia might have to make into its neighbour’s territory.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, while Ukraine is ranked 97th.