Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Media standards against information chaos and disinformation

On November 9, 2019, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to develop draft laws concerning the regulation of media activities in Ukraine. The relevant decree "On urgent measures for conducting reforms and strengthening the statе" No. 837/2019 was signed by the head of state on November 8. "The Cabinet of Ministers to take measures to develop and submit to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine draft laws to regulate the activities of the media in Ukraine, providing, in particular, provisions on the requirements and standards of news, mechanisms to prevent the spread of inaccurate, distorted information, its refutation, prohibition of individuals and legal entities of the aggressor state to own or finance media in Ukraine, as well as to provide for increased responsibility for violation of legislation on information," the document says. The draft laws must be drafted by December 31, 2019.

The decree, which contains a number of other regulations in various fields was signed following the meeting on 4 November to "ensure the further implementation of structural economic reforms, the introduction of additional mechanisms to accelerate social and economic development of Ukraine, improvement of welfare of the population, harmonious development of regions, implementation of European standards of living, strengthening the state".[1]

On November 15, during the public discussion “Freedom of speech, protection of journalists and information space of Ukraine from disinformation (manipulation and fakes)”, First Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth And Sports, Anatoliy Maksymchuk said that the Ministry of Culture, Youth And Sports of Ukraine is considering the possibility of introducing the post of information Ombudsman, which will counteract disinformation.  "The Ombudsman is the institution that is already present, they call themselves differently in different countries. But what is being proposed for discussion is that the Ombudsman on information as an independent entity whose main purpose is to go to court or monitor and identify disinformation and go to court in order to ban it. In fact, if we take into account the case of the crucified boy and the phosphorus bombs, there is no subject whose interests are violated and who can go to court... When the Ombudsman appears, he represents the interests of society, and in this case he/she can go to court," he explained.

Thus, in general, the functions of this Ombudsman include monitoring of the information space, verifying information for signs of disinformation with the involvement of fact-checking organizations (in conditions of limited resources), handling complaints about disinformation and appeal to the court to protect the interests of society. In addition, the system of elements, which aims to minimize the spread of disinformation and its impact on people includes self-regulation of the journalistic community, informing about content and its types, improving the procedure for refuting disinformation, increasing the media literacy of society, banning legal entities and individuals of the aggressor country to own media, a qualitative procedure for accreditation of foreign journalists, registration of media, as well as adjusting liability for concessions and crimes. At the same time, he said that the Ministry proposes not to consider critical judgments, satire, as well as inaccurate information about the person, which does not harm the public interest as disinformation.

Also, Anatoliy Maksymchuk noted the importance of the existence of an organization that will monitor the observance of standards by journalists. There should be such an organization in Ukraine that will develop recommendations for journalists on professional standards and ethics and monitor their compliance, as well as protect media workers. "An essential element is an independent self-governing journalistic organization, which will be an important stakeholder. In addition, standards of journalistic ethics should be approved" Maksymchuk said. According to him, such an organization will not only deal with the issue of compliance with journalistic standards, monitor compliance with criteria for the reliability of news, confirm the status of a journalist, but also work to ensure guarantees of certain protection of media workers. "Since, we have heard in many discussions, unfortunately, anyone can now call themselves a journalist, they can have a certificate and claim to be protected by the state, although in fact they are not journalists, they do not act according to the standards adopted in civilized countries for journalism," the First Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth And Sports said. He noted that the state will provide guarantees to journalists who carry out professional activities in accordance with the standards developed by the self-governing organization.

Minister of Culture, Youth And Sports of Ukraine, Volodymyr Borodiansky said that the draft law on countering disinformation can be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada in December. "We want to introduce it (to the Verkhovna Rada - red.) in December, that is, at the same time with the new draft law on media," Borodiansky said. Thus, earlier during the discussion, answering questions of its participants, the Minister explained that these two draft laws have "different level of development". So, according to him, the future law on media is much deeper developed, but both documents will be linked. At the same time, Borodiansky invited media representatives to work together on the development of draft laws that will regulate the activities of journalists.

In addition, Anatoliy Maksymchuk noted that the Ministry of Culture, Youth And Sports of Ukraine offer to block information resources in court for the systematic dissemination of disinformation. "At first, we are talking only about certain disinformation. If we find out that it is systematic work which aimed at disinformation - in procedure which is defined by the law, including Security Service of Ukraine - these questions to solve that exclusively in a judicial order to forbid work of this or that site", he declared. At the same time, Maksymchuk also mentioned that this will be the last measure, provided there will be a systematic distribution of misinformation. "Value and critical judgments, satire, inaccurate information about a person, which does not harm the public interest can not be disinformation, there is no criminal responsibility for it," the Minister of Culture, Youth And Sports of Ukraine, Volodymyr Borodiansky said.[2]

Thus, the authorities' concern about disinformation and the dissemination of fakes in the media is not groundless, because now oligarchic-kleptocratic regime has united with pro-Kremlin and engaged the media in Ukraine whose activities are aimed at serving the interests of the Kremlin and the Ukrainian kleptocracy and discredit the newly elected authorities. In this regard, such a reaction by the authorities is really balanced and does not limit the freedom of speech in any way.