Reporting for a Good Cause? The relationship between activism and journalism
RE:COVER Conference, Krakow, Poland 25th-26th November 2023
Christopher Hird, chair of the EJN, was a member of the Reporting for a Good Cause? panel at the RE:Cover Conference in Krakow on 25th November, organised by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). The panel discussed the relationship between activism and journalism, as part of a conference which examined the impact of the Russian invasion on the Ukrainian media landscape and looked forward to how it could be rebuilt once the war is over. This is his report.
Coming from the world of UK media is both humbling and awe-inspiring to hear what journalists face and what they achieve in Ukraine. The highlight of Saturday morning was a keynote presentation from Anna Myroniuk, head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent. In a country in which there was very little independent media, with oligarchs exercising disproportionate influence, the Kyiv Independent was set up at the end of 2021. Within a few months Russia invaded and the publication faced the challenge of providing accurate, reliable and independent reporting during a time of war.
Anna’s presentation included as a case study their investigation of the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine – a semi-mercenary force set up within the Ukrainian armed forces. This was, as Anna explained, the defining investigation for the publication. They revealed that the Legion was commanded by a leading member of a criminal group in Poland and that the leadership were stealing weapons, sending soldiers on “suicide missions” and using trumped up charges to expel those who spoke out. There was, of course, a backlash from some social commentators who accused the publication of being unpatriotic but generally the response was positive – even in war, people wanted to hear the truth, even if was inconvenient. As Anna said, Ukraine is fighting for values which include the freedom of speech and so the job of journalism is to tirelessly tell the truth: to be today, the society we want to be after the war is over.
There was another session – Rebuilding A Diverse Media Landscape – devoted to this topic. As Joanna Krawczjk from the German Marshall Fund, who will be involved in the rebuilding of Ukraine after the war, said – at the moment rebuilding the media is not yet on the agenda. And as Andriy Kulykov, the founder of Hromadske Radio said, to widespread agreement from other Ukrainian journalists, this is not simply a question of recovery. Ukrainian media was not normal before the invasion – it needs to be rediscovered, reinvented, reborn, reshaped to be able to serve a democratic society well.
The present day challenges of doing this were well illustrated in a fascinating discussion entitled Enhancing Resistance against Disinformation which quickly turned into a wider discussion about the challenges journalists and writers in Ukraine now faced as they negotiated the new Media Law – originally in draft before the invasion but now repurposed. This debate over the last few months in Ukraine has been well chronicled by the Kyiv Independent.
Images courtesy of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)