Media legislation

Given that Ukraine’s legislature in the media sector is relatively vague, its practical implementation can be characterised as sporadic, multidirectional, inconsistent, unbalanced and non-transparent. Existing laws are predominantly declarative and therefore insufficient in their regulative function, which results in their failure to translate into specific, effective policies. Instead, these declarative laws often overlap and duplicate each other, leading to ineffectiveness at best and legal impasses at worst.

Anyway, the main pieces of legislation in the media sector include:

  • Law On Television and Radio Broadcasting (1993);
  • Law On Information (1992);
  • Law On Telecommunications (2003);
  • Law On Public Television and Radio Broadcasting (2014);
  • Law On Cinematography (1998);
  • Law On Information Agencies (1995)
  • Law On Print Media (Press) in Ukraine (1992);
  • Law On State Support of Mass Media and Social Protection of Journalists;
  • Law On the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine.

Most of these laws have been developed based on their Soviet prototypes, and as such they are not entirely up to date to the new trends in the sector. Legislation on online media is virtually nonexistent. Their operations are based on the abovementioned general laws at best. As a result, there is a major gap in national law which leaves online media neither regulated nor protected.

The key among the above laws in Ukrainian media sector, Law On Television and Radio Broadcasting of 1993, is currently being replaced by a new piece of legislature, as provided for in the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) with a view to harmonising Ukraine’s and EU’s legislature. The new law that will change its title to Law On Audiovisual Services needs to be adopted within two years after the AA’s entry into force, which means that the deadline has been set for 1 September, 2019. Given that 2019 is the year of both presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine, the latter’s ability to meet the deadline is doubtful.

Recently, the Ukrainian state broadcaster has been reformed into a public broadcaster. The aim was to provide an independent source of unbiased information, without financial or administrative influence by the state. The issue has been pending for the last twenty years so far, although the first tangible progress in this respect was achieved in 2014, once the Law On Public Television and Radio Broadcasting was adopted. Its implementation, however, has protracted in the absence of the state authorities’ political will as well as continuous underfunding.

Independence of public broadcaster is also in constant danger, as shifts in management keep happening. The board of Suspilne (Public) suddenly decided on 31 January 2019 to fire CEO Zurab Alasania. On 12 February, his termination from Suspilne (Public) was postponed until 6 May, from 19 February. Alasania filed a court suit to overturn the decision of supervisory board to dismiss him.

Further reforms in the media sector include the forthcoming reorganisation of state and communal printed media into independent outlets and providing for the open and transparent information on mass media owners.

A particular legislative issue that has been around in the Ukrainian media landscape for the last couple of years is the issue of language quotas. As the Ukrainian language was banned from public use in the 2nd half of 19th century under the Tsarist regime and was similarly restricted under the Soviet Union at least from the 1930s (a policy creating what has been referred to as a “linguicide”), there is growing support for the government’s efforts to promote the Ukrainian language. Nevertheless Ukraine remains largely a bilingual country, with Russian language dominating in big cities and specific fields of life (such as business). As a result of this new language policy, Ukrainian-language content quotas for radio were introduced in November 2016. According to the respective law, as of November 2018, at least 35 percent of songs and 60 percent of programmes broadcast shall be in Ukrainian. June 2017 saw the adoption of a similar piece of legislature for television, according to which at least 75 percent of programmes and movies broadcast on national television shall be in Ukrainian (the share is reduced to at least 60 percent for local TV companies).

However, Ukrainian legislation also targets certain Russian content. The Law On Cinematography prohibits broadcasting movies, produced after 1 August 1991 in case they were created with participation of people that appear on the list of persons threatening national security. At the same time, the Law On Television and Radio Broadcasting prohibits broadcasting any movies, irrespective of their production year, in case the said people participated in their production. Furthermore, according to the presidential decree of 15 May, 2017, Ukrainian Internet providers blocked access to several popular Russian social networks and e-mail services, including VKontakte (In Contact), Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and Mail.ru. These services, however, stay available for users who use VPN or specific browsers.