The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) has condemned the leaking of the personal details of thousands of journalists and media workers who have reported from eastern Ukraine and the support for the publication by member of the Ukrainian parliament
On May 7, a group of hackers claimed on the website Myrotvorets (Peacemaker) that they had breached computers used by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to keep track of journalists they had allowed to work in the region. The hackers published a database containing the names, affiliations, and contact information of more than 7,000 individuals. The database includes over 4,500 local and international journalists and media workers who have reported from the conflict zone.
According to the US based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the separatists have been collecting journalists' contact information as part of an accreditation process even though their authority over eastern Ukraine is not internationally recognised.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office on Wednesday announced that it had opened an investigation into the publication of the journalists' names and contact information under article 171.1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code, which covers "obstruction to journalism."
The hackers wrote that they did not know what the consequences of their action would be, but added, "Be certain: It is important to publish the list because these journalists collaborate with terrorist guerillas."
Simon Spanswick, Chief Executive, AIB said, ”The Association for International Broadcasting and its Members condemn without equivocation the publication of these data.”
He added, "The names and contact data of many journalists and news crews working for AIB Members - and hundreds of other agencies, TV channels, radio stations and newspapers - are included in the release. There is no excuse for releasing information of this sort. The journalists working in East Ukraine were there legitimately, reporting the situation for the benefit of audiences and readers throughout the world. Accusations that the journalists 'collaborated with terrorists' are completely unfounded and without any substance. We call on the authorities in Ukraine to take steps to have these data removed from the Internet and to prosecute those involved in this hack."
Oksana Romanyuk, head of the Institute for Mass Information, a press freedom group in Kiev, told the CPJ that the hackers' actions had remained largely unnoticed until Tuesday, when Anton Geraschenko, a member of Ukraine's parliament, praised them on the social media site Facebook. Geraschenko suggested that Ukraine's authorities should introduce specific actions to "counter Russian propaganda."
Geraschenko's recommendations included,"imposing control over broadcast programming and cable networks to prevent distribution of information that could destabilize Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity;" "imposing control over accreditation of reporters, specifically those from Russia;" "deportation of reporters found in breach of national laws;" and "developing legal and technical resources to block online content that incites to violence and destabilises Ukraine's national security."
Ukrainian and foreign journalists have condemned the publication of personal data of reporters, including those from the Ukrainian broadcaster Hromadske TV, the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the BBC, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Economist, and others. In a statement signed by 37 journalists and published published on Wednesday 11th May, they rejected the description of the accredited journalists as "collaborators with terrorists" and demanded that the personal data leak be investigated by law enforcers, saying it violated Ukraine's privacy laws, the nation's constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the statement, journalists started receiving threats by phone and email after the list was made public. The signatories said that by obtaining accreditation from the separatists, they were able to inform the public of the crimes committed in the area, including the downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane over the region in July 2014.
The journalists also said that in 2014 alone, at least 80 journalists were detained by eastern Ukrainian separatists in connection with their work and that some of them were tortured. They urged the hackers to remove the list from the Internet.
The AIB encourages the journalists and media workers on the list to take extra precautions for securing their email accounts and digital information.