Throughout the past few days, the state has made at least two attempts to somehow control the media space. In both cases, the limitations are explained by the necessity to tighten security during combat and occupation of territories.
But while the ATO press center which attempted to ban journalists from working alone can only control military information, the announced Ministry for Information Policies, which has already been dubbed the ‘Ministry of Truth’ on social networks, will work on the territory of the entire country and even outside of it.
On Monday the ATO press center implemented and then almost immediately abolished the scandalous order regarding compulsory military escort for journalists. On Monday the workers of the press center stated on their Facebook page that all trips made by journalists should only happen with soldiers escorting them.
The headquarters’ order evoked indignation among journalists; in particular, they commented that an escort may cause heightened interest on part of the separatists, and control on the part of the press center is caused not by the necessity of security, but an attempt to control the journalists, and as such limit media freedom.
Lawyer and member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine Tetyana Kotiuzhynska noted that such actions may be viewed as a violation of the Law of Ukraine on state support of the media and social protection of journalists.
Within several hours, the ATO press center cancelled the initiative. According to ATO speaker Olexiy Dmytrashkivsky, as such they reacted to criticism, but they would not be held responsible for the safety of the journalists working alone.
“The decision was approved, but because of the criticism the press center was subjected to, we are normal people, so we reacted adequately. The responsibility for the safety and lives of the journalists lies on the TV channels that send them there. Those who want to travel with the press center, travel with us, those who don’t will work independently. If the issue is that we interfere with their work, we propose they work alone,” stated Dmytrashkivsky.
As General Headquarters spokesman Vladyslav Selezniov said later, the decision was not cancelled but postponed for 2-3 weeks, so that the military and the media are able to reach a consensus. According to the speaker, the military plans to question the journalists working at the front line at the moment and reach a consensus.
Ministry of Information Policies
Meanwhile, despite the criticism and lack of statute, the government created the Ministry for Information Policies on Tuesday. It is headed by MP Yury Stets, former head producer of the 5th Channel.
On Tuesday morning the journalists protested the initiative near the Verkhovna Rada. Several dozen journalists participated in the meeting. According to the organizer of the protest, Hromadke.TV journalist Anastasiya Stanko, it is still unclear what the new ministry will be doing.
MP Yury Stets compares the new ministry with its British and French analogues that existed in the past, and Israeli and Palestinian bodies which still work.
Anther initiator of the Ministry’s creation was MP Anton Herashchenko, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov. According to him, the ministry has to defend the media space from Russian propaganda, lead informational war on the territory of other countries and coordinate the activity of private media to send information to the occupied territories.
“We need a voice of Ukraine, we need a body which will coordinate information policies outside the country. We will be able to install a line of transmitters along the entire front line and offer Ukrainian media to broadcast using them, maybe even for free. We will have to give money to create content based on a tender. For example, a program on the News of Crimea,” Herashchenko noted. According to him, under conditions of factual war, it is necessary to wage it in media space and it is impossible to do so without state coordination.
The formation of the ministry evoked criticism even on part of his fellow party members, particularly former journalists Mustafa Nayyem, Serhiy Leshchenko and Dmytro Dobrodomov. Other factions also criticize the new ministry. Samopomich MP Yehor Sobolev called this action ineffective and called to use the system of state orders.
During the discussion of the members of the new Cabinet of Ministers, some MP’s, particularly Yehor Sobolev and Viktoria Siumar, demanded to call Yury Stets to the booth and discuss the work of the future ministry. Despite the calls, the Verkhovna Rada speaker put up all the ministers for vote at the same time and closed the discussion.