Crimea: the information war between Russia and Ukraine

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Crimea: the information war between Russia and Ukraine

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Covering the crisis in Crimea is a difficult and sometimes dangerous task for journalists, with intense pressure over whether they are Ukrainian, Russian or from abroad.

As reports of threats and violence multiply, Amnesty International fears for the safety of reporters.

On Thursday, after Crimea’s parliament voted in favour of joining Russia, Ukrainian TV channel ’1+1’ was taken off the air in the region.

The frequency is now occupied by the Russian state channel Rossiya, explained ’1+1’ TV presenter Lidia Taran.

“We are outraged that citizens of Ukraine – residents of Crimea but first and foremost citizens of Ukraine – are being denied the right to objective information and stripped of the channels of the country they live in.”

Taran also says that journalists of ’1+1’ have been attacked in Crimea by pro-Russian elements.

But Moscow is defending its media.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry accuses authorities in Ukraine of a crackdown on Russian reporters working there.

It has issued a statement claiming that security forces in the Ukrainian city of Dniporpetovsk arrested seven Russian journalists on the grounds that they are only interested in certain “provocative stories”.

“Media freedom in practice!” the statement says with irony.

Hostilities are such that salvoes have been fired between the media of both countries for over a week.

Ukrainian journalists accuse their Russian counterparts of pro-Kremlin propaganda.

On March 2 representatives of Ukraine’s biggest media groups demanded that Russian journalists work objectively.

In an open letter, they said: “We ask you for open, balanced and objective coverage of events taking place today in Ukraine. We ask you to understand and support the position of all central Ukrainian TV channels and to consider responsibly every word. We have no right to stir up enmity between the fraternal Russian and Ukrainian people, to broadcast unverified information or distort reality.”

The next day, Russia’s big broadcasters fired back:

“Regarding objectivity and responsibility, we would like to make a similar appeal to you,” they said in their own open letter.

“Let’s be objective and responsible. Let’s weigh our words and keep a lid on emotions. Let’s not do this apart, as has become the tradition in recent years, but together. It will certainly give an objective picture of reality which, for now, is the most important thing”

Videos posted online and broadcast by a Ukrainian TV channel show a man in military uniform, his face covered, running after a Bulgarian journalist and throwing him to the ground before putting a pistol to his head.

Amid this climate, with independent observers struggling to gain access, John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, said that “attempting to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea has become a near impossible task”.