A Round Table Conference in Kyiv on the subject “The Journalists and The Police: how to avoid confrontations?”
On the premises of “InterNews-Ukraine” on March 1st, 2011 there was held a Round Table Conference on the subject of avoiding confrontations between the Police and The Journalists.
Its organizers were The Independent Union of Mass Media, Kyiv branch, headed by its Chairman Yury Lukanov, the moderator of the event Andrew Yanicky, the “InterNews-Ukraine”, and the Information Agency “At Your Side”, run by Bilozerska and Yaroslavtsev.
There were more than 30 participants at the Round Table – journalists, jurists who work with the Mass Media, the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (that is, the Police), some public figures who are active in the field of human rights, and three Deputies of the Parliament, namely, Mrs. Lesia Orobets, Mr. Andrew Pavlovsky, and Mr.Andrew Parubiy.
The participants discussed some known cases of the pressure, used by the officers of Police against journalists, specifically those when there occurred some interference with the photo reporters and video operators during the exercises of their routine professional work, and a lack of defense by the Police when the workers of the Mass Media had suffered certain mob attacks. Another theme of the discussion was the problem of the legal collisions between the texts of the Laws of Ukraine, the consequence of which is that while there exist some Laws that protect the journalists against certain actions by the Police officers, this is not taken into consideration in the Criminal Code, wherein the workers of the Mass Media are never specifically mentioned.
Mr. Yury Lukanov related few stories about some specific incidents of attacks on the journalists and asked the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to inform those governing this Ministry that journalists are not neither their enemies nor opponents, but that their role is to serve as the “guardian dogs” of the Democracy.
Journalist Olena Bilozerska, who twice during the past year was a victim of police searches, and whose professional equipment was seized on those occasions, has submitted a proposal to develop a set of guidelines, some rules about the principles of coexistence that would prevent the useless interference by the Police in the professional work of the journalists. According to the ideas espoused by her, the rights of the journalists ought to be equated to those that are accorded to the servants of the religious cults, and the medical professionals – who have the right to keep the professional client confidentiality – and that any decisions to be taken by the Police in their regard ought to be taken on a sufficiently high level of authority, to spare them from arbitrary searches and seizures after some insignificant incidents.
The representative of the international organization “Reporters sans Frontières” Ms.Oxana Romaniuk insisted on the fact, that the when the Laws of Ukraine, meant to protect the journalists, do not fulfill their role, this creates a very dangerous precedent not only for the international image of Ukraine, but for its internal stability as well. Ms.O.Romaniuk begged the representatives of Police to successfully complete at least some of the outstanding cases of interference with the work of journalists, while asking the colleagues-journalists to unite in solidarity, while letting the public know about the abuses.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs was represented by the Head of the Department of Investigations Mr.Oleh Tatarov, and the Deputy Head of the Department of Public Affairs Mr.Serhiy Burlakov. They proposed to institute a series of seminars, wherein both the Police officers and journalists would be invited, with the idea to let the workers of the Mass Media to become aware not only of their rights, but their obligations under the Criminal Code as well. The representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs insisted that as long as no formal changes were introduced into the Criminal Code, the Police must follow it to the letter, - and there is nothing specifically about the journalists in the Criminal Code.
A deputy to the Parliament, Mrs. Lesia Orobets, made what she had believed to be a constructive proposal, which is to introduce a moratorium on the series of mutual accusations, while explaining the reason of the interest of the Police officers to maintain a quietly normal rapports with the journalists.
“The motivation of the Defenders of Law ought to consist in their successful apprehension of the suspects, which would in the process of dong this raise the level of their moral authority. Because that is what constitutes their Honor – and not a closed club mentality,
Another motivation ought to be the fact, that the journalist's monitoring of events provides an element of substantial help in the very sphere of their work, and which is free of charge, at that”.
Mrs. Lesia Orobets appealed to the journalists as well, asking them not to present the image of a Policeman as a “Brute in the uniform”, reminding that the majority of Police officers are decent people, and that those who are not, ought to be sanctioned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The Parliament's Deputy Mr.Andrew Parubiy remarked, that in the present situation the Laws are ineffective and the legal methods fail. But there remains an efficient method of defense – the public knowledge, the corporative solidarity of the journalists, but not only theirs – of all those who are in the opposition to the ruling regime. He promised to react and use all methods, available to him in his position as a Parliament's Deputy – with inquiries, petitions and with the personal presence in extreme cases – to those who complain of the political pressure.
The Parliament's Deputy Mr.Andrew Pavlovsky proposed to initiate a working group of Deputies and the legal professionals in in order, during the month to come, to work out and submit the proposed alterations to the legislation on the subject of journalists, in order to finally eliminate the absurdity of the situation, when the journalists are relying on one Law, but the Police rely on another. To the representatives of the Police, his suggestion was to work out the methodological directives addressed to the junior ranks, with the advice on how to behave with the journalists.
A legal specialist on Mass Media Mr.Roman Holovenko remarked, that the interaction of the journalists with the Police should be subdivided in two categories:
1. Interaction of the journalists with the Police Investigators (wherein the problem is mostly the confidentiality of journalist's sources)
2. Day to day interaction with the rank and file of the Police officers.
His proposition emphasized the necessity of the confidentiality of the sources of the journalist's information – because otherwise the source, who might be in fact in a state of a violation of the Law, would be reluctant to pass the information to the journalist, and as a result, neither the society, nor the Police would learn of the facts. Besides, in some cases there might develop a desire for the vengeance against the journalist by the perpetrator.
His proposals of the alterations in the text of the Criminal Code – about not allowing of the police interrogatories of journalists as witnesses, and, specifically, that “the search and seizure must be undertaken only with a motivated mandate by a judge of the Appellative Court of the lieu of the investigation on the basis of the presentation of the case by the District Prosecutor” with an attached note, that in fact a journalist would be a subject of the inquiry.
A lawyer, Mr Sydir Kyzin, Esq., added a touch of detail to the account of his colleague, explaining that often the Police Investigators deliberately fail to inform a Judge about the fact that they intend to search a professional journalist, thus provoking a Judge's decision that conflicts with the Article 17 of the Law about the Protection of Journalists. Mr Kyzin also demanded, that the Police officers, found guilty of this misstep, be prosecuted.
Further presentations were made by journalists Artem Skoropadsky and Tetiana Yakubovich, by a human rights activist Andrew Didenko, a member of the Information Council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Mr. Eduard Bagirov, by Mr.Andrew Moxnyk, who is the Deputy of the General Secretary of the political party “Svoboda” (“The Liberty”), as well as by the well known public figures such as Voldymyr Lesyk, Oles Vaxniy, and others.
All participants of the Round Table agreed that any pressure on the journalists, whatever the reasons, can not be tolerated, and that the existing legislation needs to be seriously corrected.
A first draft of a proposed Law, which would remove the incompatibilities between the Criminal Code and the Laws about the Protection of the Journalist's Rights, was passed to the attention of the Parliament's Deputies, for further elaboration and for submitting it to the Parliament.
Iin addition to the legislative initiatives, the Round Table conference succeeded in attracting the attention of the general public, and the Police officers as well, to the problem of the Police attitude towards the journalists. The clear and unambiguous formulation of the problem constitutes a half step towards its solution.
Lesia Orobets and Olexiy Yaroslavtsev
Andrew Parubiy and Lesia Orobets
Olena Bilozerska, Yuri Lukanov, Andrew Yanitsky
With Polish journalist Jakub Parusinski