Is there a risk of an upsurge in censorship in Ukraine?  If there is, what can Ukrainians do about it? And what if anything should outsiders such as foreign governments and diplomats be doing? These are all questions which come up when I host a lunch at the Residence for Ukrainian journalists and media activists.

It at once becomes clear that this is an area of active debate. Some journalists express concern that there is not enough diversity of media ownership in Ukraine and that business figures who own major TV channels do not have an interest in seeing those channels report unbiased news.  Others argue that the government itself is not interested in a free and vigorous media landscape: or may itself be seeking to put pressure on those media outlets which do not express sufficiently strong support for government policies.  Several journalists express concern about Ukraine moving in the direction of some neighbouring countries where freedom of the media has been much reduced in recent years.

But some journalists also express grounds for optimism.  They note that some media owners are keen on ensuring that their channels offer real, unbiased news and that others are resistant to being pressured by anyone to take a particular editorial line.  A couple of people argue that Ukraine has more powerful NGOs (non-governmental organisations) than some neighbouring countries; and has more of a tradition of individualism and resistance to being bossed about.  One person argues that small and medium-sized businesses in Ukraine are sufficiently well developed to be able to generate pressure for media diversity. 

There’s no doubt that freedom of the media will be critical for Ukraine itself over the coming years, as well as for Ukraine’s relationship with the EU. The Copenhagen Criteria, which set out the conditions would-be EU member states must meet, include: "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities".  That means that it is vital not only for the media to be free but also for the government to bend over backwards to make sure that nothing constrains that freedom.  It also means that the UK and other EU governments will be watching closely in the months ahead to make sure that media freedoms and other key elements of democracy, the rule of law and human rights are respected.  It’s encouraging that many leading Ukrainian politicians have in the last few months made strong statements about their support for media freedoms and other basic rights.  The key is to ensure that those strong statements are translated into consistent and convincing reality on the ground.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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Ukrayinska Dumka


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