Ukraine slammed for banning dozens of foreign reporters

Ukrainian servicemen standing guard at an Ukrainian army checkpoint on the outskirts of the key south-eastern port city of Mariupol on Sept 7, 2015.
Ukrainian servicemen standing guard at an Ukrainian army checkpoint on the outskirts of the key south-eastern port city of Mariupol on Sept 7, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine faced global media condemnation on Thursday (Sept 17) for banning dozens of foreign reporters as it expanded sanctions against Russia for its actions in the war-torn former Soviet state.

The blacklisted reporters included three Moscow-based journalists with the BBC. The list also named a Spanish correspondent and a writer who Germany's Die Zeit weekly later identified as a freelance contributor to one of its supplements.

"We are appalled by this ban, which represents an absurd, counter-productive breach of freedom of information," the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists said it also "deplores" Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko's decision and questioned his committment to media rights.

The group said it had counted 41 reporters and bloggers on Poroshenko's list.

"While the government may not like or agree with the coverage, labelling journalists a potential threat to national security is not an appropriate response," said the media protection lobby.

The BBC's foreign editor also denounced the one-year travel restriction as out of step with Ukraine's new commitment to European values and attempts to wrest itself from Russia's influence.

"This is a shameful attack on media freedom," Andrew Roy said in a statement released to AFP.

"These sanctions are completely inappropriate and inexplicable measures to take against BBC journalists who are reporting the situation in Ukraine impartially and objectively and we call on the Ukrainian Government to remove their names from this list immediately." Poroshenko signed a decree late Wednesday enacting targeted measures against some 400 officials and 90 companies held responsible for the Ukraine's bloody pro-Russian uprising and Moscow's annexation of Crimea last year.

The list included several major state-owned Russian media companies as well as such financial giants as the national flag carrier Aeroflot and Gazprom Bank.

Russia portrays Ukraine's 17-month crisis as a "civil war" in which it has played no part.

"Does this correspond with our two country's national interests? Clearly not," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

But Ukrainian officials were on the back foot Thursday because of the measures taken again against foreign correspondents for alleged crimes that Kiev failed to specificity.

The deputy head of Ukraine new information policy ministry said Poroshenko's must be carefully reviewed and more explicitly explained.

"I believe that we either have to rationally explain a sound reason why they were included in the list, or to exclude them from it," Tetyana Popova told AFP.

The United Nations estimates that the conflict has killed nearly 8,000 people - most of them civilians - since April 2014.