Zelenskyy signs controversial bill increasing government control over media

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a controversial statute that expands his government’s power to regulate media groups and journalists, stirring fears of potential censorship and the squelching of free speech in his country as war rages with Russia.

He signed the legislation on Thursday as media unions and press freedom organizations forcefully objected to it. They contend it will seriously chill free speech, according to The Hill.

The National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council will have much broader authority over Ukrainian media organizations and journalists under the new law. The council is comprised of members who are appointed by Zelenskyy’s administration and by members of parliament.

The council will now have the power to shut down news sites that aren’t registered according to the Kyiv Independent.


The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said in a statement issued in December that the bill posed a “threat” to press freedom in the country and that it would help erode the freedoms that “distinguish the social system of Ukraine from the regime of dictatorial Russia.”

Such powers are clearly excessive,” the organization claimed. “No one has yet managed to tame freedom of speech in Ukraine. It won’t work this time either.”

Zelenskyy has previously been accused of suppressing freedom of the press. He ordered the drafting of a new law to expand media regulation in 2019, which was the year he entered office.

That law went on to pass with a number of other new statutes lawmakers claim are required in order to become eligible for European Union membership.

The bill was passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Dec. 13 after it was watered down when there was intense criticism over it.

In previous versions of the bill, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council had even greater authority to impose fines on media groups, revoke licenses from printed media, and block online outlets from publishing restricted information.

When the draft versions of the bill were released, a number of international media organizations cried foul over the law, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists (EPJ).

EPJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez told the New York Times in an interview that the law contradicted European press freedom standards.

“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting a free and independent media, not by establishing state control of information,” Gutiérrez declared.

In July, Gutiérrez called the bill’s regulation “coercive” and “worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes,” according to The New York Times.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called for Ukrainian lawmakers to drop the bill in September, saying that it tightened “government control over information at a time when citizens need it the most.”

The deputy chair of the Parliament’s information policy committee, Yevheniia Kravchuk, clapped back against the charge that supporters had used EU requirements as cover for an attempt to rein in press freedoms, arguing that sweeping changes to Ukraine’s media legislation were long overdue.

“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,” she said in a statement after the bill was adopted. “It was adopted back when there was no Internet at all.”


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