Reporters now barred from more than 50 municipalities in Ukraine
Journalists are now denied access to more than 50 municipalities in Ukraine for reporting purposes. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards these restrictions as excessive and calls for them to be lifted so that journalists can resume working normally.
The imposed restrictions are the consequence of an order issued by the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces on 3 March that modifies the regulations for journalists during the war. Under the new rules, each military commander is required to classify the territory under their control into three categories: green zones, where accredited journalists can work freely; yellow zones, where their work is supervised; and red zones, where their work is banned.
“This decision is completely incomprehensible,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Journalists are denied access to certain areas on a discretionary decision, while one of the major issues since the start of the war has been the dissemination of reliable information obtained thanks to journalists being able to work freely. We call on the Ukrainian authorities to lift these undue restrictions immediately and to conduct a complete rethink with the aim of facilitating the work of journalists.”
Since discovering the lists of the zones, journalists have struggled to understand the logic of the new rules. “It is hard to understand how towns shelled by the Russian army end up in the green zones while certain very peaceful towns are classified as red zones,” said Oksana Romaniuk, the head of the Institute for Mass Information (IMI), RSF’s Ukrainian partner.
It is also strange that, for example, the yellow zones include several regional centres, such as Mykolaiv or Kherson, in the south of the country. Hard to see things clearly: the gradual and disorganised publication of the zone lists, which are complete in some regions and incomplete in others, is preventing journalists from getting a precise understanding of this new zoning.
Another puzzling detail: the new rules are supposed to apply to all journalists working in the zones concerned, both Ukrainian and foreign journalists, both those covering the war and those covering local news. For example, a local journalist who wants to write about new children’s playgrounds must now request accreditation in order to access the municipality where they are based.
Security issues in wartime may justify changes to access to certain zones, but the rules must be proportionate and clear for all journalists. The preceding system of accreditation, which the Ukrainian authorities established in March 2022, enabled thousands of journalists to work as freely as possible, even if certain problems were reported. In November 2022, for example, RSF opposed the temporary withdrawal of accreditation from several dozen journalists who had covered the liberation of Kherson.