The International Center for Assistance to Ukrainians continues its activities to protect the rights of citizens of Ukraine and in this material provides information on violations of the rights of Ukrainians to freedom of thought and speech, to freely express their views and beliefs.
Shortly after the election of Volodymyr Zelensky as President of Ukraine, the authorities continued the course of the previous president, Petro Poroshenko, aimed at completely bringing all the main media in Ukraine under their control.
Sanctions against the media
At the same time, even before the start of active hostilities, the authorities began to use a new, hitherto unprecedented mechanism for combating the media — their blocking through the application of the mechanism of sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) against their owners and editors.
The Law “On Sanctions” was adopted in 2014 and was supposed to become a mechanism for protecting Ukraine from the actions of foreign states, their individuals and legal entities, as well as persons carrying out terrorist activities, against whom, for obvious reasons, the usual mechanisms of the Ukrainian judicial system could not be applied and determining a person’s guilt.
In relation to citizens of Ukraine who do not hide from its justice and are under its jurisdiction, the normal and only legal and possible mechanism is the accusation of committing a crime, proving this fact in an adversarial trial and punishment by a court decision. Classifying citizens of Ukraine and Ukrainian legal entities as “sanctioned” violates the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, the principle of legal certainty and other components of the rule of law and Ukraine’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Despite this, on February 2, 2021, by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council to impose sanctions, signed as a presidential decree, three opposition TV channels were closed: 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK. In total, during Zelensky’s presidency, in the period before the start of active hostilities, seven national television channels were closed by decisions controlled by the president of the National Commission on Television and the National Security and Defense Council: KRT, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, First Independent, UkrLive and Our».
On August 20, 2021, the popular opposition websites Strana.UA and Shariy.net were blocked, and sanctions were imposed against Strana.UA editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva and blogger Anatoly Shariy.
On February 4, 2022, YouTube video hosting, after an appeal from the Ukrainian authorities, blocked the UkrLive and First Independent channels, which were subject to sanctions in Ukraine, from which independent channels broadcast. As noted in the statement of the journalists of the TV channels, this was done in order to “thus deprive the citizens of Ukraine of the opportunity to learn the truth about the situation in the country and in the world from the journalists of the UkrLive and First Independent TV channels.”
As already mentioned, under Ukrainian law, the imposition of sanctions against Ukrainian citizens is directly impossible, indirectly it is possible only in the case of terrorist activities. What terrorist activities were carried out by closed media and their journalists? As further lawsuits initiated by closed media outlets showed, there was no evidence of terrorist activity on the part of these media outlets.
All the «guilt» of the banned TV channels and websites consisted only in the fact that they were in opposition to the government and gave the floor to its political opponents. Their activities were stopped absolutely illegally, without court decisions, as provided by the laws.
As part of the Martial Law Decree on February 24, 2022, President Zelenskiy established the possibility of derogating from the freedom of speech and collection of information for citizens guaranteed by Article 34 of the Constitution. At the same time, the rule on “the possibility of restricting the rights and freedoms of citizens” is not synonymous with the arbitrariness of the authorities in this area. As it is written in the same article of the Constitution, restriction is possible only on the basis of the law, and the relevant law has not been adopted.
Since the beginning of March 2022, the entire TV news broadcast in Ukraine has been occupied by the “United Innovations” telethon, which was created with the participation of most of the country’s news TV channels. The marathon is essentially state propaganda, an advertisement for Zelensky and his successes, and the only permitted point of view on television. It is coordinated by the Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko. Media experts note the existence of censorship in the telethon. TV channels that refused to take part in it had problems.
Thus, on April 4, 2022, the Pyaty and Pryamoy TV channels announced on their official websites that their broadcasting had been turned off in the country by the Radio Broadcasting, Radio Communications and Television Concern. The adviser to the head of the OP answered the relevant question that this was done on the basis of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of March 18, 2022 on the unification of all nationwide TV channels, the program content of which consists mainly of information and / or information and analytical programs, into a round-the-clock information marathon, although it Nothing is said about turning off channels.
In January-February 2022, program service providers receive requests from the National Council of Ukraine for Television and Radio Broadcasting to stop rebroadcasting Viasat group TV programs that have high ratings among Ukrainian viewers. This was preceded by the non-inclusion of Viasat group programs in the list of foreign programs, the content of which meets the requirements of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television and Ukrainian legislation. The Internet Association of Ukraine sees in this situation a possible violation of the principles of economic competition and promotion of monopoly, given the signs of lobbying the interests of media groups by eliminating economic competition by creating various competitive conditions for software service providers and OTT platforms. The Association sent a complaint to the Antimonopoly Committee.
Arbitrary blocking of Internet resources
On January 30, 2023, the National Center for Operational and Technical Management of Telecommunications Networks issued Decree No. 67/850 on the introduction of a phishing domain filtering system. This document is based on the presidential decree on the introduction of martial law and the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, and provides, as noted in the profile Internet Association of Ukraine, the creation of a «Trojan horse» — a centralized system for automatically blocking Internet resources. Ukrainian Internet providers must install a system for blocking access to web resources. Such a system automatically uploads to the provider’s server every 15 minutes from the list of Internet addresses specified in the Order of the resource for automatic blocking (stop list). Information about a user who tried to access «forbidden» resources is automatically recorded and transferred to the relevant state authorities. And although the system is declared to counter phishing, it can be used to block an arbitrary number of Internet resources.
Repressive media law
In December last year, the law “On Media” was adopted by the Parliament and signed by President Zelensky. This law is aimed at the complete destruction in Ukraine of media independent of the authorities and freedom of speech.
This is an almost unanimous assessment of the law «On Media» by not only those few opposition politicians, activists and journalists who still remain in today’s oligarchic Ukraine. Even lawyers from the main scientific and expert department of the Ukrainian parliament itself, in their comments, characterized this law as follows:
“The fundamental principles of activity in the field of media, namely, openness, accessibility of information, freedom of its dissemination, prohibition of censorship, non-admission of preliminary approval of information, have actually been radically changed…
the provisions of the draft contradict the Constitution of Ukraine, do not take into account the legal positions of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, the international legal obligations of Ukraine and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights.”
Under the new law, the state regulator — the National Council (National Council) for Television and Radio Broadcasting, received unlimited opportunities to influence any media — from analysis and control over content to extrajudicial closure.
So, for example, the National Council will create lists of banned media, form a “list of persons” who “pose a threat to the national media space of Ukraine” and who cannot be shown in the media, send instructions to media entities that are mandatory, and also control whether any “forbidden information” has been made public in the media.
Violators of the prohibitions face fines, revocation of licenses, cancellation of registration, temporary (for 14 days) or complete blocking of work.
Particularly harsh sanctions — extrajudicial blocking — threaten online media that will not be officially registered as mass media. They will be blocked even for minor (three times a month) violations or for two gross violations.
The National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, contrary to its name, now regulates the activities in Ukraine not only of television and radio, but also print and even Internet media, including online cinemas or platforms with user-generated content, such as YouTube channels.
At the same time, by forcing online media to register, the regulator itself may not do this. That is, it can register an online publication as a mass media outlet, or it may not. It will be up to the officials to decide.
It is important to note that the National Council has nothing to do with an independent regulator. It consists of only 8 officials, of which half are appointed directly by the president, and half by the parliament, in which the majority are deputies from the presidential Servant of the People party. There are no representatives of the media themselves, journalists or public activists in the National Council.
The law “On Media” at various stages of its adoption was harshly criticized by hundreds of Ukrainian journalists and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, Ukrainian and international human rights activists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (New York), the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the European Federation of Journalists, experts Council of Europe and Internet Association of Ukraine.
In particular, the European Federation of Journalists called this document “worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes”, and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine believes that “the law provides not for the regulation of the media sphere, but in fact the establishment of subordination relations, when the media come under the control of the authorities.”
Thus, using various repressive measures, the authorities simply canceled the right of millions of Ukrainian citizens to receive various information and to a different point of view — freedom of speech, and introduced censorship in the country.
All collected materials on this topic will be transferred to international human rights organizations, as well as published in the world press.
International Help Center for Ukrainians