Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

The internal front of the information war against President Volodymyr Zelensky is intensifying

The beginning of 2020 was marked by a large-scale deployment of a campaign of information terror in the Ukrainian media against Zelensky, his team and the reforms they initiated in order to discredit them. The reaction of the authorities was the submission of several draft laws on Ukrainian media and the fight against disinformation, which caused a violent negative reaction from the Ukrainian media community. To clarify this problem, a Round table was held on February 18, 2020 on the topic: «Freedom of speech in the context of information war: Internal front».

The main focus of the Round table was on the draft law "On Media". Regarding the draft law director of analytics at “Internews-Ukraine”, Volodymyr Yermolenko told about its positive and negative sides: «Regarding the positive side, this is the beginning of a discussion on how to protect yourself from the Russian information war, how to increase the transparency of media activities. But on the other hand, we didn't have many creative responses to these challenges. Among the main points of concern are the following: firstly, the definition of disinformation in this draft law is not detailed. The second problem is that most of this draft law is aimed at tracking single cases of disinformation. Another problem we face is that the the draft law have nothing about exposing disinformation activities that have roots in the aggressor's state. Therefore, there are fears that behind this mask of struggle against disinformation there is another attempt - to regulate the internal media space».

Director of the Mohyla School of Journalism, Yevhen Fedchenko added that freedom of speech and national security are interrelated and can exist together. The expert believes that Ukraine has not yet lost the war, but it has not won. «Freedom of speech can only exist if we manage to preserve the physical existence of Ukraine and its sovereignty. And this will guarantee a wide range of freedoms and democracies. Freedom of speech will be one of these freedoms. If we fail to ensure this, we a priori lose all freedoms» Fedchenko said.

Editor-in-chief of VoxCheck, Maxim Skubenko noted that this draft law should be aimed at the fight against unscrupulous media that spread disinformation and all the negative things that are happening in Ukraine. He added that now there is a war on the Ukrainian front, which lasts throughout Ukraine's independence.

Head of the Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies, Julia Kazdobina stressed: «In Ukraine, there was no more or less organized system of media regulation, when interference in state affairs is regulated at the level of journalistic self-government. And if you look at how the emergence of the Internet has affected Western media, in principle, our situation is now in the same situation with them. In competition with new phenomenona in the information sphere, traditional media were forced to lower their standards in many ways. The quality of the media has also fallen. This is a problem not only in Ukraine, we simply never had this quality. This is also a Western problem now». Regarding the Law on Disinformation, Julia Kazdobina noted that unfortunately this draft law does not sufficiently take into account all these new phenomena that we are witnessing today. And another new phenomenon is that the state actually has much fewer tools in this information environment than before.

Editor-in-chief of, Roman Kulchinsky believes that problems this draft law should not be adopted at all because the decision was made by people who: a) worked for oligarchic media; b) people who came to power thanks to the Russian disinformational company. And they offer so-called journalistic self-regulation, which is a good idea, but this regulation includes representatives of oligarchic media and supporters of the "Russian world". Based on these threats, Mr. Kulchinsky proposed the following: «The oligarchs should be deprived the right to have license and create 3 channels of public, parastatal, semi-private media and divide the market between them, create independent review councils and reformat the market of TV channels». Regarding the fight against Russian disinformation, the expert proposed considering the examples of the Baltic states and Taiwan.

Thus, during the discussion, the participants noted the presence of such trends in the Ukrainian media space and made some conclusions related to these trends.

Firstly, we lost the battle for the consciousness of Ukrainians to the enemy when the people (we saw this in Crimea and the occupied territories) support Putin instead of their own President, support the aggressor's troops and block our Ukrainian units that are trying to protect our own territory and our own population.

Secondly, today, unfortunately, we have surrendered our own information space as a battleground with our enemy in the information space through Putin's "godfather", whose TV channels own half of Ukraine's TV news space.

Thirdly, under the guise of freedom of speech, the Kremlin is trying to achieve the goals it did not achieve in the fighting. It is about discrediting Ukrainian values. Of course, there are other media that do not have disinformation, but are veiled to create doubts about our national values, state-building, foreign policy, and so on.

Fourthly, Ukrainian media suffer from a number of shortcomings and they need to get rid of them. Among them: mythologization of discourse; low trust in the media and institutions, in general, in this state; there is no access to knowledge; political discourse is detached from reality. In this situation, it is important that security experts would be involved in this process because they have a theoretical basis and they know that the fight against disinformation should be based on interests.

Fifthly, Ukraine has a system for countering disinformation, but it is not effective enough because to a large extent, it relies on civil society, which, by its functionality, can not oppose a sufficiently effective counteraction to the systemic and long-term policy of the Russian government. In addition, it does not have enough communication coordination which is very necessary. As a result of these shortcomings, over the past year, the level of trust in traditional media in Ukraine has decreased by 11% , and this trend is particularly threatening in those territories of Ukraine that are most vulnerable to Russian information influence in all its forms.[1]

Therefore, the draft law should be amended regarding its main shortcomings. Nevertheless, this draft law must be adopted because with the growing revenge of supporters of the kleptocratic regime in Ukraine and the large-scale disinformation war of the Russian Federation, media regulation is an important component of ensuring the  national security of Ukraine.