This week, newspapers Donbass and Vecherniy Donetsk suspended publishing. It came in the wake of armed representatives of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) kidnapping the two publications’ editors-in-chief for an “educational conversation,” which involved demands to change their editorial policies and to start writing more and in a more complimentary manner about the DPR. The journalists refused to do so, and both newspapers’ staff members got unpaid leaves.
Intimidation, threats, kidnappings have become usual companions of journalism in Donetsk region. The Day talked to the head of the Dialog Center for Analysis and Development of Public Communications Serhii BONDARENKO about peculiarities of the professional activity amid an undeclared war and directions of future change in the standards of journalism.
Why are representatives of the so-called DPR so aggressive towards journalists of regional, national, and international media?
“They now employ various tools of physical and psychological pressure on journalists. This suggests that the DPR supporters are in a weak position in the information field, so they do their best to ‘knock out’ information providers.”
How should journalists work under these conditions?
“I would advise focusing on working with people who take a neutral stance, the swing group, as they are about 40 percent of total, that is, a lot. We must create psychological portraits of potential consumers of information: what is their social status, values, etc., and then produce materials that will be understandable for these people. If journalists are able to describe some 50 of such psychological types, we will then be able to talk about further effective promotion of information activities.
“The eastern Ukrainians need adapted information, requiring only a very minimum of effort to decipher it. Our problem is that our information activities do not distinguish between specific groups of consumers. We have to think about the target audience and the product effectiveness, as in American and British media, where that aspect is a leitmotif, and we should adopt this practice.”
What can unite the journalists?
“We need to create a real-time coordination center for the exchange of information on various provocations, occupations and so on. It is desirable for it to be a closed community. On what basis will that board be created is an issue of minor importance. What matters is making this tool function, it is necessary for us to show a kind of guild solidarity. Journalists must be advised by psychologists and lawyers, they must be explained rules of behavior under extreme conditions and of first aid. It has to rally the journalistic community.”
How should security forces help media professionals now?
“We probably need a verbal or written agreement, for example through the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), to provide for the rapid exchange of information important to the lives of journalists, but taking into account the military’s special needs. In early days of the anti-terrorist operation, every appearance of military vehicles and people in the uniform raised great interest. Security forces suffered great damage due to people posting photos and videos allowing one to determine the number of people, type of vehicles, and the direction of their movement. Fortunately, the wave of such reports has subsided.”
What information should get priority in the media in the future, after the stabilization of the situation?
“At present, it is important to have a plan for each of different scenarios: the declaration of martial law, the armistice, the victory of one party and so on. When all will return to normalcy, it will be necessary to convene a great journalists’ ‘khural,’ tasked with developing new rules of life in the information space.
“At the end of the past century, when Poland was entering a new stage of development, it held a big gathering of national elites, including religious, cultural, military elites and so on, where people developed the principles for their country. An important point was that they repented for their past transgressions in front of others and then set the new starting point, after which every violation of strict rules was to be punished. We also need to hold roundtables, conferences, develop general rules and publicly declare them when it will be all over.
“The focus should be to work together for the prosperity of Ukraine, the issue which requires some kind of national idea. Nothing should hurt the country, and anybody acting otherwise should suffer punishment under the law and public condemnation, for we have many laws now, but hardly any result of their existence. We live in some kind of Frankenstein society, where people have hands, torsos, heads, eyes, brains, but lack that most important element, the souls.
“Donetsk press dwelled a lot on artificial topics dealing with the ‘Banderites’ and the Right Sector recently, and we see the consequences, as the nation and the region have suffered losses of unknown magnitude. Now the competition disappears, as the main task is to save the country. We need to promote new ideas and standards in accordance with these aspirations.
“Journalists should do their job well today and think about tomorrow. We almost totally ignored the future, working with the past and the present, which is an issue for our country. According to the American and British experience, it is necessary to create a model of the future and implement it.”
“EVERY JOURNALIST IS WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD”
Member of the secretariat of the Donetsk Regional Branch of the Union of Journalists of Ukraine, who did not want to be identified:
“We have already established community of journalists who work in the cities and raions of our oblast. We, in particular representatives of the union, maintain contact, and when colleagues need help, we provide it. We did it in early June when armed men came to the editor-in-chief of Druzhkovskiy Rabochiy newspaper. Generally, journalists, their affiliation to certain organizations notwithstanding, communicate with and help each other.
“Today, we should not talk about a journalist board, but about the solidarity of journalists in Donetsk oblast and other regions, as I would like to see more support from colleagues in other regions. I cannot imagine creating a coordination center with paid staff in the current context, for every journalist is worth their weight in gold, and everyone has their own line of work.
“Members of the NUJU in Kyiv have a very realistic view of the situation and quickly respond to incidents of pressure and violence against the media in Donetsk region. In fact, this is the coordinating council which provides real-time assistance, including legal.
“Unfortunately, it is not always clear who is in power in Donetsk region and who sets the rules for journalists working in the region. Legal protection is a blank space altogether. It is unknown whether laws of Ukraine are still in effect, and who enforces these laws. Where are the police, prosecutor’s office, security service? Do we have to rely on the journalistic community alone? This is a big problem and the authorities have to answer these questions.”