February 4, 2023

Raven Tribune

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday signed into law a bill that expands the government’s regulatory power over the news media, a measure that press organizations have warned could undermine press freedoms in the country.

Local and international media groups said on Friday that while some of the law’s tougher provisions have been relaxed in response to criticism, there remain serious concerns about the regulator’s independence, noting that it is still reviewing details of the final 279-page legislation.

The law expands the authority of Ukraine’s state broadcasting regulator, the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting, to cover online and print news media. Previous drafts have given the regulator the power to fine media outlets, revoke their licenses, temporarily ban certain online media outlets without a court order, and require social media platforms and search giants like Google to remove content that violates the law, Ukrainian news media mentioned.

Mr. Zelensky, whose management was accused Undermining freedom of the press In recent years, it has ordered the drafting of a law further regulating the media in 2019.

This measure was approved by the Verkhovna Rada earlier this monthalong with a host of other bills that lawmakers say are aimed at helping the country meet EU requirements Legislative terms for membership. The bills included measures to protect rights national minorities.

But Ukrainian journalists and international press freedom groups sounded the alarm about the media bill as it moved through parliament, saying it went far beyond what the EU required and accusing the government of doing so. Use membership obligations as an excuse to seize greater control of the press.

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the Committee to Protect Journalistsa nonprofit group that advocates for press freedom around the world, called on Ukrainian lawmakers to drop the bill in September, saying it tightened the government’s “control of information at a time when citizens need it most.”

The European Federation of Journalists, whose Secretary General described an earlier draft of the law “deserve the worst authoritarian regimesOn Friday, he said the legislation still ran counter to European press freedom standards because the independence of the state media regulator, whose members are appointed by the president and parliament, could not be guaranteed.

“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting free and independent media, and not by imposing state control over information,” said Confederation Secretary General Ricardo Gutierrez.

The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said there was a lack of transparency as the bill was amended, claiming that changes were made in closed parliamentary committee meetings and that members of the media and the public were not given enough time to respond.

Guild warned in the current situation It was passed before the Verkhovna Rada voted to approve a bill that the legislation would undermine the freedoms that “distinguish Ukraine’s social system from that of dictatorial Russia”. The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday after Mr. Zelensky signed the law into law.

The main legal department of the Verkhovna Rada also noted in an analysis published earlier this month that it had been given little time to review changes to the bill and that its language did not give sufficient consideration to the risk of censorship.

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Ukrainian officials have rejected accusations that EU requirements are being used as a cover to stifle press freedom. They said important revisions to the bill had been made in consultation with media professionals, and argued that sweeping changes to Ukraine’s media law were overdue.

“Of course, this law is even broader than EU directives because we needed to change and modernize our media legislation, which hasn’t been changed in 16 years,” said Yevgenia Kravchuk, deputy chair of the Parliament’s Information Policy Committee. in the current situation After approval of the bill. “It was adopted back when there was no internet at all.”

At least one Ukrainian organization focusing on press freedom, the Kyiv-based Media Institute, said on Thursday it was largely satisfied with the amended legislation, but would monitor its implementation. The main concern of the organization remains to ensure the independence of the media regulator.

“To improve it, we will need to introduce amendments to the constitution, which unfortunately is not possible during martial law,” said Executive Director Oksana Romaniuk. “It is one of our main plans for the future.”