by Mira Terada for the Saker blog
On January 19, 2023 an international press forum of the Foundation to Battle Injustice «Journalists under the gun: attacks on freedom of speech and reprisals against reporters. How to preserve lives and guarantee safety?» took place on the platform of a Patriot Media Group. At the event, which was attended by foreign journalists, the idea of creating an independent international organization to protect journalists was expressed and supported. The new organization, not associated with existing corrupt and ineffective the western human rights organizations in the EU and the US, will help journalists to safely perform their work.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice organized an international press forum that brought together representatives of the press from all over the world. Journalists and bloggers from Russia, the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, Serbia and Latin America shared their personal experience of interaction with Western human rights organizations and journalist unions that do not perform their functions as guarantees of safety for media workers.
Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, stated that a free press is the cornerstone of a democratic society, and journalists play a fundamental role in informing the public. The unprecedented increase in threats faced by media representatives makes the profession of journalism more dangerous each year. She presented data collected by human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice about 94 journalists who were killed in 2022 because of their professional activities. Mira Terada stated that authoritarian regimes are increasingly using violence and intimidation to silence dissenting voices.
According to the human rights advocate, Western countries are making no efforts to protect the press. Europe and the US regularly violate international conventions on the protection of journalists’ rights and do not consider it their duty to speak about their safety. The leader of the Foundation to Battle Injustice’s assumption is supported by statistics: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of arrests of journalists covering protest actions in the US has increased in the past year and the overall number of journalists imprisoned has reached a new record. Western journalists not only face censorship and violation of freedom of speech, but also often face other forms of violence such as persecution, cyber attacks and even murder. Dozens of European and American journalists who investigated human rights violations, corruption of high-ranking officials of their countries and persecution against political opposition, have become victims of attempts on their lives.
Military correspondents who cover armed conflicts have an increased risk of facing repression if they cover issues that fall within the zone of geopolitical interests of Western countries. After the start of a special military operation in Ukraine, at least 13 representatives of the press have been killed as a result of Kiev bombings or from crimes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Almost all journalists covering events in Donetsk are included in the “Myrotvorets” list. They regularly receive threats and become victims of large-scale campaigns of harassment. The Ukrainian government’s attempts to intimidate the press not under its control are essentially terrorist, similar practices were previously used by radical groups banned in Russia.
According to the head of the Foundation, the problem of persecution against journalists and the total lack of attention from Western politicians can only be solved through joint efforts. It is necessary to create an independent body that would allow for international coordination in the protection of the rights of the press, regardless of their point of view and political preferences.
Alina Lipp, who reports the truth about the Ukrainian conflict to her audience, cannot return to her home country because of her professional duty. The FRG accuses her of spreading propaganda and a pro-Russian position. A victim of repression from German authorities emphasized that several of her journalist colleagues have already become victims of Ukrainian shelling. According to Lipp, they were scheduled to meet in pre-prepared places, which were later shelled by Ukrainian soldiers from mortars.
A German correspondent and blogger complains that American tech companies such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, which are banned in Russia, likely track the location of independent journalists and then share that information with Ukrainian authorities. Lipp also claims that she and her colleagues are unable to communicate by phone as the mobile signal is intercepted.
Johnny Miller, a journalist from the United Kingdom, noted at the event of the Foundation to Battle Injustice that a real campaign has been launched against Alina Lipp by Western authorities. Major British media outlets have released materials against the German journalist, accusing her of working for the Kremlin.
The journalist from the Iranian English-language Press-TV channel told the story of the attack on French journalist Adrian Boke, who became a victim of an attack by Ukrainian law enforcement officers in Istanbul. The French reporter covered the events in Donbas, wrote about the consequences of the shelling of Donetsk from French self-propelled artillery systems Caesar, which were transferred to Kiev. Two unknown individuals grabbed Boke on the street and then attempted to cut his throat with a knife. According to Miller, French media did not cover the attack on their colleague, and Western media companies only report on journalists who transmit information that is favorable to them. Miller is convinced that all media workers should have the right to work without threat to their lives.
Dutch journalist Sonja Van den Ende has stated that she is afraid to return to her home country where she faces arrest. She claims that Dutch secret services have put her on a special list, which means she cannot access her bank account. After starting to work in Donbas, large European publishing houses have refused to hire her and use her materials about the causes and course of the war in Ukraine. She have been labeled as proponent of conspiracy theories. The independent journalist claims that she has already faced persecution because of her activity after working in Syria. The police came to her home and tried to find out if she was working with the Syrian government.
According to Van den Ende, the only way to stop repression against the independent press is to stick together and continue to fulfill journalistic duty. To foreign journalists who have faced persecution from authorities, the Dutch journalist advised not to return to their home country, where they may face imprisonment.
According to Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas, human rights organizations in Latin America collaborate with American intelligence and special services, and decide whom to provide assistance based solely on political grounds. He claims that almost all media outlets in Latin America are connected to the American National Endowment for Democracy and other NGOs based in Washington. Journalists who criticize Western policy or the United States presence in Latin America do not have any rights and protections.
He and his colleagues-journalists know firsthand how human rights organizations in Bolivia work. A while ago, a journalist and friend of Vargas was attacked because of his investigation on US intervention in the politics of Latin American countries. Several people, armed with stones and clubs, beat him. Despite the seriousness of the incident, the Bolivian Journalists Union did not condemn this fact and did not make any statements. Vargas is sure that the politicization of journalist unions, in which media workers who receive funding from Western governments dominate, threatens journalists who criticize Western governments.
According to journalist from France and the editor-in-chief of the Donbass Insider, Kristel Nean, there is an active campaign to discredit journalists who cover events in Donbass. The US and NATO countries claim that they are trying to fight “fake news and Russian disinformation“. Nean believes that France is one of the top three countries that use the most repressive measures against journalists covering protest actions. The French police use traumatic weapon and gas against the press. Several cases of shooting at correspondents who tried to capture the violence of the police against the protesters have been recorded.
Repressions against independent French journalists include blocking bank accounts and removal from work in the country. Nean believes that in this way the Macron government is trying to force correspondents to stop investigations by depriving them of means of existence. In addition, cases of violence against correspondents are practically not reported in the French media. Only one French newspaper wrote about the brutal attack and attempted murder of Adrian Boke. Information about the “Myrotvorets” kill-list was only reported after the inclusion of a well-known American journalist in 2016. French journalist unions and human rights activists are subservient to NATO and the European Union, so the problem of journalist safety can only be solved by creating a new, independent international agency.
According to journalist from Serbia, Miodrag Zarkovic, not only journalists but journalism as a whole needs protection. He said that this profession has never been safe and attempts by Western countries to silence dissenting voices only worsen the situation. In his opinion, major American and European media outlets practically do not engage in journalism and instead effectively practice propaganda. He cited the example of NATO bombing of a Serbian television company, which resulted in the deaths of 16 employees. No western officials were held accountable for the largest attack on journalists in Serbian history. According to Zarkovic, we should focus all efforts on fighting those who threaten modern journalism. Our experience, knowledge, and criticism should be directed against those who harm the profession and opponents of freedom of speech.
Deborah Armstrong stated that the only threat she faced in the United States because of her activity was censorship, which has reached unprecedented levels. Her articles about events in Ukraine are marked as unreliable sources, American social networks blocked her accounts multiple times, and videos of her colleagues are removed without explanation.
After discussing cyber threats and harassment in social media faced by American journalists, Armstrong stated the lack of information about Ukrainian crimes in the US. Mass media has led Americans to not perceive the “Myrotvorets” list as a real threat.
British blogger and journalist Mike Jones agreed with previous speakers and stated that the problem of censorship and physical attacks on journalists in the West is not new and well-known. Several of his colleagues were forced to move to Russia in search of political asylum. Condemning the cases of violence against members of the press, Mike Jones agreed that it was time to unite and begin to struggle for our rights.
All participants of the press forum supported the initiative of the Foundation to Battle Injustice to create an independent body to protect the rights of journalists. Unlike the existing institutes through which the West hinders independent journalists and creates threats to their lives, such an organization will provide the necessary support and resources for the safe and effective work of media employees around the world.