Access to information is vital in and around Ukraine
The devastating war in Ukraine has been going on for a month. At the same time, all kinds of methods are being used to restrict access to information in Russia. After the earlier restrictions on reporting about the war, websites of several independent media have now also been blocked and the first trial started this week against a journalist for spreading false information about the war in Ukraine. This carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Unfortunately, Putin's popular nationalist argument resonates among many Russians as a result of curbing all independent media in Russia itself. There is by no means an open public debate in Russia about the motives, motivations and direction of the government at this point.
A large-scale war and invasion of a sovereign state as we see it now involves disinformation, propaganda and confusion. Mariupol has had little or no coverage in the past three weeks. The Russians had deliberately cut off all communication channels during their brutal attack: they first bombed telephone, radio and television towers. The lack of information creates chaos among people because they do not know what is happening, and it complicates the collection and dissemination of evidence.
Information must remain available
Free Press Unlimited has been active for years in supporting independent media in Eastern Europe. We call on both the Dutch government and the international community to do everything in their power to support them and to provide the Russian-speaking public with reliable information to the world in the midst of an information war. Independent information provided by journalists in and around Ukraine, including Russia, is essential to understanding what is happening. Those who show the courage to continue to deliver in this situation deserve our support. The availability of reliable and up-to-date information is crucial for the large group of Ukrainians in mortal danger to know what is going on and how the war is developing. It is also crucial for shaping an international strategy at the time of this unprecedented security threat in Europe. Up-to-date and reliable information about developments and needs is essential for the effective and timely delivery of aid. Strengthening the Russian-language information supply is also a peaceful way of defending against the Russian information war.
That is why at Free Press Unlimited, in collaboration with Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), we have scaled up our support and assistance to journalists at risk. With Media Lifeline Ukraine we ensure that journalists can continue to report on Ukraine. Together we are committed to providing practical support and other help in the longer term, in order to keep independent reporting alive even in a possible occupied Ukraine. It is crucial that the Netherlands and other countries do the maximum in their power to assist them in this difficult time. We call on all authorities that have the means to do so, to pay attention to the plight of those journalists who are most vulnerable.
In concrete terms, the Netherlands could ensure that reliable information about Ukraine remains available by supporting media hubs in Ukraine and neighboring Poland (where many journalists from Ukraine have now fled). By supporting the media hubs, journalists can be helped with safe workplaces, connections and technical facilities such as laptops and telephones. They can also borrow protective materials here. In this way, despite difficult circumstances, the independent media can continue to report on the war in Ukraine and its consequences.
In our latest Studio Free Press Matters episode, we discussed the precarious situation for independent media in Russia with Russia expert Hella Rottenberg van ‘Window on Russia’ and lawyer Tamilla Imanova from the Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Photo: Honcharuk Andrii