Donbas media forum: The front line runs through our minds

For the first time representatives of the Donbas media came together at the Donbas Media Forum, held in Kyiv June 6-7, to discuss the key issues they as journalists face.

The main conclusion reached at the Forum was that journalism in the Donbas is alive and continues to function; journalists are ready to adapt to the new challenges that come with covering the events in the region. In fact reporters have already begun making adjustments to the way they gather and cover the news on both sides of the front instead of waiting for policy directives from the relevant ministry.

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The circumstances the regional media find themselves in fully reflect the complexity of what is happening in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The economic crisis, the loss of advertisers and subscribers in print media and the fact that the physical infrastructure has been destroyed are the chief obstacles the media are dealing with. The public media is barely surviving. Budgets are minimal and funds are allocated only for print services. Television and radio stations are likewise experiencing tremendous financial difficulties.
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The Donetsk and Lugansk media are determined to unite and to fight to win the battle for survival. The Donbas Media Forum provided the representatives of the regional publications, the luminaries of Donetsk journalism, students from the Donetsk State University Department of Journalism, as well as volunteers, a forum where the pressing issues could be discussed and debated.

Alexandr Bryzh, Editor in Chief of the regional newspaper “Donbas” and chairman of the Donetsk regional branch of the NSJU opened the forum.

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In his welcoming remarks Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine declared, “The world must know the truth about what is happening [in Donbas], about the persecution and torture inflicted on the local residents. I call on journalists to continue to cover the situation, to remind us all that the residents of the Donbas are Ukrainians no matter what the ‘rebels’ are trying to tell us. I call on the government to do everything possible to reassure the people of the Donbas that they are an important component of a united Ukraine.”

A panel, “The experience of media and foreign correspondents in situations of armed conflict” failed at reaching a consensus among the participants. Pavel Kanygin, special correspondent for  “Novaya Gazeta” claimed that Ukrainian reporters are afraid to go to the occupied territories. “Counting how many ‘likes’ your report has scored is not the point. Doing your job is the point,” the Russian journalist said.
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His words caused an uproar among the journalists most of whom had spent time in the war zone and after a few hours were lucky to escape the towns that are occupied by the militants. Relatives of the journalists still live in the occupied territories. Any ill-considered act, or an attempt to obtain “accreditation” from the LPR-DPR can result in the harassment, the arrest and torture of the journalists as can be attested by dozens of them who are natives of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. It is highly unlikely that anyone can guarantee personal safety and security to the members of the Ukrainian media.

“Our journalists are constantly working at the front, at the towns closest to Donetsk – Avdiivka, Krasnohorivka. Even though it is impossible for our colleagues to pass through a DPR roadblock we find other alternative routes thanks to the solidarity and help from our readers and viewers. That is our weapon, informing the public about what is really happening, without the propaganda, without the tactics of covering up and the use of censorship the ‘DPR authorities’ utilize,” declared Alexei Matsuka, chairman of the NGO “Donetsk Institute of Information” and the head of the organizing committee of the Donbas Media Forum. In April of last year Matsuka was one of the first journalists forced to leave Donetsk.

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Natalia Humeniuk asserted that lies are lies: there are no big lies or little lies. Once you lie you lose the trust of your readers. She noted the lack of the most basic information at the regional level even as Ukraine is not a closed country and journalists have every opportunity to disseminate such information. “There are countries which are very difficult to get to, where there are no telephone connections. In our country we have a huge region which is home to millions of people, where despite the danger there are telephone connections, where many of us have relatives, where many people know what is happening and yet, in spite of all that, information is actually unavailable.”

These days in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions the publishing bureaus have been seized and taken over by armed men and censorship is being implemented in the occupied territories. Dozens of regional newspapers are closing down as are radio and television stations. Even online editions have stopped publishing.

Ievgen Reznik, Valeriy Nikonov EMPR

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