(KYIV, Ukraine) — Freedom of speech in Ukraine has not faded away and has survived the ongoing Russian aggression against the country, Ukrainian officials said.
“We live in times when the main news is coming from the frontlines,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, the Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy, told a crowd at a recent conference on media freedom in Kyiv.
Government officials have put some limitations on media freedoms, including restrictions on reporting on the military, but media experts said those limitations shouldn’t be transformed into restrictions on political reporting, according to a group of Ukrainian government, parliament, media and NGO members who gathered for a “National Media Talk” conference.
Andriy Kulykov, who chairs the Commission on Journalistic Ethics, said he wanted to dispel some of the lingering doubts about restrictions, pointing out that the Ukrainian society, with two recent revolutions behind its back, is learning and will not let political censorship take over.
The media audience in Ukraine still has a variety of information sources to choose from — unlike on the territories currently occupied by Russia, the experts said.
“This is not a limitation on the freedom of speech — let’s call it forced moderation during the war,” Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said.
The function of journalism in Ukraine has changed since the beginning of the war, Reznikov added, as journalism today could serve as just another weapon. And Ukraine is struggling with propagandists from the Russian side. He highlighted the role of journalism in uncovering counter-propaganda and fake news, he said.
Reznikov also explained the rationale behind information silence or control in Ukraine — most evident on social media — saying Russian army reports to the Kremlin facts from the frontline roughly two and a half days after the given event. It is vital to make sure that the Russians will not be provided with valuable information in that time frame, before the Ukrainian army is ready to make its next move, Reznikov said.
Despite the maintained levels of information control, Reznikov said he does not “foresee any danger of information dictatorship in Ukraine.”
Journalists in Ukraine are fighting “on their battlefield,” the Ukrainian defense minister told ABC News.
But the lines have been further blurred for some journalists who’ve enlisted in the military, according to Lesya Ganzha and Maksym Skubenko, former media representatives currently fighting in the Ukrainian army.
Another former journalist who joined the fighting, Artem Kolosov, said, “It is anger that I feel.”
Denys Bihus, a former investigative reporter and editor, said, “The simplicity of war means that complicated questions you easily solve by a 120-mm mortar.” Bihus said he believes that currently enlisted journalists will come back from the war more angry and more radicalized, which may change the media landscape in coming years.
Yet according to Mykyta Poturayev, a lawmaker leading the charge in adopting a new law on media development, free media after the war will not only be about freedom, but also about responsibility.
“All this talk about online anarchy somewhere else in the world is over. These times are gone,” he said. “Now, everybody understands the danger of that poison that is poured through the online space and out of Moscow on all democratic and civilized countries.”
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