Ukraine: Free Press Under Assault
On March 1, 30 masked gunmen in military fatigues broke into the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism in Simferopol, the Crimean region’s capital, reports the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).
Militia leader Konstantin Knyrik said that the offices in Crimea do not provide accurate information and would therefore now be used for the "The Crimean Front.”
He said that there is no need to escalate the situation, that all employees can still come to work, and “if their sponsors refuse to pay the salary, we will find them entrepreneurs.”
“We will try to agree on the correct truthful coverage of events,” he said.
The Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism is one of two Ukrainian members of GIJN, and is known for its reporting on corruption and national security. It is funded by grants from, among others, the Open Society Foundations and USAID.
Staff members were unharmed and were able to keep some of their files and equipment. Over the weekend, GIJN worked with an archive center to back up the Crimean Center’s web history.
Working conditions for journalists have deteriorated in Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine, following the recent anti-government protests, ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the arrival of Russian troops, who have fanned out across the region.
Television and radio channels owned by Chernomorskaya, the largest independent broadcaster on the peninsula, were shut down Monday according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists, reports RIA Novosti.
“By turning off Chernomorskaya, regional residents have been stripped of their right to choose,” the broadcaster's editor, Alexandra Kvitko, told UNIAN news agency. “Now, we all must have only one, 'correct' opinion."
According to RIA Novosti, there have also been several attacks on journalists by protesters at pro-Russia rallies in eastern Ukraine.
In addition, the editor of the Crimean news website 911Sevastopol was attacked by an unknown person while she was attempting to film Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian Navy headquarters.
Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, expressed concern over the status of media freedom in Ukraine.
“Safety of media workers must be ensured at all times and their work must be respected,” she said in an OSCE press release. “In such difficult and sensitive situations as Ukraine finds itself in at the moment, media freedom and plurality of opinion must be ensured.”