Ukraine’s year-old media law brings progress, but adjustments are needed

The media law is celebrating its first anniversary, 15 days after the vote to open negotiations for Ukraine's accession to the European Union (EU). Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the improvements made by this law, but calls for adjustments to be made in order to strengthen press freedom in the country.

Despite the war, Ukraine has made progress with harmonising its media legislation with European law, and this media law – which President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed one year ago, on 29 December 2022, and which took effect in March – is a prerequisite for EU membership.

The law introduces better regulation, including co-regulation mechanisms between the media regulator and media and better transparency about media owners. But adjustments still needed with regard to the media regulator’s independence.

“Ukraine has begun a long process of reinforcing press freedom marked by the adoption, during the past ten years, of dozens of reforms enabling a transparent, independent and diverse media environment. The media law is the most recent example. As negotiations for EU membership begin, we hail Ukraine's progress in strengthening and harmonising its media legislation with the European legislative framework. But this law has not yet gone far enough and one of the main problems is the media regulator’s lack of independence. This must be strengthened as soon as possible in order to promote press freedom.”

Jeanne Cavelier

Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

This law clarifies, details and broadens the media regulator’s powers but the process of appointing its members must be changed in order to ensure that its decisions are completely independent. But this can only be done by modifying the Ukrainian constitution, which is impossible while martial law is in force, as it has been since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Other improvements that are needed to this nearly 300-page law are already possible. In order to align with European legislation, the law needs to broaden its definition of what constitutes hate speech, which is currently too narrow and is limited to inciting national, racial and religious hatred. In addition, online media representatives and the national regulator need to finalise their joint formulation of the precise criteria that define online media. This should be one of the priorities for 2024. 

Finally, an effort is also needed from the media. The number of requests for online media registration varies from one region to another, but remains low overall. Registration is currently voluntary, but failing to register prevents online media from participating in co-regulation mechanisms and increases their level of responsibility in the event of a violation of the law.

The media landscape and environment for journalists have improved in Ukraine since the 2013 Euromaidan revolution. But the media are currently undermined by Russia’s attacks against journalists and media outlets since the February 2022 invasion and by the pressure that the Ukrainian government exerts on the media, especially with regard to their military sources.

Ukraine is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

79/ 180
Score : 61.19
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