Ukraine President Censors Domestic Press Amid War

( – Critics have accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of stifling press freedom in the war-torn country. Journalists and watchdog groups say Zelenskyy government officials are spying on reporters and exerting pressure on media outlets to influence the information Ukrainian civilians receive. Zelenskyy has reportedly condemned alleged spying, but journalists insist that government attempts to steer coverage are pervasive.

For instance, following the outbreak of war, Ukraine’s President initiated a “TV Marathon,” which brought the country’s most prominent media outlets together under a single umbrella. At that time, Zelenskyy described the media collaboration as a “weapon” that would “work for Ukraine and against Russia.” Critics, however, said the move was a power grab and that Marathon TV lacks journalistic independence.

While Zelenskyy considers the initiative a success, ratings suggest that the Ukrainian people are less enthusiastic. Last August, a survey found that only 37% watched the Marathon, down from the 57% that regularly watched TV news before the war.

Media expert Otar Dovzhenko said he believes Ukrainian citizens understand that Marathon TV is a propaganda outfit and resist it for that reason. “There arises an assumption that Zelensky’s team simply wants to maintain control,” Dovzhenko said.

Last year, a report by the US State Department also expressed concerns about Marathon TV and found that it “enabled an unprecedented level of control over primetime television news.” It also noted that the Zelenskyy government had “banned or blocked” several journalists and publications considered a threat to Ukrainian security, including those most critical of Mr. Zelenskyy and his government.

The State Department document furthermore claimed that reporters critical of Zelenskyy became targets of online smear campaigns, often spearheaded by Zelenskyy-friendly outlets. These tactics prompted widespread fear among Ukraine’s media class, who subsequently engaged in self-censorship to avoid a similar fate.

The Ukrainian government also tightly controls which reporters can visit front lines or combat zones and has created categories of “zones” from which many journalists are barred unless they have special government approval.

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