NYT: Zelensky’s Government Crushes Press Freedoms in Ukraine

Reporters and press freedom monitors say the pressure, intimidation, and restrictions imposed on the media go well beyond the country’s wartime security needs

Journalists and media groups have come under intense pressure from the Kiev regime, including spying and other forms of persecution during Ukraine’s war with Russia, according to the New York Times. Reporters have been spied on and even presented with draft notices after exposing media restrictions imposed by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. In addition to Zelensky calling off elections and staying in power well past the end of his term, this is more evidence that Kiev is not the democratic bastion its Western military backers claim it is.

Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky nationalized the country’s media, among other authoritarian measures such as banning opposition parties. According to the NYT, Ukrainian journalists mostly went along with the wartime restrictive measures, that entailed prohibiting, among other things, the publication of locations where Russian missile strikes have taken place, accounts of military casualties, and reports on Ukrainian troop movements or positions.

Self-censorship has also become common, local reporters told NYT, as journalists have been “holding back on critical coverage of the government to avoid undermining morale or to prevent reports of corruption from dissuading foreign partners from approving aid.”

In addition to whitewashing the failures of Ukraine’s war, which it is fighting as a proxy for NATO, analysts say the pressure is “aimed at crimping positive coverage of the opposition and suppressing negative coverage of the government and the military.”

Journalists working for Ukrinform, an ostensibly non-partisan state news agency, were furnished with a list from their higher-ups late last year, telling them which local elected officials and opposition figures were “undesirable” and thus should not be quoted in articles. The NYT reviewed the instructions, reporting that it “blacklisted elected officials and civil society activists, including some military veterans.”

The paper went on to highlight several abuses of power under Zelensky’s rule, including the SBU – Kiev’s domestic spy service – surveilling the staff of an investigative news outlet through peepholes in their hotel rooms. “In January, it emerged that Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, the S.B.U., had secretly filmed reporters attending the holiday party of an investigative news site, Bihus, by drilling peepholes into coat racks in the hotel rooms where they were staying.”

Another example of media suppression occurred in the Chernihiv region, where a local city council was disputing municipal spending with a governor that Zelensky appointed. The state news agency guided its reporters to not quote a council member, the acting mayor, because he was deemed an “undesirable.”

Yuriy Stryhun, a regional Ukrinform reporter, revealed “the desirable speaker was appointed by Zelensky, the undesirable speaker was elected.” On May 30, 57-year-old Stryhun spoke about the restrictive guidance on Suspilne, a public broadcaster. The following day he was presented with a notice to renew his draft registration; Stryhun noted the “suspicious” timing.

“It is not democratic to dictate to media what to publish and whom to talk to,” said Maryna Synhaivska, former deputy director of Ukrinform. She resigned her post over the government meddling.

The NYT adds, “In the city of Odesa, reporters were instructed to cite only presidential appointees in some cases. In Lviv, reporters were told to avoid quoting the elected mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, a prominent politician seen as a possible future candidate for the presidency.”

After the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s previously “raucous and competitive television news landscape” was subsumed under a solitary state-controlled broadcaster known as Telemarathon. It eliminated opposition channels and now runs “such consistently upbeat reports even as fighting bogged down that a majority of Ukrainians now say they do not trust it,” the NYT report reads.

Detector Media, a Ukrainian media watchdog group, calculated that during the first four months of this year, Zelensky’s Servant of the People party comprised roughly 70% of the political guests on Telemarathon despite holding just over half the parliamentary seats.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.