Workshop "How do I write understandably about justice and legal reform?”
"Even the journalist, who is looking for sound coverage, has no right to take side with one of the litigants." – Markiyan Halabala
On the 16-17 of February Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the Academy of the Ukrainian Press organised a workshop on how to write comprehensively about judicial and legal reforms. Young and inexperienced journalists, as well as other media representatives, had the chance to get insights from experienced reporters as well as judicial experts. They were given the opportunity to combine legal expertise with journalistic up-to-date practices. The topics dealt with were on the one hand journalistic quality standards, which include how to find reliable sources and how to write objectively. On the other hand the event aimed at providing the necessary legal background in order to translate given information into interesting news and reporting.
Odessa is a strategic region because of the immense variety of companies and density of private news channels compared to other Ukrainian regions. Due to the potential economic opportunities, courts are decisive in assuring the smooth functioning of the private sector. In this context, journalists play a crucial role through informing the public on important court rulings.
Volodymyr Oliinyk, Project-Coordinator of FNF Ukraine, referred to the importance of journalists in society and stressed further that the right to defend oneself in court is fundamental and inalienable to everyone. Therefore, people should not be afraid of appealing to courts in order to protect their rights. Journalists should do everything to make people aware of their rights and assure proper coverage of court cases. Valery Ivanov, the president of the Academy of the Ukrainian Press, confirmed this position and added that higher journalistic standards would increase public confidence in media coverage.
Obstacles are for the participants the complicated legal language, which they find hard to understand. Therefore, it is also challenging to come up with articles that readers find worth reading. Since most of the participants have no legal background, they are not digging deeper in cases where it is relevant. Additionally, they misinterpret court rulings and do not understand the court system.
Lawyer Markiyan Halabala and journalist Andriy Yurychko gave examples of flaws in journalists’ every day work. Halabala emphasised that he sometimes reads newspaper articles were laws are interpreted wrongly and wrong conclusions are drawn. Yurychko reported that journalists are complaining about judges who refuse to comment on other judges’ decisions. They are not aware that the Code of Judicial Ethics for judges expressly prohibits commenting on decision of fellow judges.
The journalist Serhii Cherniavsky gave some practical advice and explained how he is covering ongoing judicial reforms. He emphasised that when he was looking for practical evidence his contacts with lawyers were helpful for him to understand the legal refinement when writing about trials.
Judicial reform remains a challenge in Ukraine. One example according to Markiyan Halabala is that the relevant courts are slow in dealing with cases on high-ranked public servants put forward by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). In order to accelerate cases on corruption, he pledges to set up a special anti-corruption court. To avoid corrupt judges, he is in favour of consulting international partners. In this scenario, embassies and international organisations select judges who they deem trustworthy.
The feedback of the event was exceedingly positive. Olena Salysta and Svitlana Kulbida from the magazine “Diplomat” stressed that they liked the format and the quality of the speakers. They added that they would use their freshly gained knowledge for their work at the “Diplomat”. Anna Muradova valued that she learned how to defend her right to report about trials. A couple of weeks ago a judge asked her to leave the court room, telling her she was not eligible to follow the trial. Now she knows that this was illegal. In the future she will insist on her right to report about the trial.
The three year joint project of FNF and AUP is supported by the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It aims at providing up-to-date journalistic practices and quality standards together with expertise from professionals in specific fields of work crucial for ongoing structural reforms.