World Association of News Publishers

Proposed Media Bill a Threat to Freedom of Expression in Ukraine

Proposed Media Bill a Threat to Freedom of Expression in Ukraine

Article ID:


WAN-IFRA has written to Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, to express concern over a new bill before parliament that would criminalise the dissemination of misinformation and potentially target legitimate news sources.

WAN-IFRA regularly protests press freedom violations worldwide. Alongside our official statements calling for action, holding governments to account, and denouncing violence against journalists, we publish detailed background information from multiple sources concerning the cases we highlight.


We aim to bring the global spotlight to our members' issues and challenges and invite you to contact us with any information you wish us to investigate as part of our commitment to protecting and promoting press freedom worldwide.

We encourage our members to cover these issues in their own publications, and you are free to use the material provided in shaping your coverage.


WAN-IFRA urges broader consultation for Ukraine's proposed disinformation bill to avoid risks for freedom of expression

The draft law could lead to broad state interference in media and journalism activities "at the expense of media freedom,” and may not be efficient to counter disinformation. Read the official protest letter here.

Background to the disinformation bill:

The bill was unveiled by Culture Minister Volodymyr Borodyanskyi on 20 January 2020.

It is ostensibly to help protect against Russian disinformation, which is a significant problem in Ukraine.

However, many local and international organisations have protested that it represents a significant threat to freedom of expression, and it was described by the Association of Independent Regional Publishers of Ukraine as “a clear step towards censorship instead of workable tools for countering the influence of Russian disinformation”


Key points:

  • The definition of disinformation is unclear, which leaves journalists vulnerable to accusations of spreading disinformation.
  • It criminalises “the dissemination of disinformation” - the purposeful spread of disinformation could be punished by up to seven years in prison and hefty fines (up to $380,000). These two points could have a chilling effect, particularly on investigative journalism.
  • It foresees the nomination of a state commissioner – an ‘ombudsman for information’ who would decide what statements are false and dispute them in court.
  • It proposes the establishment of a single new state-sponsored journalistic association which journalists would have to join in order to be considered ‘professsional,’ and be invited to government events etc. This is unconstitutional, according to Ukrainian NGO Detector Media.


Challenges to media freedom in Ukraine:

  • Control by oligarchs

RSF ranked Ukraine at 102 in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, noting that despite some welcome reforms, “Much more is needed to loosen the oligarchs’ tight grip on the media, encourage editorial independence and combat impunity.” Freedom House also notes in its Freedom in the World 2020 index that despite the Ukrainian media landscape’s considerable pluralism, “business magnates own and influence many outlets, using them as tools to advance their agendas”

  • Violence

Violence towards journalists remains a threat. Investigative journalist Vadym Komarov, died a few weeks after being attacked in May 2019 by an unidentified man.

Attacks on female journalists increased significantly in 2018, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) found.

  • The ‘On media’ bill

Another bill under consideration poses a threat to media freedom in Ukraine: known as the ‘On media’ bill, it proposes that a body, the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting, would monitor the media market and force media organisations to register in order to operate. The Executive Director of the Institute of Mass Information fears that the bill could allow oligarchs to exert more pressure over media outlets. 

  • Russian interference

As Freedom House explains, a number of Russian news outlets are barred from Ukrainian distribution networks and their journalists are prohibited from entering the country.


Global relevance:

Various countries have enacted or are considering similar legislation to control the flow of disinformation, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Poynter has a guide to anti-misinformation actions taken by governments around the world (last updated in August 2019).

Some notable examples include:

  • Singapore: passed a law to tackle ‘fake news’ in May 2019 that allows authorities to order the removal of content. Punishment includes jail terms of up to 10 years and significant fines. It was described by Poynter as one of the most ‘comprehensive’ anti-misinformation laws in the world. According to the Washington Post, Singaporean officials are using the coronavirus outbreak to justify the law and the sweeping power that it grants ministers to decide what constitutes a breach.
  • France: the ‘law against the manipulation of information’ was approved in November 2018. It targets the dissemination of ‘fake news’ particularly during election campaign periods, which are seen as the most risky times. It was criticised by members of the French parliament, as well as by news publishers.
  • South Africa: in mid-March 2020 the government enacted new regulations criminalizing statements intended to deceive any person about COVID-19 or the government's response to the pandemic. According to CPJ, “passing laws that emphasize criminalizing disinformation over educating the public and encouraging fact-checking present a slippery slope and send the wrong message to other countries that may be less measured in drafting such laws.”

Links and resources:



Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2020-04-03 11:32

Contact information