Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed into law a controversial statute expanding the government’s power to regulate media groups and journalists in the country.
Zelensky signed the legislation on Thursday over the objections of media unions and press freedom organizations that warned it will have a chilling effect on free speech.
Under the new law, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, whose members are appointed by the president’s administration and by members of parliament, will have broader authority over Ukrainian media organizations and journalists.
The regulatory agency can effectively shut down news sites that aren’t registered, according to The Kyiv Independent.
In a statement last month, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said the bill posed a “threat” to press freedom in the country.
“Such powers are clearly excessive,” the organization wrote. “No one has yet managed to tame freedom of speech in Ukraine. It won’t work this time either.”
Zelensky’s administration has been accused of suppressing press freedom. He first ordered the drafting of a new law to boost media regulation in 2019, the year he entered office.
The law was passed along with several other new statutes lawmakers say are required in order to become eligible for European Union membership, which Ukraine applied for last year.
The bill for the legislation, which the Ukrainian parliament passed on Dec. 13, was watered down after mounting criticism.
Previous draft versions handed the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council a greater ability to impose fines on media groups, revoke licenses from printed media and block online outlets from publishing restricted information.
When the draft versions were released, several international media organizations voiced opposition to the law, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists.
Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, told The New York Times the law still contradicted European press freedom standards.
“Ukraine will demonstrate its European commitment by promoting a free and independent media, not by establishing state control of information,” Gutiérrez said.