The material was published in the Detector Media
Since the full-scale war broke out, hundreds of foreign journalists have been coming to Ukraine. Of course, foreigners are not always prepared for our realities – for example, when it is necessary to get accreditation for a combat zone or simply talk to locals who do not speak English.
Therefore, journalists follow the path usual for foreign work: they find fixers among the locals. For Ukrainians, this is an opportunity to help the world media tell about our country, to show the crimes of the aggressors and the struggle of the Defense Forces against the enemy.
However, in addition to the constant threat to the life and health of media workers, there is another risk: The enemy may interfere with the work of professional fixers and documentary filmmakers.
For example, Russian intelligence agencies, under the guise of representatives of foreign media, have approached Ukrainian journalists for materials, allegedly for the preparation of “stories” or “documentaries” about the war in Ukraine. In late April 2023, law enforcement officers detained a man who pretended to be a “fixer” and remotely cooperated with the editorial office of the pro-Russian news agency Bel.ru.
We tell about how not to become an instrument in the hands of the enemy in a new consultation of the Centre for Democracy and the Rule of Law.
WHO ARE THE FIXERS
The concept of “fixer” came into use among Ukrainians in 2014, and became especially widespread after February 24, 2022. Before that, it was known mainly to journalists, photographers or translators who worked with foreign media.
A common misconception is that a “fixer” is a person who captures an event streaming it live. In fact, a “fixer” is a local hired coordinator who “fixes”, i.e., settles issues related to the work of foreign journalists, photographers or film crews. The most typical tasks of a fixer include:
- Assistance in addressing procedural issues, for example, obtaining accreditation, necessary permits for filming, staying at the planned locations;
- Developing a work plan, an itinerary, based on the goals of the media or the media customer;
- Communication with the people to appear in the stories or movies or with the target group coordinators, for example, press officers of military units or heads of military administrations;
- Translation and assistance in adaptation to the local situation, security requirements, etc.
The classic tasks of the fixer are detailed in the Media Detector material.
Unlike fixers, documentary filmmakers do not coordinate or assist the media. They directly create a product: for example, a film, a photo or an article that recreates real events, portrays real people and covers their stories.
WHERE DO THE RISKS LURK?
The desire to join the general resistance to the aggressor, widespread access to photo and video recording devices and a high level of foreign language proficiency – all this creates an offer on the Ukrainian “information market” among potential fixers.
There is also a demand for them: foreign media are interested in Ukraine, so they want to get high-profile information from the scene of the event as soon as possible. However, the Russian intelligence agencies have a similar task – to obtain relevant information from “sensitive” places and territories. That is why fixers must fully assess the risks of this kind of job.
So where are the risks lurking?
- Unknown customer. The aggressor is actively engaging Ukrainians through the darknet, open platforms or their own pseudo-media, who collect and transmit information from eyewitnesses, photos and videos from the scene of the events.
- Breaking news here and now. Extraordinary events, such as the shelling of the capital or the liberation of temporarily occupied territory, attract attention and create excitement. People want to participate in it: make a video to be distributed by a well-known Telegram channel, or visit the liberated areas as soon as possible. However, under the mask of sensationalists often hide spotters who have completely different intentions. It is important not to become the very streamer that helps the next enemy missile hit the target.
- All the money in the world. Every job and service has a price. High remuneration that significantly exceeds the market average can be alarming and be indicative of non-standard requests from the customer who wants to find someone to do the job at any price.
- Work without context. Interesting offers may have a hidden context. Enemy intelligence services are looking for “documentary filmmakers” to capture the results of damage inflicted on the Ukrainian infrastructure or to make photo/video of potential positions or locations of military units. Another scenario is that the Russians may engage fixers to shoot propaganda materials that will go against the civilian position of the specialist involved.
A reckless fixer who helped the enemy will face not only public condemnation. Such work can be qualified as a crime under the Criminal Code of Ukraine, in particular under the following articles:
- 111. High treason;
- 111-1. Wartime collaboration;
- 111-2. Aiding and abetting the aggressor state;
- 114-2. Unauthorized distribution of information about the transfer, movement of weapons, arms and ammunition to Ukraine, the movement, relocation or deployment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations formed in accordance with the laws of Ukraine;
- 436. Propaganda of war;
- 436-1. Production and distribution of Communist, Nazi symbols and propaganda of Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes;
- 436-2. Justification, recognition as legitimate, denial of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, glorification of its participants.
HOW NOT TO BECOME AN INSTRUMENT IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY
In the SSU message mentioned at the beginning of the consultation, the law enforcement officers recommended to be vigilant and report the facts of suspicious “inquiries” from unidentified subscribers to the law enforcers. However, it is not the only recommendation which should be followed.
In order not to become an instrument in the hands of the enemy, CEDEM recommends the following:
- Safety first. When working in a war zone or in an area with a high level of mine danger, always use personal protective equipment marked “PRESS” – it can save your life. This is the first step before you go into the field. (The tragic case with fixer Bohdan Bitik is illustrative). Similarly, you should always heed the warnings of the military, police or rescuers. Learn how to use a first aid kit. You can also complete safety training, such as BSAFE. You should know the emergency contacts and think through the steps in case of unforeseen situations, especially on the part of your customer.
- Know who you are working with. All requests received or open job offers should come from a specific identified entity. Find out who exactly the customer is (newspaper, TV channel), what status they have (registered or not, legal form, for example LLC, individual entrepreneur, state enterprise, etc.) and for what purposes they want to use the services of a fixer. Find out if there is an announcement about this opportunity on the official media or project resources. Try to find similar materials on the customer’s website or channel. Have correspondence and communication through official email accounts with real people.
- Legalize your relationship with the customer, for example, through a contract. Also formalize your status with accreditation. For example, the procedure for the accreditation of media workers under martial law also provides for the accreditation of fixers. In addition to a certain standardized list of documents, in order to be accredited, fixers must submit a letter from the senior official of the media whose journalists will be provided with information support. However, a certificate for fixers is not mandatory, because they might not be professional journalists and provide only intermediary coordination services.
- Take care of your own insurance. It is likely that foreign media will insure their own employees in case of force majeure. At the same time, it is up to you to take care of your own safety.
- Be an expert in your field. Take into account the algorithms and procedures, the current regulation in the matters in which you are involved. A fixer must thoroughly know the algorithm of media work with the leaders and commanders of military structures, the media accreditation procedure, the peculiarities of loss of accreditation and the rules for covering information about the war and casualties.
- Context is the key. According to the general approach, a fixer is a technical specialist and does not influence the material that will be released by journalists. However, it depends on them which semantic context foreigners will be in and how they will understand current events. Because it is the fixer who will explain to journalists the things usual for us, the moods of society, the context of events, the background of conflicts or other situations, the likely motives of people, etc.
CEDEM provides free legal advice on a wide range of media issues for journalists – please email to email@example.com. And it also regularly addresses challenges related to martial law journalism and has already produced a number of useful materials:
- How to properly cover information about war victims
- How to properly cover the war
- Consequences of spreading unverified information: tips for the media
- Journalist accreditation: How not to lose it and is it possible to get it back if it is terminated?
- Protecting journalistic accreditation: mission (im)possible?
- Telephone check under martial law: recommendations for the citizens
- What is the IMEI number and what to do when it is checked: advice for journalists under martial law
- Journalists’ access to court hearings during wartime.