“Trap of patriotism” and lack of professionalism are biggest challenges for Ukrainian media


Journalism in Ukraine faces “trap of patriotism”, ideological influence caused by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, attacks on journalists on social media, dependency on the publisher or donor, excessive orientation on expectations of their audience and inertia.

Kyiv, September 15, 2016. Discussion among the industry professionals may help draw the line between complying with professional ethics and patriotism. Representatives of the media sector drew such a conclusion during the discussion “Self-censorship in Ukrainian media: consequences and means to overcome it” held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Oksana Romanyuk, executive director at the Institute of Mass Information noted that there is almost no censorship as a way of external pressure on media in Ukraine. Over the last eight months there were only seven cases of censorship registered. Censorship often comes as the most acute problem when developments in the east of Ukraine are covered. A recent scandal between the ATO Staff press center and journalists of Hromadske demonstrated that. Nastya Stanko, journalist of Hromadske, noted that the Ministry of Defense intends making it mandatory for the journalists to clear with them all the reports from the frontline before they are published. “One thing is if an officer on the spot sees that the journalist has filmed too much, opened a position or weapons that must not be displayed. Another thing is if some of the comments by military staff criticizing their command will be cut or if it will not be possible to film anything, it would probably mean censorship in action,” she noted.

“The trap of patriotism”

One of the biggest challenges is self-censorship as the “trap of patriotism” caused by the choice whether to criticize or not the state at war, with ideological impact and radicalized society as possible frequent outcomes. Experts noted that journalists had split into two camps: representatives of the first one do not criticize the army and the authorities in times of war, others are trying to report in a fact-based and balanced way to the maximum extent possible. “There is a certain ideological conflict between those who think that we need to win this war at any cost and those for whom this fight is for the free and democratic state that respects the rights and freedoms,” noted Maksym Butkevych, human rights defender.

The expert noted that this radicalization is to a certain extent artificial and is enhanced on social media, and is splitting the journalist community.

On the one hand under the war conditions work of the media should not be limited. However journalists cannot publish the information from the frontline that could affect the safety of military including weapons and its deployment places, number, positions and strategic military objects. At the same time journalists must not become propagandists and act the way Russia does, neglecting the journalistic standards. “The position – let’s respond with the actions that they make against us, is very dangerous,” noted Butkevych.

Bot attacks in social media

Journalists are often subject to pressure on social media, when bots and trolls are used as a tool for the pressure. Nastya Stanko noted that not every journalist is willing to continue working in such conditions for security reasons.

Dependency on private financing

Self-censorship of Ukrainian media in a wider contest is a result of their dependency on media owners or donors. Oksana Romanyuk noted that it also depends on how well the journalist differentiates the facts from comments. She said 87 per cent of the news comply with this standard. Another major problem is inertia and lack of professionalism. “Only 40 per cent of media stick to this balance. Rest only cover activities of those who sent their press releases to the editorial office. They are not searching for an alternative point of view, are not striving to find the truth, they are actually not implementing the journalistic function. The fact that over a half of the media do not show the comprehensive situation is one of the most critical problems,” emphasized Oksana Romanyuk.

In pursuit of top positions

Another problem is the pursuit of top positions and audience’s attention that often leads to tabloid-style coverage. “One thing is if the style is used to invent headlines, it is much worse if it is applied to the publicly important themes, it may lead to tragic consequences,” Butkevych noted.

Oksana Romanyuk noted that a catchy headline is fully acceptable, however the text of the material needs to be in line with the journalistic standards.

Dialogue as a tool to overcome self-censorship

According to the experts, discussion among the industry professionals will loosen the pressure in the journalist community and help find the balance between self-censorship and professional ethics – especially as to the issues pertinent to the developments in the east. “It is important to have this professional discussion among us. What is happening with us is happening for the first time. One needs not be ashamed of the mistakes and accept them if they happen,” noted Natalia Sokolenko, journalist of Hromadske Radio.

“Our huge advantage is that we can allow ourselves to have a public discussion with various viewpoints, in contrast to Russia. We have a lively discussion on everything that is happening, we can criticize, it’s our huge advantage. If we lose it, we shall remain without our main weapon,” emphasized Butkevych.