Ukraine has come under heavy fire from British MEPs for its plan to introduce a law bringing the media under state control.
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 as well as making journalists apply for a government-issued press card.
James Wells and MEP from the UK told 112 Ukraine that “all journalists should stand as a united front.” He then added that if the bill was introduced “your negotiations on the entrance to the EU will be stopped because it is impossible that the EU continues talks on the entrance of Ukraine to the EU when such a law is adopted because it contradicts all European values”.
Nathan Gill, another British MEP added that “when the government begins to issue permits or licenses, or establish restrictions- it actually means that the government can decide who does what work and who delivers the message to the public.
He also noted that such laws would drive young people and investors to leave the country because “why would someone young in their right mind want to stay in a draconian country?”
The draft law was already condemned by Harlem Desir the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media who said that the state should not interfere in the content of the media. He added that Ukranian legislation already provides mechanisms for disinformation and that citizens have the right to freedom of expression which must be respected. Desir also reminded the Ukranian government that “self-regulation, support for professional standards of journalism, and fact-checking initiatives” are the preferred methods.
While the law is more extreme than the one passed by the Socialist Party in Albania in 2019, there are many similar elements. Registration of portals and bringing the media under the control of a state-appointed authority, as well giving them the ability to block and remove content, as well as to fine journalists.
The Albanian law has been criticised by the European Commission, the EU delegation to Albania, the Council of Europe, the office of Harlem Desir, and local and international journalism organisations.
The law was vetoed by President Meta who returned it to parliament. It is expected to be passed into law on 30 January by the Socialist Party parliamentary majority.