Ukrainian journalists are winning Russia’s ‘information war’ against Ukraine, but they need help
(Ця стаття також доступна українською мовою тут.)
On the second day of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, a news anchor addressed the nation from the capital kyiv as the city came under attack. Cool and calm, she said, “We are doing our reporting here for you, and I will continue to report the news for as long as I am physically able to.”
She and other Ukrainian journalists have kept that promise at enormous cost. Ukrainian non-profit Mass Information Institute says at least seven journalists have been killed and nine injured in Ukraine since February 24, and that number is likely to rise as Russian forces continue to target journalists and media infrastructure in violation of international law. The International Press Institute, at a March 7 meeting of organizations working in the media sector, said it estimates that up to 5,000 journalists and 20,000 family members had to flee the fights.
Despite these threats, Ukrainian journalists have provided a bulwark against Russian efforts to mislead and discourage Ukrainians through disinformation and propaganda. the Ukrainian public service broadcaster, AU: PBC (which includes Suspilne, its television arm) and the 104-year-old state news agency Ukrinform have reached the moment with high quality news and conflict reporting. The former competitors of broadcasting, public and private, are work together to keep news flowing 24/7, while local radio stations defiantly continue to broadcast in areas temporarily controlled by Russian troops. Online outlets such as Ligue.net, Hromadske, Ukrainska Pravda, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, Kyiv Post, and Kyiv Independent are attracting new followers by the millions.
But Ukraine’s news sector should not be taken for granted, as if it were immutable, like the country’s iconic grassy steppes. This frontline defense in information warfare has been built over many years and needs urgent support to continue its crucial role in the resistance and reconstruction to come.
Currently, Ukrainian journalists need physical security equipment such as bulletproof vests and helmets, digital security support to protect against cyberattacks and hacks from Russia, evacuation support, safe places to stay and work inside and outside the country, and perhaps most of all. , money for wages. Many regional and hyper-local news outlets were already operating month after month before the war. Most of them are now cash-strapped after relocating staff. Rents are skyrocketing in western Ukraine, where many journalists have sought refuge.
Ukrainian media support groups are doing all they can. the Mass Information Institute and Lviv Media Forum are two Ukrainian organizations leading efforts to provide essential equipment and immediate support to journalists and media to support media coverage of the war. But more funding is needed. Among the fundraising campaigns that most directly benefit Ukrainian journalists is that led by Jakub Parusinski, president of the Kyiv-based association Media Development Foundation. The Global Forum for Media Development has compiled a list of organizations providing emergency funding and more precisely, crowdfunding efforts and other fundraising intended to benefit journalists and news media in Ukraine, including Parusinski.
The international community can also do more to support journalism in Ukraine and elsewhere. With support from abroad, including the United States (including the Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which supports the Center for International Media Assistance, CIMA, where one of us, Nick, works) , as well as European donors such as Sweden and Germany, Ukrainian reformers and journalists made significant progress in overhauling the country’s media sector between 2014 and 2019, in the aftermath of the Euromaidan protest victory. State-owned print media have been privatized, public service broadcasting has been established and professionally developed, legal frameworks on access to information have been strengthened and laws governing transparency of media ownership have been been put in place. According to a CIMA analysis, foreign donors provided almost $150 million to support the development of the media sector in Ukraine between 2010 and 2019.
This may sound generous, but the international support the media sector receives from donors such as the United States Agency for International Development, the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the World Bank and others represents a measly 0.3% of all official development assistance worldwide. This number should be increased to 1%. Sweden has already led the way by devoting 1.4% of its aid budget to the media sector.
Finally, the international community must redouble its efforts to put the interests of a free press at the heart of political conversations about how to effectively govern social media platforms. These discussions should aim to reshape the current free speech paradigm that emphasizes free and unrestricted online speech and fuels the growth of misinformation while making few concessions that would support or encourage professional journalism. quality. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is proof that massive and well-coordinated disinformation campaigns – even those without direct calls for violence – must be seen as an act of aggression and a prelude to violence. Collectively, the world is still unprepared to face this threat.
The practice of independent journalism in Ukraine is an act of democratic patriotism – a commitment to the democratic ideals that have fostered Ukraine’s national identity through the Orange Revolution of 2004, the Euromaidan protests of 2013 and 2014, and now during the staggering resistance to Russian aggression. . By expressing its solidarity with Ukrainian journalists, the world has the opportunity to reaffirm everywhere the value of free and independent media.