Zelensky increases censorship on news, media in 'democratic' Ukraine

The 279-page bill gives the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting, Ukraine's state-sponsored censorship organization, increased power to regulate news media both online and in print.

Joshua Young North Carolina

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill on Thursday that broadened his government's control over the media, expanding state-sponsored regulation over news disseminated in print and online.

The New York Times reports, "Mr. Zelensky, whose administration has been accused of undermining press freedom in recent years, ordered the drafting of a law increasing media regulation in 2019," three years before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

The 279-page bill gives the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting, Ukraine's state-sponsored censorship organization whose members are appointed by the president and Parliament of Ukraine, increased power to regulate news media both online and in print.

During a joint press conference with Zelensky and Joe Biden on December 21, Biden said the US would support Ukraine for "as long as it takes," because "we understand in our bones that Ukraine's fight is part of something much bigger. The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy, and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences."

The US has given approximately $92 billion in aid to Ukraine and Biden has pledged another $45 billion, which Zelensky has said is "not enough."

The censorship law went through various drafts since its 2019 introduction, and previous versions "gave the regulator the power to fine news media outlets, revoke their licenses, temporarily block certain online outlets without a court order and request that social media platforms and search giants like Google remove content that violates the law."

In November, Ukraine's Parliament passed the legislation with a number of additional bills. Many of those pieces of legislation were introduced and passed as a measure to bring Ukraine closer to standards set for admission into the European Union. The Times reports that journalists in Ukraine and international groups advocating for freedom of the press said the policies, "went far beyond what the European Union requires" and they're "accusing the government of using the membership obligations as a pretext to seize greater control of the press."

The deputy chair of the Parliament's information policy committee, Yevheniia Kravchuk, said, "Of course, this bill is even broader than the EU directive, because we needed to change and modernize our media legislation, which has not been changed for 16 years."

Oksana Romaniuk, the executive director of the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information, said, "To improve it, we will need to introduce amendments to the Constitution, which is unfortunately not possible during the martial law. It is one of our main plans for future."

The nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists said the bill increased "government control over information at a time when citizens need it the most" and lobbied for lawmakers in the Ukraine not to pass the bill.

On Friday, the General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutiérrez, said, "Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting a free and independent media, not by establishing state control of information."

The federation said a previous draft of the legislation was "worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes."


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