Journalists and media in Ukraine have agreed on a pioneering proposal to launch a single national press card that will oblige holders to sign up to ethical standards agreed by the country’s media ethics commission.
At meetings in Kiev this week convened by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Ukraine’s two unions of journalists announced that they had reached initial agreements with media to create a single card that will be available to journalists working across all platforms.
They stressed that the initiative will not be dependent upon any state support and the government will play no role in the operational process of issuing the card or storing information on people who hold it.
This is a welcome assurance given rising anger within journalism about government threats to media freedom. With national elections due in October the government of President Victor Yanukovich has begun to turn up pressure on dissident voices and independent journalists.
The initiative comes after actions in Ukraine and around Europe to mark the 10th anniversary of the brutal murder of Ukraine journalist Gyorgy Gongadze, whose unsolved death has come to symbolise the scourge of impunity and threats to journalists in post-Soviet states.
Early in September there were protests over threats to press freedom at a global conference of newspaper owners held in Kiev and staff at a targeted television station have held street demonstrations. Journalists and opposition politicians are also troubled by government plans for a new defamation law which, if agreed, could see journalists sent to jail for up to five years for “spreading untrustworthy information.”
The introduction of criminal defamation goes against the trend in most countries of Europe where legal threats to send journalists to prison are steadily being withdrawn. There are only two countries in Europe where journalists still receive prison sentences for defamation – Italy and Belarus – and the use of such laws is rightly regarded as archaic, anti-democratic and a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression.
The Ethical Journalism Network will be working closely with Ukraine journalists and media to establish their new accreditation system in coming months. A key element of the proposal will be to reinforce the role of the National Media Ethics Commission which is preparing a single code of conduct for journalists.
It is a self-regulation initiative that may inspire other media professionals in the region and will also be reported to the international meeting of press councils to be held next month in Belgium.