First Look Media is changing up its launch plans and publishing strategy, stepping back from the concept of multiple digital “magazines” in favor of strengthening The Intercept and the forthcoming Matt Taibbi project and trying smaller experiments.
As originally planned, First Look was to be home to a “family of digital magazines” that would cover specific topics like politics, sports, and business, among others. The Intercept, launched in February by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, was the blueprint: Gather smart journalists and develop a magazine around them.
The big question we’ve been exploring over the past few months is how best to achieve our ambitious long-terms goals. We have definitely rethought some of our original ideas and plans. For example, rather than building one big flagship website, we’ve concluded that we will have greater positive impact if we test more ideas and grow them based on what we learn. We are unwavering in our desire to reach a mass audience, but the best way to do that may be through multiple experiments with existing digital communities rather than trying to draw a large audience to yet another omnibus site.
And rather than immediately launching a large collection of digital “magazines” based on strong, expert journalists with their own followings, as we imagined earlier, we’ll begin by building out the two we’ve started and then explore adding new ones as we learn.
Omidyar, drawing on his experience in the world of tech, says First Look is approaching journalism with a “startup spirit” and that the company will be an experimental mode for several years. One area he mentions is “being part of well-defined communities of interest, understanding the people in them and serving their needs and aspirations in new ways.”
On the technology side, Omidyar said First Look is running a pilot program of a small grants to test ideas and experiments that harness “the potential of technology and journalism to serve the greater good.”
RELATED ARTICLE“Not white. Not male. Fast”: John Cook addresses what’s happening and who they’re looking for at The InterceptWhile First Look made a big splash when the company was announced, and later with the introduction of The Intercept, the company has been relatively quiet outside of hiring moves in the intervening months. Eric Bates, First Look’s executive editor, told Capital in February, “We don’t, at least initially, have to try to feed the beast at some frantic pace and that serves the journalism as well.”
In one of his first acts as editor-in-chief of The Intercept, John Cook told readers the site would be fairly quiet aside from NSA reporting while they focus on staffing and other issues. In April, Omidyar pulled together a group of journalism and technology experts to help guide First Look’s plan for the future.
For the journalist who already joined up with First Look — Omidyar says it’s 25 and could be 50 by end of the year — the new strategy might be a change on what they were promised: A collection of reporter-driven, digital-focused media properties.
Lab contributor C. W. Anderson poses a good question, for which First Look advisor Jay Rosen has an answer:
@Chanders From what I know — not everything but a lot — the relationship is solid and nothing in today's announcement changes it.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) July 28, 2014
that desktop traffic is 'going away' has become this unquestionable assumption. where will it go in corporate offices? all tablet?
— Wolfgang Blau (@wblau) July 25, 2014
If you’re the kind of person who reads Nieman Lab, you’re probably already sick of hearing terms like “mobile first” and “mobile majority.” Web traffic, including news traffic, is shifting from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones — particularly phones. For years, many news organizations viewed mobile as a weird adjunct of the “real” digital product, the one they saw on their screens at their desk; a generation of terrible mobile websites followed.
RELATED ARTICLEThe plague of uniform rectangles with text overlays spreads further, risks becoming news-web-wide contagionThe trend lines are all going to mobile, and many (most?) news outlets are still behind. But a few others have gone in the other direction, with redesigns built for mobile first that, if we’re being honest, look kinda bad on bigger screens. NBC News, Sports Illustrated, Slate, The Wire, The Dallas Morning News’ (now dead) “premium” site: Reasonable people can disagree, but their hamburger-button-laden, box-and-overlay-choked recent redesigns seem to make more sense on your iPhone than your iMac.
It’s a tough balance: On one hand, news sites have a lot of catching up to do on mobile. On the other, desktops and laptops aren’t going away any time soon, at least for one key market segment: people who spend their work days in front of a computer. Out of the office, yes, phones and tablets rule, and their lead will continue to grow. But the rise of the workplace as a place to read news has been one of the defining trends for online news, and most every news site still seeks peak audience during work hours Monday to Friday.
I have a hard time getting too passionate about making that it’s-too-soon case — the overall trendline to mobile is still pretty overwhelming — but it is worth noting that (a) peak online news reading time is likely to remain traditional work hours, and (b) most people who are currently looking at a computer during those hours will likely keep doing so for quite a while. (Tim Cook may do 80 percent of his office work on a tablet, but slipping iPad sales would seem to indicate he’s an understandable edge case in a corporate environment.)
The result could be a more bifurcated market, not a scenario where online news is, say, 85 percent mobile in three years. (There may not be too much more evening-and-weekend laptop traffic left to bleed off; I suspect most of that has already switched to phones and tablets.)
@wblau there's an interesting alternative version of this story to be told, which concentrates on numbers, not % of traffic
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2014
@wblau desktop decline then looks far smaller – main story I suspect is that growth now is almost entirely from mobile
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2014
@wblau Desktop will be a key player during office hours. After and in between mobile will win. That is what my traffic patterns tell me ;)
— Sven Clement (@svnee) July 25, 2014
@jamesrbuk indeed. This false narrative has lead to some designs in the industry that make no sense for desktop.
— Wolfgang Blau (@wblau) July 25, 2014
@wblau exactly – that's the big danger. Desktop's not about to vanish any time soon
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2014
@svnee which results in more nuanced questions such as 'how does an editorial strategy have to change for mobile" etc.
— Wolfgang Blau (@wblau) July 25, 2014
That’s that difficult balance: building for mobile growth, making it a top priority, but doing it without underserving the 9-to-5 audience that’ll probably be looking at a big screen for some years to come.
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)We wrote several times about Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome in its relatively brief life. (Its shutdown was announced back in April.)
Wikipedia defines “Thunderdome” as “a euphemism for a contest where the loser suffers harsh consequences” — in this case, a lot of layoffs. But there were a few interesting ideas behind it.
…I’d argue that any centralization plan needs to include something that improves your journalism. A cost-cutting-only centralization plan won’t improve your sites or your relationship with readers, both of which are key to future relevance.
…Watching the Thunderdome team work so collaboratively was, to me, an example of how newsrooms have to operate to survive in the future. We need fewer egos, fewer divas, more collaboration and more stepping into the breach to help colleagues. All in all, the Thunderdome newsroom was the lowest maintenance newsroom I have ever managed.
… One of the key reasons for centralizing is to get scale in national news production. But do we think local news organizations — in the disaggregated Web world we live in and the even more atomic mobile world we’re speeding into — actually need much national news anymore? I’m not sure, especially when you consider the cost of acquiring that content. So it may be that part of centralization isn’t really needed for much longer.
My top priority as editor of The Poynter Institute’s website is to find the best online method for delivering media news and education. I think listening to our readers is the best way to do this. That is why we are conducting a website user survey to better get to know our readers and figure out how to best serve them.
In addition to the survey, we plan to have one-on-one conversations with people interested in talking to us, and you can send an email to email@example.com at any time with ideas and suggestions.
It can be a real challenge to manage a website with the amount of content we have. Keeping up with ever-evolving Web technology and trends presents another challenge. That’s where you, the user of our website, come in; we need your input to help guide and shape Poynter.org’s design, look and feel.… Read more
- Despite demographic and content differences, business and entertainment news users are highly receptive to in-feed sponsored content if it is relevant, authoritative and trustworthy.
- General news users are the least receptive but also said that they can have a positive experience if the advertising is relevant, authoritative and trustworthy.
- Well done sponsored content can enhance the credibility of the site and the site’s credibly can enhance the perceived credibility of the in-feed sponsored content (33% lift in perceived credibility of the sponsored content when on credibly perceived news site)
- The fit between the site and the brand is critical to success with consumers.
- In-feed sponsored content is least useful for generating new brand awareness.
- In-feed sponsored content is most useful for established brands that seek to enhance and differentiate their image, deepen existing consumer relationships, to launch brand extensions.
- The best in-feed sponsored content tells a story and fulfills the human need for a compelling narrative.
Wouldn’t it be cool if public radio fans could get to all their stuff in one simple app? Stuff from Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Here & Now, All Things Considered — and their local station. It would know what we want to hear even before we know it’s out there, bringing it all to us in real time and no cost. It’s a vision that might complete the transition of turning the phone into a virtual digital radio — and it would work on a tablet, a laptop, and even in certain connected cars.
That’s the dream of NPR’s new NPR One app. It’s out of beta in soft launch today, and you can test drive it for yourself in the iOS and Android stores. NPR One begins to achieve that vision, even as a work in progress. Of course, its dream is a common one online, the fevered hope of masterful, personalized curation aggregating the best of the best. We’ve seen that in news (Google News, Yahoo News, AP Mobile), in magazines (Flipboard), in music (iTunes, Spotify, Pandora), movies and TV (Netflix, Hulu). Now NPR wants to lead the pack in public radio news listening.
NPR One is a listening hub. You won’t find the text stories there that were foregrounded in NPR’s 2010 iPad app. That carousel of news and audio seemed to redefine public radio as a news provider when it launched; now we see that it expanded boundaries but didn’t transform the landscape.
NPR One is also all about news, drawing much of its content from NPR’s tentpoles, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The new app offers these programs’ segments — about 40 of them are produced each day — over the top, meaning not directly through local stations’ broadcasts or streams. Morning Edition and ATC spur much of the economy of public radio, and that direct-to-consumer distribution is a bit unsettling to some of America’s 897 NPR member stations. To accommodate those concerns, stations’ own identities and participation in the project are part of its fabric. (The name evokes both global references — think BBC Radio One or CBC Radio One — and unity in a sometimes fractured public radio world.)
RELATED ARTICLENPR’s Infinite Player: It’s like a public radio station that only plays the kinds of pieces you like, forever“It’s a one-touch, fire-and-forget news listening experience,” sums up Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s chief content officer and a former top editor at USA Today. Adds Zach Brand, vice president of digital media, “We have put together the best newsmagazine for you at the moment you want to listen.” (The DNA of NPR’s earlier experimental Infinite Player is clearly in the new app; the old Infinite Player URL now redirects to NPR One.)
Can NPR One breakthrough the noise of web and become a go-to first screen app for millions of public radio lovers, beating the fast-growing commercial competition to the punch and becoming the go-to place for spoken news? And will it push the well-worn politics and uneasy local/national/local relationships within public radio to boil anew — or can they be kept on simmer?
These aren’t abstract questions. Just as Americans are quickly trading in newsprint for pixels, they are trading broadcast listening time for streaming. Check out the chart below, and we can see that movement (click to enlarge).
The number of monthly unique visitors to NPR.org is equal to its weekly listenership of 27 million, though the listeners spend far more time than the readers. Note that the usage of the news apps, phone and tablet, adds another million monthly unique visitors. That’s still a relative small percentage of the total; changes in media habits are both dramatic and still happening more slowly than many might think. It’s a significantly younger audience on smartphone — 13 years younger than the radio audience and six years younger than the NPR.org audience.
At Boston’s WBUR, one of the six public radio stations (the others: WNYC, WHYY, KQED, KPCC, and Minnesota Public Radio) that directly collaborated with NPR on the new app, streaming now amounts to 10 to 15 percent of the overall audience. Midday is where streaming is strongest, when most folks are at work, says WBUR director of news and programming Sam Fleming. “But clearly younger members of our audience — under 35 — are just as often streaming as listening to the radio.” To be clear, it’s that mobile audience, national and local, that’s the future. “WBUR’s digital audience is now 40 percent mobile phones — a number that grows by double digits every year. We expect it to exceed 50 percent by the end of 2014. NPR’s digital audience is already 50 percent mobile — which is one reason we both believe NPR One is so important.”
It’s a revolution that’s parallel to Spotify’s and Pandora’s — and indeed one key goal of NPR One is adapt lessons from those apps to audio news.
NPR One is free. It’s audio-only. It’s personalized, requiring a sign-in that enables that on-the-fly customizing, equipped with its own recommendation engine.
Most of the programming is national, with local to be increasingly added in. But local branding is front and center, displaying the call letters of your local station prominently. That’s the awkward balance: NPR is sending its content directly to listeners, potentially bypassing the stations and their earlier quasi-monopoly in bringing it to us. The local branding is the tradeoff. Like all tradeoffs, it won’t be exactly 50-50, but the share of benefits to NPR national (which has been afflicted with staff cutbacks) and to the local stations (which are generally healthier financially, with memberships accounting for more than half their revenue) is impossible to forecast at this point.
The big idea of NPR One is to go after the millions of casual public radio listeners — and not the other millions already keenly habituated to public radio listening. NPR figures that’s where the real battle is with the commercial curators — the iHeartRadios, the Stitchers, the Slackers, and the Swells. (Swell, which Apple seems ready to buy.) It’s a top-of-the-funnel play, aiming to customers into the public radio fold — and public media economic ecosystem — before other audio curators can grab and monetize them. The first-screen inclusion of the local public radio station call letters is part of that strategy: Bring in the casuals, burn the local station in their minds, and then go for membership dues.
If NPR One is a big consumer aggregation play, what’s under the hood may turn out to be as significant long-term.
“The product is just the first manifestation of what can be built on the underlying platform, and that platform is available to everyone in the public radio system,” says Wilson. Translation: All the technology-building that NPR’s been up to will enable a smoother flow of network content for all kinds of product packaging by individual stations and other producers. Further, such mundane but essential functions as identity, customer relationship management, billing, facilitating of credit card transactions, and more will be part of the new system. Much of the robustness of U.S. public radio has been built on voluntary membership. Those 3.5 million members are gold, contributing $450 million in annual revenue. The next big question, though: What does paying digital membership look like, and how does it work?
Listen to the platform rollout order of NPR One, and you see how the desktop is receding as as a priority. In order, Wilson’s platform priority: 1. smartphone; 2. connected car (NPR believes it will have a dozen agreements in this area within a year); 3. connected home (including TVs and audio receivers); 4. tablet; 5. desktop.
The app is intended to be dead simple, all about the flow of stories. Its simplicity means that it may frustrate some of us — especially those of much more deeply conversant with the wider riches of public radio content — who may want a product with more control, more switchability, more choice, more ability to bring up The Moth, Dinner Party Download, or This American Life when we’ve had it with the news of the day. But we’re not the target of of NPR One.
Open the app, sign in and you hear its opening pitch: “Public radio made personal”, intoned by distinctive NPR anchor (and former Nieman Fellow) Guy Raz.
The app starts with the latest five-minute national newscast, then starts playing. We get basic clues of segment provenance: names of programs/topics appearing on most stories, though some categorization seems in and out. You can click “interesting” to tell the algorithm that you want more stories like that one, but can’t (yet) do a Pandora-like thumbs down.
The app’s content is evolving. At this point, it’s mainly NPR-produced material, so that means you won’t find APM’s Marketplace and This American Life in the product. How much of that kind of content makes it way into the new product will depend on contractual talks in the months ahead. How much local news content will NPR One listeners find? Kinsey Wilson figures that about 55 percent of users will find some local content. If your default station produces it, it will make its way into the product. If not, you can always place-shift to another station, nearby or across the country.
The nation’s biggest public radio stations, too, have the talent and innovation chops to compete in this streaming sweepstakes, and that’s part of the trend to watch here. Take a look at the impressive Discover function within WNYC’s smartphone app and you see NPR One-like thinking. Launched four months ago, it offers a personalized experience, a pick-your-listening-period timer (say, 20 minutes) and lots of public radio content well beyond what the station produces. That includes public radio news and feature content, but even more intriguingly, content from The New Yorker. Yes, The New Yorker. So we can see the kind of bridge-building and boundary-breaking that this next wave of public media apps may offer. Why The New Yorker? WNYC knows its audience, so it’s searching out best-in-breed audio content from non-public radio traditional places.
“It’s a tailored listening experience,” says Thomas Hjelm, chief digital officer for New York Public Radio, WNYC’s parent.
WNYC, a leader in listenership, has been on innovation overdrive. Laura Walker, CEO of New York Public Radio, is a force, and, interestingly, she’s just been appointed to the Tribune Company board. Jim Schachter, who led numerous New York Times newsroom innovations, joined the station as two years ago as vice president for news.
Discover seems like such a potential breakthrough that WNYC is considering breaking it out as a separate app from the WNYC app itself.
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of public radio’s all-in-one tablet strategyKPCC, or Southern California Public Radio, has also built out its own direct-to-consumer plays (“The newsonomics of public radio’s all-in-one tablet strategy”), as have several other bigger operations.
RELATED ARTICLECan’t stop, won’t stop: PRX introduces an app for unending audio storytellingThen there’s PRX Remix, one of the latest offerings of PRX (“Can’t stop, won’t stop: PRX introduces an app for unending audio storytelling”). It bears a certain similarity to WNYC’s Discover and NPR One, but it’s focused more on storytelling than news.
RELATED ARTICLEWelcome to Radiotopia, a podcast network with the aesthetics of story-driven public radioPRX executive director Jake Shapiro recently got some ink from being part of Ira Glass’ This American Life’s new business model launch. He has built a major source of independent audio and is moving PRX from a generally B2B to both a B2B and B2C operation, with innovations like the new Radiotopia podcast network and Remix.
In both PRX Remix and Discover, we can see great and growing — perhaps competitive, perhaps complementary — public radio curation ferment.
Why now? Shapiro says there’s always been a glut of public radio content. “We have about 60,000 programs in our catalog” — then add in iTunes’ 250,000 podcasts and 20 million tracks on Spotify. Public radio glut sounds a lot like news text infinity. But on radio, there are at most 168 hours to fill. In the glut of news and information, there’s lots of opportunity for editors and algorithms, algorithms and producers to do some sorting for us.
Storytelling and news is just one of the curious dyads that has to be thought through as the public radio morphs into public media which morphs into streaming public audio. Consider these pairings and you come away with a new appreciation of the complexities involved here — and ones that mirror many of the challenges in the news, magazine, and TV broadcast businesses as well as they chart futures in product development.News vs. features / Public media news is of growing importance to us, but sometimes we need a break from the carnage of the day. The diversity of programming — music, arts, interviews and more — is what makes public radio unique. Sometimes we want to move from one to the other, and we’d like to do it as effortlessly as possible.
News vs. storytelling / The web has rebirthed an incredible storytelling culture, led by the likes of The Moth. Audio streaming and offline play are a perfect use of our new smartphone radios. Here, too, we may want to toggle back and forth between news and storytelling.
Segments vs. whole programs / Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you feel like a whole bag. Linear podcasts can be a good time investment for shows we like, but finding just the best or right segment can be a great disaggregated bonus of digital curation.
Streaming vs. podcasts / Podcasts, an old form, have taken on a new life with wireless broadband. It’s a sturdy form, and as inviting for some as streaming.
Local vs. national / The eternal question, reborn in another arena. We want both, in differing proportions at differing times — and depending on the volume of real local news.
Audio vs. text / Can NPR escape its sound-only roots? Should it? It’s added lots of text to its digital presence, but still seeks to balance the two — and figure out where the greater audience/market may be.
Loyal vs. newbie / Many of the public radio’s millions of weekly listeners are addicted. Do you focus on better serving them as they transition to streaming? Or do you focus on the casual, would-be listeners before other aggregators snatch them away?
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of NYT NowThat’s a profound set of issues. It’s one that’s parallel to the kinds of decisions that other new product makers are noodling, including NYT Now, which decided on the three things it would do for its younger, mobile target audience: briefings, top news, and curation of other top news products. (Is that the new holy trinity of digital products?)
What will be listening to in three years, and through what? That’s the question of for movers and model-shakers in public media. Public media isn’t so much an ecosystem as a scattershot map. Like most forms of media, it evolved into its current patterns, its culture and its dot placement, haphazardly. Now digital disruption has come to call — later than for newspapers and magazines, but insistently nonetheless.
While “NPR” may seem like one thing to many of its listeners, it’s incredibly diverse, and the resulting map is full of politics and conflicting interests. Those mega-stations like WNYC and KPCC (which just claimed a potentially lucrative Santa Barbara territory) certainly want to chart their futures. Most of the hundreds of smaller and small stations around the country are pass-throughs or barely more, licensing all that programming and resending it to their local area customers. They’ve come to believe — as local newspapers once believed — that they “own” their listenerships. They don’t, and NPR One is just one of what will be many earthquakes reshaping their fundamental relationships with both listeners and underwriters. (The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a major funder of public media, too, is rethinking its approach. Just this week, it promoted Bruce Theriault to its new position of senior vice president for radio and journalism. In that role, he’ll be newly responsible for all CPB journalism funding initiatives.)
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of the death and life of California newsFor the news-reading public, this is more than a curious industry to watch. Public radio — the best of the news-producing radio, NPR and a dozen or so top “stations” — are close cousins to newspapers in how they approach the news business. Advertisers (or underwriters) don’t exert much sway over content, and the without-fear-or-favor creed of the newspaper industry drives public radio news thinking. News creation growth has been haphazard, but moving in the right direction. Aggressive KPCC’s newsroom, now with over 100 staffers, for instance, offers a noteworthy challenge to the ongoing chaos of southern California newspapering (“The newsonomics of the death and life of California news”).
The issues are real within “the system,” as public radio people like to call their world. That doesn’t mean, though, those issues should be allowed to minimize innovation or to blunt its impact. The faster public media gets its collective acts together, the better for everyone.
Ten women who work in the media are currently behind bars in the Islamic Republic
The arrest on 22 July of two journalists and a photographer, including the Tehran correspondent of the Washington Post and his Iranian wife, brings to 65 the number of news providers behind bars in Iran. They include 10 women, of whom three are foreign nationals, making Iran the world's leading jailer of female journalists and netizens.
Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned by this wave of summonses and arrests aimed mainly at women working in the media, seven of whom have received prison terms of between six months and 20 years.
The Washington Post's correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has dual US and Iranian nationality, and his Iranian journalist wife Yeganeh Salehi were arrested at their Tehran home. Rezaian, 38, has been the Post's correspondent in the Iranian capital since 2012. Salehi works for the newspaper The National, based in the United Arab Emirates.
A freelance Iranian-American photographer who works for various news organizations including the Washington Post was also arrested, together with her non-journalist husband. Her family did not want to disclose her identity. The whereabouts of the couple and the reasons for their arrest are not known.
Sajedeh Arabsorkhi was summoned on 18 July by the sentence enforcement court at Evin prison to begin serving a one-year prison term for anti-government propaganda. Since she returned to Iran last September, she has been called in for questioning several times by intelligence agents of the Revolutionary Guards.
“She was sentenced in absentia while she was living in France,” her mother said. “She left Iran legally, with no proceedings against her. The problems began on her return to the country.”
Sajedeh Arabsorkhi is the daughter of the former political prisoner Fazlollah Arabsorkhi, a leading member of an Iranian reformist party.
Marzieh Rasouli was taken back to prison on 8 July to serve a two-year custodial sentence and receive 50 lashes. On 21 June, Rihaneh Tabatabai, a former journalist with the daily Shargh sentenced to a year's imprisonment, was also placed behind bars. Mahnaz Mohammadi, a journalist and documentary-maker, was admitted to prison on 7 June to begin a five-year sentence.
Reporters Without Borders is particularly worried about the fate of Saba Azarpeyk, a journalist for the monthly Téjarat-é-Farda and the daily newspaper Etemad, who was arrested on 28 May. Where she is being held and on whose authority she was arrested have not been made known, in breach of national and international laws. Her trial took place on 20 and 21 July in a Tehran revolutionary court, in the absence of her legal representive.
Her lawyer said he was not informed of the date of the hearing, but he understood the trial was linked to a prior arrest. Azarpeyk was one of the victims of “Black Sunday”, a repressive operation in January 2013 against media workers in which 19 journalists were arrested.
According to information received by Reporters Without Borders, the journalist has come under extreme pressure because of her investigations into news organizations that are run and financed by the Revolutionary Guards and agents of the ministry of intelligence.
The two security organizations, which are close to Iran's judicial authorities, have kept the journalist in solitary confinement at a secret location for the past 50 days, in breach of all national and international laws. Her family were allowed to see her briefly during her trial and were shocked at her weakened physical and mental condition.
Foreign nationals in prison
Three of the 10 women news providers currently in prison in Iran are foreign nationals, including the American photographer arrested on 22 July.
Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual British and Iranian nationality, and Farideh Shahgholi, a German-Iranian netizen, were arrested for their activities on social media, including Facebook. Up to now, neither the British nor German authorities have made official statements about the detentions.
Nobakht, 47, has been held in custody since October last year and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a Tehran revolutionary court on 27 May this year on charges of “plotting to commit crimes against security and insulting Islam” for writing on Facebook that everything in Iran was “too Islamic”.
On the same day, seven other netizens were given prison sentences, including Naghmeh Shahi Savandi Shirazi, jailed for seven years and 91 days.
Shahgholi began a three-year sentence on 22 May. Having lived in Germany for 25 years, she was arrested in 2011 during a visit to relatives in Iran. She was charged with anti-government publicity and insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for comments she made on Facebook, and was unlawfully convicted by the Tehran Revolutionary Court.
“With 65 journalists and netizens in prison, Iran is still one of the world's biggest prisons for people working in the media,” said Reza Moïni, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan desk. “The country is also the leading jailer of women journalists and netizens. The justice authorities, in collusion with the Revolutionary Guards and the ministry of intelligence, flout the rights of women who work in the media. “Nothing came of President Hassan Rohani's promises to free all prisoners of conscience. His silence makes it easier to crack down on freedom of information. It is his duty to ensure the constitution is applied and he is responsible for the fate of everyone on Iranian soil.”
Iran is one of the world's most repressive countries as regards freedom of information. It is ranked 173rd of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Besides its regular press releases, Reporters Without Borders is maintaining a Ukraine news feed in order to summarize the violations of freedom of information constantly taking place in Ukraine.
28.07.2014 - Polish journalist badly injured near Luhansk
Polish journalist Bianka Zalewska, a reporter for Ukraine's EspressoTV, was badly wounded while accompanying a column of Ukrainian solders in the Luhansk region on 27 July. She sustained a spinal column fracture and injuries to her lower back and collarbone when shots were fired at her vehicle, causing it to overturn.
After a quick examination in the nearest hospital, Zalewska was helicoptered to Kharkov, where she underwent an operation to her collarbone. At midday on 28 July, doctors described her condition as “grave but stable.” The Polish ambassador to Ukraine said she would be transferred to Kiev for a more detailed examination.
27.07.2014 - Two journalists released, others arrested
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved by the release of Anton Skiba, a Ukrainian journalist who is a CNN fixer, and Graham Phillips, a British blogger who often works for Russia Today. Skiba was freed at around 4 p.m. on 26 July by the anti-Kiev rebels who had been holding him since the evening of 22 July. He said he was forced to false statements on camera.
Phillips, who disappeared while covering fierce fighting at Donetsk airport on the evening of 22 July, was finally taken to the Polish border and expelled by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on the evening of 25 July. Until that moment, the Ukrainian authorities had denied holding him. Phillips was banned from reentering Ukraine for three years. He said he was threatened while held.
More journalists are being arrested as the fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine. Stepan Kravchenko, a Russian reporter for the Bloomberg news agency, was about to return to Russia from Donetsk on 25 July when he was arrested and given a heavy-handed interrogation by Ukrainian soldiers with the Dniepr battalion. He was moved from one place to another and was finally escorted to the Russian border and released after Bloomberg interceded.
Jan Hunin, a Belgian journalist who reports for the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, was held at a rebel checkpoint near Donetsk for four hours on 27 July and then released. Reporters Without Borders condemns these arbitrary arrests and again calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the work of journalists.
Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about Yuri Lelyavski, a journalist with the Ukrainian TV station ZIK, who was arrested at a rebel checkpoint near Luhansk on 23 July. There has been no news of him since then. RWB calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
See our 24 July press release for more information about the abductions of Skiba, Phillips and Lelyavski.
21.07.2014 - Ukrainian journalist to spend 10 days in solitary in Russia
Yevgeny Agarkov, a Ukrainian reporter for “Spetskor,” a programme broadcast by Ukrainian channel 2+2, was arrested by Russian immigration officials near Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, on 18 July for not being accredited with the Russian foreign ministry. Later the same day, an administrative court convicted him of “working illegally as a journalist” and sentenced him to a fine of 2,000 roubles (40 euros), expulsion from Russia and a five-year ban on reentering the country.
The court stipulated that his expulsion would take effect on 28 July, pending which he was to be detained. He was transferred to a detention centre 160 km from the city of Voronezh and was placed in solitary confinement.
“Agarkov's prolonged detention is disproportionate, especially as he is being held in an isolation cell,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This journalist is being treated like a criminal although all he did was contravene the administrative code. We urge the Russian authorities to free him and return him to Ukraine without delay.”
Agarkov went to Voronezh to cover the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who is being held there for alleged complicity in the deaths of Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed by mortar fire in the Luhansk region (in eastern Ukraine) on 17 June.
20.07.2014 - Rebels arrest ten journalists outside Donetsk morgue
Around ten journalists were arrested by the security services of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk (PRD) when they tried to enter the morgue in Donetsk on 19 and 20 July as part of their coverage of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on 17 July, in which 298 people died.
Those arrested outside the morgue on 20 July included Kevin Bishop, a British reporter for the BBC, Anna Nemtsova, a Russian reporter for The Daily Beast, Simon Shuster, a US reporter for Time Magazine, Italian journalist Lucia Sgueglia, and two reporters for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Paul Hansen and Jan Lewenhagen. They were all taken to the local headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), where they were questioned and then released a few hours later. A Russian TV crew with Russia Today that was arrested in similar circumstances on 19 July was held overnight before being released.
Nemtsova said the rebels posted outside the morgue had been given orders to arrest all journalists trying to go inside. When a Russia Today cameraman asked PRD Prime Minister Alexander Borodai at a news conference why he had spent a night in detention, Borodai responded with a joke: “You're not a real journalist if you haven't spent a night in the SBU.”
17.07.2014 - Bomb hoaxes at two national TV stations
The Kiev police received an anonymous message on 17 July warning that a bomb had been left inside the premises of Inter, a national TV channel owned by oligarch Dmitri Firtash. A search of Inter revealed nothing suspicious. The police are trying to identify the source of the anonymous call.
Earlier in the day, an anonymous message reported that a bomb had been left at 5 Kanal, a national TV station owned by President Petro Poroshenko. Its offices were evacuated and searched but no trace of explosives was found. It was the third false bomb alert at 5 Kanal this month. The previous ones were on 4 and 15 July. Each time 5 Kanal was forced to interrupt programming.
16.07.2014 - Rebels seize Luhansk news site's computer equipment
Serhiy Sakadynski, the editor of the Luhansk-based news website Politika 2.0, revealed on 16 July that anti-Kiev rebels removed all of its computer equipment, cameras and video cameras during a raid on its offices on 10 July. The raid took place after they caught a Politika 2.0 reporter taking photos of Luhansk railway station, accused her of spying, and decided that Politika 2.0 was “gathering information about the rebels.” They gave Sakadynski a beating during the raid and took him with them when they left, releasing him the next day after influential persons intervened. The equipment has not been returned.
11.07.2014 - Heavy toll on journalists in first half of 2014
The Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Ukrainian NGO partnered with Reporters Without Borders, has released figures for media freedom violations during the first half of 2014. According to IMI's tally, six journalists were killed in connection with their work, 249 were injured or attacked, and at least 55 were taken hostage or detained arbitrarily. The toll was much higher than in 2013, when a total of 101 attacks on journalists were registered during the entire year, half of them in connection with the Maidan Square protests in November and December.
“Physical attacks against journalists and other media workers currently pose one of the main challenges for the media profession,” said IMI director Oksana Romanyuk. “The authorities also face the challenge of investigating all these [attacks] and punishing those responsible. Ending impunity [...] and defending the public's right to information should be one of the main items on the new president's agenda.”
Read the IMI report (in Ukrainian).
10.07.2014 - Luhansk TV channel suspends broadcasting
A Luhansk-based TV station called Luhansk Cable Television (LKT) has suspended broadcasting because of the ongoing fighting in the city. The stations's CEO told employees on 10 July he could not longer guarantee their safety and was putting them all on leave until further notice. The wife of LKT's legal adviser, Igor Zazimnik, was killed by a stray bullet on the balcony of her apartment the same day. Two other local TV broadcasters, IRTA and LOT, have also had to suspend operations.
08.07.2014 - Ukrainian TV crew under mortar fire near Luhansk
Roman Bochkala, a reporter for the Ukrainian national TV channel Inter, and his cameraman, Vasyl Menovshchikov, found themselves under mortar fire near Metallist, a village ten kilometres outside Luhansk, on 8 July while covering operations by the Ukrainian army's 30th regiment.
Bochkala broke an arm and tore tendons while scrambling over a 5 or 6 metre embankment in search of shelter. After being treated in a field hospital, he was transferred by helicopter to a hospital in Kharkov. Two soldiers were killed during the mortar bombardment.
05.07.2014 - Masked men attack national daily in Kiev
Around 50 masked men attacked the Kiev headquarters of the Russian-language newspaper Vesti on 5 July, pelting it with stones and setting off teargas before dispersing quickly. Some of them injured a security guard while trying to enter the building. The stones they threw broke windows and damaged computers.
The attack was claimed by Oles Vakhni, an ultra-nationalist who served a six-year jail term on charges of armed robbery and violence. The police said they were treating it as a case of “vandalism.” Vesti owner Igor Guzhva linked it to the demonstration that parliamentarian Igor Lutsenko staged outside the newspaper the week before with the declared aim of “ending the dissemination of anti-Ukrainian propaganda.” Lutsenko said the protest would be “the last peaceful action” against Vesti.
04.07.2014 - Rebels take control of Luhansk regional state broadcaster
Armed rebels in combat fatigues representing the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Luhansk stormed into the headquarters of the Luhansk region's state radio and TV broadcaster on 4 July. After they had taken control of the premises and negotiated with the CEO, Rodyon Miroshnik, all the employees were allowed to leave. One of the rebels said the regional broadcaster's various channels were now “closed” and would remain so until they resumed “under a different format.”
The previous week, local cable TV operators LKT and Triolan dropped most of the Ukrainian TV news channels from what they offer, replacing them with Russian news channels.
02.07.2014 - Two journalists held for two days in Luhansk
Ukrainian citizen TV station Hromadske's well-known reporter, Anastasia Stanko, and her cameraman, Ilya Beskorovayny, were released by representatives of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Luhansk (PRL) on 2 July after being held for two days in Luhansk.
After trying for a long time to obtain PRL accreditation without success, they arrived in Luhansk on 30 June hoping to obtain permission on the spot to do a report there. They were put in touch with a security unit, which promised to protect them in return for financial compensation. But they were arrested by another unit, the NKVD, and were held in the basement of a downtown building. PRL Prime Minister Vasil Nikitin said he suspected them of spying for the Ukrainian army.
Their detention prompted a great deal of concern in both Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked the relevant authorities to do everything they could to obtain their release as quickly as possibly. But it was thanks to the intercession of the heads of Russia's three leading pro-government broadcasters – Pervy Kanal, VGTRK and NTV – that the PRL finally decided to free them. Stanko said that, on the whole, they were treated properly aside from being threatened with decapitation.
01.07.2014 - Two Russian journalists injured in Luhansk region
Denis Kulaga, a staff reporter with Russia's REN-TV, and his cameraman, Vadim Yudin, were treated for shock in a Luhansk region hospital on 1 July after a mortar shell exploded close to them when they were about one kilometre from the Russian border, near the Izvarino border post.
27.06.2014 - Anti-Kiev netizen freed after being held for two days
The young netizen Vlad Alexandrovich was released in Zaporozhye on 27 June, two days after being kidnapped in the city of his birth, Mariupol (in the Donetsk region), where he has been working for Anna News and Southeast Front, two news agencies allied with the anti-Kiev rebels. He is said to have been the author of reports about the Ukrainian army intervention in Mariupol on 9 May. His abductors are thought to have been Ukrainian security officials.
26.06.2014 - Gunmen ransack local newspaper in Torez
Gunmen stormed into the offices of the local newspaper Pro Gorod, in Torez (in the eastern Donetsk region), on 26 June, threatening the journalists present and seizing computers, cameras and other equipment, as well as personal effects and passports. Before leaving, the gunmen warned the journalists of worse reprisals if they continued to distribute the newspaper and post news reports on its website.
Editor Igor Abyzov, who was absent during the raid, said the assailants were clearly familiar with the premises and knew who worked there, looking for some of them in person. He also said the assailants wore St. George ribbons, which the anti-Kiev forces often use to identify themselves.
This was not the first time that Pro Gorod has been targeted. Molotov Cocktails were used to start a fire at the newspaper on 18 April, and Abyzov was physically attacked by two unidentified men on 31 January.
23.06.2014 - Mariopol editor held at anti-terrorism centre for past five days
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about Serhiy Dolgov, the editor of the newspapers Vestnik Pryazovya and Khochu v SSSR (“I want to go to the USSR”), who was abducted from his office in the southeastern city of Mariupol on 18 June. After saying nothing for five days, Sergei Spasitel, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Mariupol, announced that Dolgov was “alive and in good health” and was being held at an anti-terrorism centre in Zaporozhye.
Dolgov was abducted from the Vestnik Pryazovya office on the afternoon of 18 June by six masked men in civilian dress with automatic weapons, who took all the computers and beat Dolgov before taking him away with his hands tied. His whereabouts and the identity and motive of his abductors remained unknown for five days.
“We firmly condemn the brutality of Dolgov's arrest, which had all the hallmarks of an outright abduction,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the Ukrainian authorities to clarify the situation without delay, to follow legal procedures, and to respect this journalist's rights regardless of his media's editorial policies.”
Dolgov's colleagues think his abduction was linked to his editing of Khochu v SSSR, which mainly publishes historical articles about the Soviet era and which other newspapers in the region recently labelled as a “rebel” publication.
22.06.2014 - Two TV journalists briefly detained in Crimea
Two journalists with Ukraine's Hromadske.TV – reporter Tatyana Kozyreva and camera operator Karen Arzumanyan – were detained for about an hour after trying to do a live report in Nakhimov Square in the Crimean city of Sebastopol on 22 June.
While doing their report in the square, where retirees were staging a demonstration, they were accosted by some of the retirees, who insulted them and accused them of distorting what is going on in Crimea. The police came and took them to a nearby police station in the Lenin district, where they were questioned about their activities and possible links to "extremist groups" and were then released. Kozyreva said the police were reasonable and returned their equipment.
The situation has been particularly difficult for independent and Ukrainian journalists in Crimea since the peninsula's incorporation into Russia. The Russian authorities obstruct their news gathering by, for example, not allowing them to attend press conference. Three TV stations – 5 Kanal, Kanal 24 and Novyi Kanal – have stopped operating in Crimea because of the threats to their reporters.
18.06.2014 - Journalist held overnight by rebels in Donetsk
Aleksandr Peremot, a journalist with the URA-Inform.Donbass news website, was abducted by rebels in Donetsk on the afternoon of 17 June and was held overnight. When detained, he was outside the Donetsk public prosecutor's office, which is occupied by the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk (PRD). His news organization, which had difficulty communicating with the rebels because “it is not accredited with the PRD,” has promised to reveal the details of Peremot's abduction shortly.
17.06.2014 - Pressure on local newspaper in Donetsk region
Maria Semenova, the editor of the Vechernyaya Makeyevka local newspaper, and Larisa Butova, the CEO of the Pressa Makeyevka printing press, were kidnapped by two men in battledress from the newspaper's office in Makeyevka, in the eastern Donetsk region, at around 10 a.m. on 17 June and were taken for a “conversation” with representatives of the PRD, the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, who voiced their discontent with the newspaper's editorial policies. The two women were finally released at around 8 p.m. the same day. The newspaper has so far refused to make any comment but employees said they regarded the abduction as “very serious.”
16.06.2014 - Russian TV journalists held for two days
Two journalists with Russian TV station Zvezda – reporter Yevgeny Davydov and soundman Nikita Konashenkov –, were arrested at a Ukrainian checkpoint on 14 June while on their way to Dnepropetrovsk airport to fly back to Moscow at the end of a reporting trip. Their station is a Russian defence ministry offshoot and they had “People's Republic of Donetsk” accreditation. After being taken to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), they were held for two days on suspicion of spying and then handed over to the Russian embassy's military attaché. Two other Zvezda journalists were arrested a week ago (see below).
16.06.2014 - Ukrainian journalist arrested on Russian border
Anastasia Stanko, a correspondent for the citizen TV station Hromadske, was about to report live from a small cross-border town called Milove (Ukraine) and Chertkovo (Russia) on 14 June when her phone connection was terminated and Russian border guards arrested her on a charge of crossing the border illegally. She was released later the same day.
13.06.2014 - Call for investigation into journalist's torture by soldiers
Reporters Without Borders learned on 13 June that Ukrainian soldiers arrested Anton Vodian, a reporter for the Ukrainian news website Insider, during an identity check in Dolgenkoe, a village in the Kharkov region, on 3 June. They said he was not on their list of “registered” journalists although he had the required accreditation and had notified the anti-terrorism operations press attaché about his trip in advance. The soldiers used torture to interrogate him, tying him up, beating him for four hours and threatening to kill him. On his release the next day, a senior commander said he had been held for “security reasons” during an important phase of an anti-terrorist operation. The head of Insider wrote to the defence ministry demanding an internal investigation into the incident.
09.06.2014 - Two Russian journalists arrested in Donetsk region
Two Russian journalists with “People's Republic of Donetsk” accreditation – Zvezda cameraman Andrei Sushenkov and soundman Anton Malyshev – were arrested at a Ukrainian National Guard checkpoint near the city of Sloviansk on the evening of 6 June. Zvezda is a Russian defence ministry offshoot.
They were hand over to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for questioning on suspicion of “collecting information on Ukrainian checkpoints.” Released on the night of 8 June and put on a flight to Moscow, they said they were held for two days in a cramped and overheated cell.
09.06.2014 - Constant harassment of local media
Vasyl Serdyukov, a reporter for the local newspaper Serditaya Gazeta, and his photographer son Yevhen Serdyukov were kidnapped and beaten by militiamen in Rubizhne, a city in the Luhansk region, on 8 June. After being taken to the regional government headquarters in Luhansk, they were freed the next day at dawn.
The militia accused them of covering local news in a way that was one-sided and hostile to the separatists. The newspaper's editor denied this categorically. Yevhen Serdyukov had to be hospitalized with concussion and bruising all over his body. The militiamen also confiscated a computer, a (legally registered) hunting rifle and a car from the Serditaya Gazeta office.
The offices of the newspaper Horniak were set on fire at dawn on 6 June in Torez, in the Donetsk region. They had already been ransacked a month ago after the editor refused to comply with “People's Republic of Donetsk” orders.
The newspaper Donetskie Novosti announced on 6 June that it is temporarily suspending operations because of the “tense situation” in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Like Vecherny Donetsk, which suspended activities on 2 June following its editor's abduction, Donetskie Novosti is owned by Rinat Akhmetov, an oligarch who recently announced his support for the central Ukrainian government.
28.05.2014 - Rebels hold two Ukrainian journalists for three days
Two Ukrainian journalists who had been kidnapped by anti-Kiev rebels on 25 May at a checkpoint near Shchastye (in the Luhansk region) – Vyacheslav Bondarenko of the Obzor news website and freelance video reporter Maksim Osovski – were finally released on 28 May after being held and mistreated for three days.
The two journalists had been on their way to cover the presidential election in the east of the country for the Ukrainian TV station ZIK. After the rebels found a Ukrainian flag and TV equipment in their car, they were accused of spying and were taken to the SBU building in Luhansk.
While held, they were badly beaten, tortured and threatened with being killed. After their release, they were hospitalized in Kiev with bruises all over their bodies. Bondarenko also had significant lesions. There was little media coverage of their abduction and their release was prematurely reported.
25.05.2014 - Two Russian journalists working for LifeNews freed
Marat Saychenko and Oleg Sidyakin, two journalists working for the Russian pro-government TV station LifeNews, were released on 25 May in Kiev and immediately boarded a flight for Grozny, the capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Viktor Yagun, the deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU),said at a news conference that they had been freed at the request of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In an interview for the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he has sent representatives to Kiev after Russian President Vladimir Putin requested the two journalists' release. The ensuing negotiations are said to have been kept secret for security reasons.
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces arrested Saychenko and Sidyakin – along with the rebels they were filming ¬– near Kramatorsk on 18 May. They were subsequently taken to Kiev, interrogated by the SBU and accused of “providing assistance to terrorism.”
24.05.2014 - Russian journalists denied entry
More Russian journalists were refused entry to Ukraine in the run-up to the 25 May presidential election, although they had all the necessary papers. The reason often given was lack of funds or inability to confirm the reason for the visit. The Ukrainian authorities have imposed drastic restrictions on Russian males entering Ukraine.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, at least five TV crews and five individual journalists were denied entry from 20 to 24 May.
“Like the Russian authorities in Crimea, the Ukrainian authorities have often used this prior censorship method in the information war exacerbated by the different parties since the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern European and Central Asia desk.
“Journalists must be able to have access to the events they want to cover as part of their work, regardless of their nationality or the editorial line of the media they work for,” Bihr added.
Those denied entry have included Ilya Varlamov, a blogger, and Ilya Azar of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow, although both are well known for providing coverage of the “Euromaidan” protests that had nothing in common with the Kremlin's propaganda.
They were turned back on landing in Kiev on 23 May on the grounds of “unconfirmed reason for the visit.” Natalia Suvorova, a reporter for the Russian radio station Kommersant FM, was also recently refused entry.
21.05.2014 - Ukrainian authorities release Russia Today journalist
Graham Phillips, a British journalist who works for the Russian pro-government TV station Russia Today, was released on the evening of 21 May after being arrested the previous day by the National Guard at a border post on the outskirts of Mariupol, in the Donetsk region, and being taken immediately to the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Kiev for interrogation.
Phillips said he was arrested for having a bulletproof vest. The statements by the Ukrainian authorities were contradictory during his detention. Russia Today reported his arrest immediately but the National Guard initially denied it, only to acknowledge it later.
The various parties to the Ukrainian conflict are waging an all-out information war that has been exacerbated by the approach of the 25 May presidential election. The anti-Kiev rebels in eastern Ukraine have been targeting journalists since March. Now the Ukrainian authorities are behaving with growing hostility to journalists working for Russian media.
Two Russian journalists working for the Russian pro-government news website Life News are still being held by the SBU in Kiev. They and the rebel group they were accompanying were arrested by the Ukrainian armed forces on 18 May. The two journalists are accused of assisting the “terrorist” activities of the rebels.
18.05.2014 - Donetsk Republic frees two hostages held by militiamen
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved by the 18 May release of Serhiy Shapoval, a journalist with the Volin'Post news website who was kidnapped in Sloviansk on 26 April and was held hostage for three weeks by the rebels of the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk in one of the city's government buildings.
Shapoval was interrogated and mistreated while held. The rebels gave him electric shocks, lacerated the palms of his hands and forced him to say on camera that they were peaceful and had no weapons. The Anna News and Donbas Popular Militias TV stations broadcast the videos of his statements. While held, he contacted relatives several times to say he was in Sloviansk but could not leave for the time being.
Ukrainian photo-reporter Milana Omelchuk was also freed on 18 May after being held for nearly two weeks by the rebels of the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk, who demanded a ransom of 50,000 hryvnia (3,100 euros) for her release on 13 May. With the help of the Open Dialogue Foundation, an NGO, Omelchuk's sister managed to convince the rebels that the family was not able to pay such a large sum. After her release, Omelchuk was hospitalized in Kiev for malnutrition and because the rebels drugged her.
15.05.2014 - TV towers in east – targets and weapons of war
Ukraine's interior ministry announced on 15 May that national armed forces control the broadcasting tower at Kramatorsk (which is 12 km south of Sloviansk, one of the rebel strongholds in the Donetsk region) and denied a local news site's claim that anti-Kiev militiamen seized the tower on 14 May, when retransmission of all TV stations was interrupted.
Ukrainian special forces did however regain control of the television tower at Sloviansk on 14 May. It had been controlled for some time by anti-Kiev rebels, who had interrupted the broadcasting of Ukrainian programmes and replaced them by Russian TV stations.
Control of the region's main broadcast retransmission centres switches between the Ukrainian army and rebel forces in accordance with the success of their operations, resulting in frequent cuts and alternation between Russian and Ukrainian stations. Aside from their strategic importance in the information war, these centres allow the warring parties to mark their territory and project their authority over the local population.
13.05.2014 - Journalist freed after two weeks as hostage in Sloviansk
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved to learn that Yuri Leliavski, a reporter for the Ukrainian TV station ZIK, was released after being held hostage by pro-Russian militiamen for two weeks in Sloviansk, the stronghold of the pro-Russian rebels. Leliavski revealed at a news conference in the western city of Lviv on the evening of 12 May that he was freed on 9 May.
Militiamen arrested Leliavski barely an hour after he arrived in Sloviansk on 25 April, as soon as they realized he was from Lviv. He spent the entire two weeks in the basement of the building of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), now the headquarters of the pro-Russian militias.
12.05.2014 - Kidnapped journalist released
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved to learn that Pavel Kanygin, a reporter for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was freed on the afternoon of 12 May after being kidnapped the previous night in Artemisk, in the Donetsk region. He had managed to send an SMS alert to colleagues during the night but thereafter remained unreachable until his release.
Pro-Russian rebels of the “People's Republic of Donetsk” had confirmed that they were holding Kanygin for spreading “negative” information and for not being accredited with them. In his coverage of the 11 May referendum on self-determination in the Donetsk region for his newspaper and on social networks, Kanygin reported a failure to respect electoral procedures. He said he was hit while being interrogated.
12.05.2014 - Journalist attacked in Kotovsk
Alexander Yaroshenko, a journalist who uses the pen-name of Sergei Levitanenko, was attacked in his home in Kotovsk, near Odessa, on the night of 11 May by masked intruders in camouflage dress, who hit him and throttled him, accusing him of “not liking Putin.”
After escaping, Yaroshenko described the attack as a “murder attempt.” When he subsequently returned to his home, he found that the room containing his work material had been torched. An investigation is under way.
12.05.2014 - Russia Today employee injured
The security situation for journalists is worsening steadily in the east of the country amid an increase in Ukrainian army operations and the emergence of more and more militias. An employee of the Russian TV station Russia Today sustained a gunshot injury during street fighting in Mariupol on 9 May. Russia Today said he was evacuated to Moscow on 12 May in a serious condition.
08.05.2014 - TV crew held for several hours
A crew with the Ukrainian national TV station ICTV were held by pro-Russian rebels at a checkpoint near Slovianks on 8 May. They considered themselves lucky to be freed after being interrogated and threatened for several houses, and stripped of their equipment.
08.05.2014 - Airwaves war
A cable TV supplier was forced to drop all the Ukrainian national TV channels on 8 May at the behest of Valeri Bolotov, the self-proclaimed governor of Luganks and commander of the pro-Russian “army of the southeast,” who threatened to terminate its entire service if it did not comply.
After being threatened physically, the cable operator's employees told clients they had been temporarily forced to drop the Ukrainian channels but pointed out that these channels could still be viewed on its website. After the fight for control of TV retransmission centres, this marks a new phase in the airwaves war being waged by the parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.