There is a popular image on the internet: a photo of an elderly woman at a women’s rights rally, bearing a poster that reads: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh*t.”
We could say the same when it comes to Ukraine’s authorities trying to censor journalists or limit their rights: we can’t believe we still need to defend freedom of speech. At least once a year, someone in power comes out with a “hot new idea” to either censor the internet, or criminalize libel, or do something else along those lines.
Right now, three dangerous media-related bills are sitting in parliament (see story on page 5), waiting to be considered. All were drafted by representatives of the ruling coalition.
The newest seeks to criminalize the spread of fake news, intentional or not.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian journalists are being reminded all the time how dangerous their profession is in this country — be it by the anniversaries of journalists’ murders or by physical attacks and regular harassment.
On March 20, three journalists from Nashi Groshi investigative project were attacked as they were filming in a forest north of Kyiv. They were illegally detained by private guards of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who has a mansion near the forest. The police didn’t intervene when the guards physically assaulted the journalists, according to them. The assault is one of the dozens if not hundreds of similar cases in recent years. The attacks have become almost routine, a fixture on the news feed.
Too many people in Ukrainian power circles are poisoned with the authoritarian legacy of the Soviet Union. They can’t grasp the idea that the press can be independent, writing freely about the most powerful people. They need to accept it, sooner rather than later: freedom of speech isn’t an exotic Western concept. It’s a universal human right.