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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday signed a law expanding the government’s regulatory powers over the news media, which press organizations warned could destroy press freedom in the country.

While some of the law’s strict provisions have been relaxed in response to criticism, serious concerns about the regulatory body’s independence remain, domestic and international media groups said Friday, noting they were still reviewing the details of the final 279-page law.

The law expands the authority of Ukraine’s state broadcasting regulator, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, to cover online and print news media. Earlier drafts empowered the regulator to fine media companies, revoke their licenses, temporarily block certain online media outlets without a court order, and require social media sites and search giants like Google to remove content that violates the law. Ukrainian news media reported.

Mr. Zelensky, whose administration has been blamed Undermining press freedom In recent years, in 2019 it ordered the creation of legislation that would increase media regulation.

The measure was passed by the Parliament of Ukraine Earlier this monthAlong with other bills lawmakers say would help the country meet the European Union Legislative conditions member. Bills include measures to protect rights National minorities.

But Ukrainian journalists and international press freedom groups raised the alarm when the media bill was advanced in parliament, which went beyond EU requirements and blamed the government. Using membership obligations as an excuse To take more control of the press.

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The Committee to Protect JournalistsA nonprofit group that supports press freedom around the world called on Ukrainian lawmakers in September to drop the bill, which tightened “government control over information at a time when citizens need it most.”

The European Federation of Journalists, whose secretary-general called an earlier draft of the law “Worthy of despotic regimes,” said Friday, adding that the law contravenes European press freedom standards because it cannot guarantee the independence of the state media regulator, whose members are appointed by the president and parliament.

“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting free and independent media, not by establishing state control of information,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, secretary general of the federation.

Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists said the draft bill lacked transparency as it was amended, changes were made in closed-door parliamentary committee meetings, and members of the media and the public were not given enough time to respond.

The union has issued a warning In a statement Released ahead of a vote by Ukraine’s parliament, the law would authorize the destruction of freedoms that “distinguish Ukraine’s social order from that of authoritarian Russia.” The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Mr. After Zelensky signed the bill into law.

The main legal department of Ukraine’s parliament also noted in an analysis published earlier this month that the bill was given little time to review changes and did not sufficiently consider the risk of introducing language censorship.

Ukrainian authorities have rejected accusations that EU requirements are being used as a cover to limit press freedom. Significant amendments to the draft bill were made in consultation with media experts.

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“Of course, this bill is more comprehensive than the EU directive, because we had to change and modernize our media law, which has not been changed for 16 years,” said Yevhenia Kravchuk, deputy head of the parliament’s information policy committee. In a statement After the bill is approved. “It was adopted back when there was no Internet.”

At least one Ukrainian organization focused on press freedom, the Kyiv-based Mass Information Agency, said Thursday it was satisfied with the revised law but would monitor its implementation. The main concern of the organization is to ensure the independence of media regulation.

“To improve it, we need to introduce amendments to the constitution, which is unfortunately impossible during martial law,” said executive director, Oksana Romaniuk. “This is one of our main plans for the future.”

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