Ukraine passes restrictive media law — RT Russia and the former Soviet Union

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky signed into law a restrictive media bill on Thursday. The long-debated legislation introduces heavy state regulations and officially prohibits positive coverage of Russia.

The legislation significantly empowers Ukraine’s media regulator, the National Radio and Television Council. Half of the members of the Council are appointed directly by the Ukrainian president, the other half being chosen by the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.

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

The new legislation also addresses the area of ​​online media, which has remained effectively unregulated in Ukraine. The final version of the bill did not impose mandatory registration for online media, introducing a « deliberate » one instead. Those who choose to secure said record will be protected from out-of-court blocking, while outlets without it may be subject to 14-day bans after a certain number of « serious » offences.

Online media with an opaque structure, those without easily identifiable owners or journalists, can also be easily banned by the regulator.

A significant part of the legislation is devoted to the fight against alleged « Russian Propaganda » and effectively prohibits any positive coverage of Moscow’s actions that challenge Kyiv’s official position. The bill also strengthens the ban on all Russian media, which has already been de facto banned in the country. In addition, the law prohibits the media from publishing information in a manner « discredit » the Ukrainian language and deny or whitewash the « criminal nature » from the soviet era « Totalitarian regime ».

The draft media law was first presented in 2020, but its adoption was only implemented after the ongoing conflict between Kyiv and Moscow broke out in late February. The bill passed its first reading in late August, and the final version passed earlier this month. The legislation has been repeatedly criticized by Ukrainian opposition figures, journalists and international rights groups for the government’s assertive role and potential damage to free speech in the country.

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