Harlem Desir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has expressed his concerns about the Ukrainian government’s plans to bring media under state control.
In a statement issued yesterday, Desir said that the fight against disinformation should not “be done at the expense of media freedom and through state interference in the content of the media”.
“Current Ukrainian legislation already provides mechanisms to counteract socially dangerous information,” he added.
The Ukrainian government plans to establish a state-appointed Special Commissioner who will monitor all media content for “disinformation”. The Commissioner will then have the right to initiate various sanctions including fines and the blocking of online media. The law will also allow the State to levy criminal charges including financial penalties and a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Desir noted that fighting disinformation was a legitimate aim but that “the right of everyone to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine and in its OSCE and international commitments, should be fully respected.”
He added that; “Self-regulation, support for professional standards of journalism and fact-checking initiatives, independence of the media, diversity of sources to debunk false information, and the development of media literacy are key components in the fight against the manipulation of information and paramount to ensure access to reliable information.”
Following the Albanian Parliament voting in a controversial “anti-defamation package” in December 2019, Desir told Exit of his concerns over freedom of expression and said there was still work to be done on ensuring the law did not infringe this. The law was vetoed by the President who has called on the Venice Commission to consider whether it is unconstitutional but the Socialist Party have remained adamant that they will pass the law anyway at the end of the month.
MP Taulant Balla and Prime Minister Edi Rama have both claimed that Desir has supported the law 100%, but this is not the case. Desir expressed his concerns over the law to Exit and stressed that self-regulation is the best practice.
The law will bring online media under the jurisdiction of the state-appointed Albanian Media Authority. They will have the power to block, shut down, and impose large fines on any publication that publishes what they deem as “fake news” or anything posing a threat to national security. These judgements will be enforced without a court order and before any court appeal is initiated.