We are squarely in favor of free speech. But we also recognize that, in times of war, sometimes censorship is a matter of national security.
That is why we are in favor of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision this week to shut down three TV stations devoted to attacking Ukraine and broadcasting sinister, non-stop Kremlin propaganda.
We are mindful of the legitimate concerns about Zelensky’s rationale and that the “pro-Russian” or “anti-Ukrainian” label could be used against any news outlet in the future.
One of the most popular slurs in Ukraine against all opponents is to call them pro-Russian propagandists. We know from experience: The Kyiv Post, which is dedicated to bringing independent journalism to the nation we love and call home, has been smeared this way. Usually, the perverted rationale is this: By covering corruption, we are playing into the Kremlin’s narrative of Ukraine as a failed state. The opposite is true: We know that reducing corruption will strengthen the state.
Such accusations blossomed under ex-President Petro Poroshenko, who abused his role of a “patriot” so much that he equated himself with Ukraine to the point where criticizing Poroshenko was seen by some of his most ardent supporters as undermining the nation.
To be crystal clear, the Kremlin loathes the Kyiv Post. Its RT propaganda outlet once labeled this newspaper as “resolutely anti-Russian.” Russian hackers targeted our emails. And Russia’s oligarch friends in Ukraine have either sued us or tried to purchase us — all without success. Our editorial policy has been unwavering since our founding in 1995: We are committed to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, democracy, prosperity, human rights and Western integration.
But we also believe that Zelensky’s Feb. 2 decision is long overdue and will strengthen his popularity, here and abroad, for finally taking a tough stand. He needs, of course, to do more. But this is a start.
Zelensky and the National Security and Defense Council imposed sanctions against pro-Russian lawmaker Taras Kozak and his companies, including his three TV channels: Channel 112, NewsOne, and ZIK. Of course, the evidence suggests that the true owner is Ukrainian businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been sanctioned by the United States as an enemy of Ukraine. He has long been a cancer on Ukraine’s politics and leads the 44-member pro-Russian opposition faction in parliament.
Even though all Ukrainian TV channels are compromised by oligarch owners who use them as political tools, these three channels stand out even against this dismal backdrop. They are the main outlets for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. The channels broadcast lies, conspiracy theories and parrot the Kremlin line — all paid for with Russian money, according to Zelensky, at an estimated cost of $18 million a year.
With 14,000 dead, 1.5 million displaced and 7% of Ukraine under enemy occupation since 2014, it is intolerable that platforms spreading falsehoods were able to operate freely.
While the rationale of national security is sound in this case, the truth is that Medvedchuk, Kozak and many others of their political ilk would likely face criminal indictments in a nation with a functioning and competent legal system. Ukraine doesn’t have one and never has.
So Zelensky took the best remedy available to him for quick results. We wish he would have done it on his Inauguration Day in 2019. Our advice to the president: Don’t stop with this action.
While he’s emboldened, and with a sympathetic and supportive U.S. president in the White House, he needs to go after other enemies of the state, including oligarchs such as Ihor Kolomoisky, Dmitry Firtash and others who want to bleed the country dry.
After this bold stroke, we hope that this move represents an awakening by Zelensky, who still has multiple challenges facing his administration. In decisively taking this stand to protect Ukraine’s national security while aligning himself with democratic values, he’s going to find that his popularity will grow with each courageous but essential action.