Ukraine adopts restrictive media law

From now on, any positive coverage of Moscow’s actions is outright banned

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky signed into law a restrictive media bill on Thursday. The long-debated legislation introduces heavy state regulations, as well as officially forbids covering Russia in a positive way.

The legislation greatly empowers Ukraine’s media regulator, the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting. Half of the Council’s members are directly appointed by the Ukrainian president, with another half selected by the country’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada.

Under the new rules, the regulator is able to impose fines on all types of media, as well as hand them mandatory notices. The Council will be able to revoke licenses from printed media, as well as block online outlets for publishing restricted materials and refusing to take them down.

The new legislation also delves into the online media field, which has remained effectively unregulated in Ukraine. The final version of the bill has not imposed a mandatory registration for online media outlets, introducing a “voluntary” one instead. Those that opt to secure said registration will be shielded from extrajudicial blockage, while outlets without it can be subjected to 14-day bans after a number of “serious” violations.

Online media outlets with opaque structure, those not having easily distinguishable owners or reporters, can be easily banned by the regulator as well.

A sizable part of the legislation is devoted to tackling purported “Russian propaganda” and effectively outlaws any positive coverage of Moscow’s actions that challenge the official stance of Kiev. The bill also reinforces a ban on all Russian media outlets, which have been already de-facto outlawed in the country. Moreover, the legislation prohibits the media from publishing information somehow “discrediting” the Ukrainian language and denying or whitewashing the “criminal nature” of the Soviet-era “totalitarian regime.”

The media bill was first introduced back in 2020, but passing it was put into motion only after the ongoing conflict between Kiev and Moscow broke out in late February. The bill passed its first reading in late August, with the final version adopted early this month. The legislation has been repeatedly criticized by Ukrainian opposition figures, journalists, and international rights groups alike over the assertive role of the government and potential damage to freedom of speech in the country.

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