Paris, July 28, 2022 – Ukrainian legislators should revise a draft media law that threatens to restrict press freedom in the country and would move it away from European Union standards, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On July 1, Olga Gerasimyuk, the head of Ukraine’s National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting, the state broadcasting regulator, announced that media legislation first proposed in 2019 could be voted on by the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, “in the summer, before Independence Day [August 24].”
If passed, the legislation would expand the regulator’s power, allowing it to invalidate online news outlets’ registrations, issue fines against them, and shut them down pursuant to court rulings, according to media reports and the text of the bill, which CPJ reviewed.
Ukraine is a candidate to join the European Union, and to begin negotiations for membership it is required to reform its media laws, many of which were implemented in the 1990s, according to media reports and a statement by the European Commission.
“A revision of Ukraine’s outdated media legislation is necessary if the country wants to meet European Union standards, but legislators must not use such reforms as a pretext to expand government control over information,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid. “Legislators should draft a media bill in line with EU directives, and which includes strong safeguards for press freedom.”
Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko announced his support for the bill on July 20, saying it would help fight Russian propaganda. CPJ messaged Tkachenko for comment but did not receive any reply.
On July 21, Mykyta Poturaev, the head of the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, said the draft law was sent to the European Commission for its recommendations, and that the parliament would not vote on the bill until those recommendations were received, according to a report by the Ukrainian National Union of Journalists (NUJU), a local trade group.
The bill is supported by members of the Servant of the People party, which has a majority in the parliament, NUJU head Sergiy Tomilenko told CPJ via messaging app. To become law, the bill would need to pass three readings in the Verkhovna Rada then be approved by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The original draft law was registered in the Verkhovna Rada in December 2019, but its consideration has been postponed several times due to criticism, according to multiple media reports. The most recent draft of the bill, which CPJ reviewed, is dated July 2020.
Tomilenko told CPJ that the bill had been “developed behind the scenes, without open dialogue,” and said that authorities already had “enough mechanisms” at their disposal connected to the country’s martial law to confront Russian propaganda.
The NUJU previously criticized the draft law in a May 2021 statement, claiming that it “restricts freedom of speech, introduces excessive regulation of the media, imposes fines and the possibility of closing down online media.”
Tomilenko told CPJ that the NUJU called on authorities “not to carry out grandiose media reform at a time of war and not to distract journalists from their work at a time when professional journalism is more important than ever.”
CPJ emailed the Verkhovna Rada and the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting and contacted Gerasimyuk via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any responses.
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, Ukrainian authorities have introduced a number of restrictions on journalists, including on access to the front lines and concerning the coverage of Ukrainian soldiers and military equipment, according to news reports.
In April, authorities and media representatives issued a joint statement requiring journalists to wait several hours before reporting on shellings, in the name of military secrecy. Also that month, the National Security and Defense Council, a state body that advises the president, disabled the terrestrial broadcasts of the privately owned broadcasters Espreso TV, Pryamiy, and Channel 5 in order to air a telethon of news about the war, according to multiple news reports.