Zelensky signs media law criticized by journalist groups as authoritarian

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Dec. 29 signed into law a controversial bill on the media.

The Ukrainian authorities argued that the law aims to bring Ukrainian legislation in line with EU law and fight Russian propaganda.

Media reform is one of the EU's conditions for starting negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the bloc. The EU wanted Ukraine to adopt legislation to fight the influence of vested interests on the media.

However, the bill has been criticized by journalist organizations as an attempt to introduce censorship. The authorities have denied the accusation.

The law dramatically expands the media regulator's powers and gives it the authority to shut down news sites that are not officially registered as media without a court ruling. 

In July the European Federation of Journalists urged the Ukrainian authorities to withdraw the draft media law. The federation said that the law contained "many provisions that are contrary to European values." 

"It proposes to give arbitrary and disproportionate regulatory powers to the national regulator, the National Council on Broadcasting, which would have authority not only over audiovisual media, but also over print and digital media," the federation said. 

“The coercive regulation envisaged by the bill and in the hands of a regulator totally controlled by the government is worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes. It must be withdrawn. A state that would apply such provisions simply has no place in the European Union,” Ricardo Gutierrez, general secretary of the federation, said then. “Media regulation should be implemented by a body independent of the government and its objective should be media independence, not media control."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in July that the law "threatens to restrict press freedom in the country and would move it away from European Union standards." 

In September Ukraine's National Union of Journalists said that the law was "the biggest threat to free speech in (Ukraine's) independent history." The union added that the adoption of the law could "cast the shadow of a dictator" on Zelensky. 

According to Ukraine's Institute of Mass Information, under the law, the media regulator is likely to be controlled by the incumbent authorities because its members are appointed by Zelensky and the Ukrainian parliament, where his party has an absolute majority.