Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday signed a law expanding the government’s regulatory powers over the news media, which press organizations warned could destroy press freedom in the country.
While some of the law’s strict provisions have been relaxed in response to criticism, serious concerns about the regulatory body’s independence remain, domestic and international news media groups said Friday, noting they were still reviewing the details of the final 279-page law. .
The law expands the authority of the State Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of Ukraine to include online and print news media. Earlier drafts empowered the regulator to fine news media outlets, revoke their licenses, temporarily block certain online outlets without a court order, and require social media sites and search engines like Google to remove content that violates the law. Ukrainian news media reported.
Mr. Zelensky, whose administration has been blamed Undermining press freedom In recent years, in 2019 it ordered the creation of legislation that would increase media regulation.
The measure was passed by the Parliament of Ukraine This monthAlong with other bills lawmakers say would help the country meet the European Union Legislative conditions member. Bills include measures to protect rights National minorities.
But Ukrainian journalists and international press freedom groups raised alarms as the media bill advanced in parliament, accusing the government of going beyond EU requirements. Using membership obligations as an excuse To gain control over the press.
The Committee to Protect JournalistsA nonprofit group that champions press freedom around the world called on Ukrainian lawmakers in September to drop the bill, saying it tightens “government control over information at a time when citizens need it most.”
The European Federation of Journalists, whose secretary-general called an earlier draft of the law “Worthy of despotic regimes,” said Friday, adding that the law contravenes European press freedom standards because it cannot guarantee the independence of the state media regulator, whose members are appointed by the president and parliament.
“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting free and independent media, not by establishing state control of information,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, secretary general of the federation.
Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists said the draft bill lacked transparency as it was amended, saying the changes were made in closed-door parliamentary committee meetings and that members of the news media and the public were not given enough time to respond. .
The union said In a statement The law, released before Ukraine’s parliament approved the vote, said it would erode freedoms that “distinguish Ukraine’s social fabric from the rule of authoritarian Russia.” Mr. The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Zelensky signed the bill into law.
The main legal department of Ukraine’s parliament also noted in an analysis published this month that the bill was given little time to revise changes and that the language of the law did not sufficiently consider the risk of introducing censorship.
Ukrainian authorities have rejected accusations that EU requirements are being used as a cover to limit press freedom. Significant amendments to the draft bill were made in consultation with media experts.
“Of course, this bill is more comprehensive than the EU directive, because we need to change and modernize our media law, which has not been changed for 16 years,” said Yevhenia Kravchuk, deputy head of the parliament’s information policy committee. In a statement After the bill is approved. “It was adopted back when there was no Internet.”
At least one Ukrainian organization focused on press freedom, the Kyiv-based Mass Information Agency, said Thursday it was satisfied with the revised law but would monitor its implementation. The institution’s main concern is to ensure the independence of the media regulator.
“To improve it, we need to introduce amendments to the constitution, which is unfortunately impossible during martial law,” said executive director, Oksana Romaniuk. “This is one of our main plans for the future.”