July 4, 2019

Journalists resign en masse after Ukrainian media group’s takeover

The editorial independence of Ukraine’s news media needs urgent protection, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned today, after more than 400 journalists resigned from the TV channel ZIK and its sister news agency because the opposition parliamentarian who acquired them has radically changed their editorial policies.

No fewer than 90 journalists and executives abandoned ZIK TV and the ZIK news agency within days of their acquisition by “Opposition Bloc” politician Taras Kozak on 14 June. Altogether, 420 employees have said they plan to leave, in an exodus that is without precedent in the history of the Ukrainian media.

They are leaving because Kozak is allied with pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, because ZIK is being combined with two other TV channels, 112 and NewsOne, within a single holding company, and because the new owner has imposed new editorial policies and red lines.

Programmes that often criticized Medvedchuk have been suppressed, while members or allies of Kozak’s party have become regular commentators or even programme presenters. Several sources have told Detector Media, an organization that analyses the media, that the new editor in chief has circulated a list of people banned from appearing on the channel.

The editorial policies of the leading Ukrainian media tend to serve the interests of their owners, who use them to shore up their political and business influence. The Media Ownership Monitor study of the Ukrainian media – carried out jointly by RSF and the Ukrainian Institute for Mass Information (IMI) – confirmed the high degree of media ownership concentration and lack of transparency. It also revealed that most national TV channels are linked to leading political figures.

“The crisis within the ZIK group is yet another example of owners meddling in the editorial policies of the Ukrainian media,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is high time to stop oligarchs dominating the media outlets they own and to protect the editorial independence of their staff. We urge the new parliament to do everything possible to achieve this as soon as possible.”

The new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has convened early parliamentary elections for 21 July. Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.