Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law Thursday that expands the government’s regulatory powers over the news media, a move that journalism organizations warned could undermine press freedoms in the country.
Although some of the law’s stricter provisions were softened in response to criticism, serious concerns about the regulator’s independence remained, local and international media groups said on Friday, noting that they were still reviewing the details of the 279-page final legislation.
The law expands the powers of Ukraine’s state broadcasting regulator to cover online and print news media. Previous drafts have given the regulator the power to fine news media outlets, revoke their licenses, temporarily block certain online outlets without a court order and require social media platforms and search giants such as Google to remove content that violates the law. Ukrainian news media reported.
Mr. Zelensky, whose administration is accused of undermining freedom of the press in recent years ordered the drafting of a law to increase media regulation in 2019.
The measure was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament this monthalong with a series of other bills that lawmakers say are aimed at helping the country meet European Union requirements legislative conditions for membership. The bills include measures to protect the rights of national minorities.
But Ukrainian journalists and international press freedom groups raised alarm over the media bill as it progressed through parliament, saying it went beyond European Union requirements and accusing the government of using membership obligations as a pretext for greater control over the press.
The Committee to Protect JournalistsA nonprofit group that defends press freedom around the world called on Ukrainian lawmakers to withdraw the bill in September, saying it tightens “government control over information at a time when citizens need it most.”
The European Federation of Journalists, whose secretary-general called a previous draft of the law “worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes,” said on Friday that the legislation remains at odds with European press freedom standards because the independence of the state media regulator, whose members are appointed by the president and parliament, cannot be guaranteed.
“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting free and independent media, not by establishing state control over information,” said the federation’s general secretary, Ricardo Gutiérrez.
The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said there was a lack of transparency as the draft law was revised, claiming changes were made in closed-door parliamentary committee meetings and that members of the media and the public were not given enough time to answer.
The union said in a statement issued before Ukraine’s parliament voted to approve the bill, saying the legislation would undermine the freedoms that “distinguish Ukraine’s social system from the regime of dictatorial Russia.” The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Mr. Zelensky signed the bill.
Ukraine’s parliament’s chief legal department also noted in an analysis published this month that it had been given little time to review changes to the bill and that the language of the legislation did not pay enough attention to the risk of introducing censorship.
Ukrainian officials have rejected accusations that EU requirements are being used as a cover for curbing press freedom. Significant changes to the draft law were made after consultations with media professionals, they said, and argued that radical changes to Ukraine’s media legislation were overdue.
“Of course, this bill is even broader than the EU directive, because we had to change and modernize our media legislation, which has not been changed for 16 years,” said Evgenia Kravchuk, deputy chairman of the parliament’s information policy committee. in a statement after the approval of the bill. “It was adopted when there was no internet at all.”
At least one Ukrainian organization focused on press freedom, the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information, said Thursday it was largely satisfied with the revised legislation but would monitor its implementation. The organization’s main concern remains ensuring the independence of the media regulator.
“To improve it, we would have to introduce amendments to the constitution, which unfortunately is not possible during martial law,” said executive director Oksana Romaniuk. “This is one of our main plans for the future.”
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