The level of attacks against journalists and the urgent need to improve their safety was widely recognized amongst the panellist of the conference “Safety of Journalists: an Imperative for Free Media. Freedom of Expression and Public Order”. The high-level conference, which was held on 3 February 2017 in Kiev, Ukraine, was organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Council of Europe.
Ukrainian media organizations, civil society and governmental institutions examined the current situation of safety of journalists, and discussed legislative and practical measures to protect press freedom and safety of journalists in Ukraine. The role of security forces and members of the judicial system was particularly highlighted in two panels as an important way to improve journalist safety and to end impunity for attacks and crimes against them. “There is still a very high level of impunity for attacks on journalists, also coming from law enforcement officers. This generates a loss of confidence in the legal system,” said Sergiy Tomilenko, the Deputy President of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU). Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said in her opening statement that words alone were not enough and that concrete actions should be taken to foster safety of journalists.
Participants of the conference agreed on the importance to raise the capacities of security forces and the members of the judicial system on these issues. UNESCO manual Freedom of Expression and Public Order, presented during the conference, offers a comprehensive programme for training of security forces on freedom of expression and in particular in the fields of promoting transparency, facilitating relations between security forces and the media and strengthening safety of journalists. Mr Sergiy Kyslytsya, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, who headed the panel, concluded in his final remarks that trainings for security forces based on the UNESCO manual would be of great need in Ukraine. Mr Kyslytsya also proposed that these training to be included in the next cooperation plan with international organizations.
The Ministry of Interior of Ukraine indicated that it had already initiated trainings of police officers on these issues. A training for patrol police on relations with communities and media was implemented in 2016. “It is the will of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine to enhance relation with security forces and journalists. Not only to communicate, but also to improve the safety of journalists. We welcome international cooperation to tackle these issues”, said the Deputy Minister of Interior, Anastasia Dieiva. She furthermore stressed the need to extend these trainings to other departments in charge of public order, such as district patrol, investigation units and the state emergency service.
The NUJU Deputy President Tomilenko suggested involving even more actors to improve journalist safety and freedom of expression: “The support and trainings on safety of journalists from international community should target security forces, but also target associations, legal defence and watchdogs that are defending Ukrainian journalists”. According to UNESCO Director-General’s Report 2016 on Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, nine journalists have been killed in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015, for which no responsible has been judged until now.
During the conference, representatives from Ukrainian authorities and civil society organisations discussed a great variety of different measures to improve press freedom and safety of journalists, including possible ways of improving national legislation and the importance to emphasizing European instruments such as European convention on human rights, Council of Europe decisions and European court of human rights decisions related to freedom of press, safety of journalists and the end of impunity. International and national stakeholders agreed that a holistic approach is needed to improve such complex issues as journalist safety and impunity.