Ukraine: RSF calls for the restoration of accreditation for journalists who covered the liberation of Kherson
Since the counter-offensive started by the Ukrainian armed forces at the end of August, journalists have reported difficulties in gaining access to some of the liberated areas. The authorities went even further on 13 November and withdrew journalist accreditation for those who covered the liberation of Kherson. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is outraged by this decision and is urging the authorities to remove all obstacles so journalists can carry out their work freely.
On Friday 11 November, the Ukrainian armed forces entered Kherson, and footage of the celebration held in this newly liberated city in southern Ukraine was broadcast around the world. Two days later, the Ministry of Defence withdrew the accreditations of the journalists who filmed it. The Ministry justified this decision by saying the journalists had not complied with the rules laid down by the military high command, who was at that point conducting an operation to secure the city (i.e., they covered the liberation without waiting for access to the city to be authorised), and, by extension, that they had not complied with the Decree of the Commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces of 3 March 2022, governing journalistic activities.
“This decision is shocking. Free and independent information is our only defence against propaganda and disinformation. Withdrawing accreditation is an extreme and disproportionate punishment for those journalists who simply covered the liberation of Kherson. RSF is urging the Ukrainian authorities to reinstate the authorisations immediately.
While the exact number of journalists affected is not yet known, it could be as many as several dozen, including the teams at CNN, SkyNews, Hromadske and even Ukraïnska Pravda. They are utterly baffled by this decision and its haphazard application. When asked, some journalists stated that not only was there no clear communication at the time of the incident, but not everyone has been punished in the same way. Others did not even know how to check whether their accreditation had been withdrawn. All have condemned this incomprehensible decision. “In these photos, you can see the people of Kherson’s joy as they welcome the liberators. And what I see is a letter from the armed forces withdrawing my accreditation due to a ‘serious violation’.” photographer Yevhenii Zavhorodnii wrote on his Facebook page.
It has now been several months since the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, and this incident is just one part of a wider problem. Journalists have criticised the length of time it takes to gain access to the territories that have just been liberated. This situation is especially detrimental to the media wishing to investigate the lives of local civilians and the crimes committed under occupation. “The press officers are doing a great job,” highlighted Anastasiia Stanko, a journalist from Hromadske who was contacted by RSF and whose accreditation was removed, “but we would like less bureaucracy and more recognition of the importance of journalistic reporting.”
At least 11,000 journalists are now officially accredited to cover the war in Ukraine.