Almost no one in Ukraine doubts that Russia is waging a propaganda war. The Russian actors Mikhail Porechenkov and Ivan Okhlobystin have become notorious [for supporting the separatists], and Ukrainians approve of the fact that their popular Russian TV serials were recently banned. But the idea that the government should oversee the information sphere was not universally welcomed. It had to be forced through parliament, with deputies called upon to vote on the composition of the cabinet as whole rather than individual ministers.
Journalist Mustafa Nayyem best described the circumstances surrounding the creation of the press ministry, saying: “We have not seen the details and we do not know what sort of monster we are creating”. Despite many abstentions, the law was passed.
The deputies had cause to be cautious. Under the terms of its creation, Stets’s ministry will receive wide powers to influence the media: officials will formulate and implement a “state information strategy” and take measures to protect citizens from “partial, ill-judged and unreliable information” and from manipulative technology. Its purview extends to registering media outlets and defining professional standards.
We do not know what sort of monster we are creating
But Stets will wield carrots as well as sticks. His department will coordinate “state aid for the media” and attract investment in order to create a “national information product”.
What exactly hides behind this vague formulation is a matter of guesswork but Ukrainian activists are already tipping the ministry for a corrupt future. They are far more worried, however, by the prospect that freedom of speech in Ukraine might be curtailed.
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