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November 16, 2021

Owner who fired all journalists should sell Kyiv Post, RSF says

Credit: savethekyivpost.com
Influential Ukrainian journalists are worried about the future of free speech in their country after the real estate developer who owns the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s leading English-language newspaper, fired all of its staff. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned that pressure was put on the newspaper over reporting critical of the government and urges the owner to sell it in order to protect its independence.

It was when they were denied access to their workstations on the morning of 8 November that the Kyiv Post’s employees learned they had been fired. Their collective dismissal without prior warning, on the official pretext of “reorganising” the newspaper, shocked many Ukrainian journalists, who unveiled a new “Media Movement” to defend free speech in a video posted online this morning.


Three weeks before firing everyone, owner Adnan Kivan suddenly announced that he wanted to reorganise the paper and develop a version in three other languages, and he named an editor to head the new Ukrainian edition. The paper’s staff expressed their opposition, seeing his choice as a threat to their editorial independence.


Kivan also expressed annoyance with recent articles critical of the government, especially a front-page story about President Zelensky’s offshore accounts, which had been revealed by the Pandora Papers leak.


In response to the outcry about the mass dismissal, Kivan offered to rehire around 50 journalists, but under a new management. They refused on the grounds that it would be impossible for them to work in these conditions because of his attempts to interfere and his desire, they said, to “get rid of annoying journalists.”


“The sudden dismissal of all the staff was contrary to the undertaking Adnan Kivan gave, when acquiring the Kyiv Post in 2018, to protect its independence,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “If the suspicions of pressure from members of President Zelensky’s administration are confirmed, this would represent a very disturbing evolution in the state of press freedom in Ukraine. We urge the authorities to respect media independence and to support calls by the newspaper’s journalists for it to be sold or handed over to them.”


One of the dismissed journalists said prosecutor-general Irina Venediktova and ruling party parliamentarians had put pressure on Kyiv Post former editor Brian Bonner. Other journalists, including Sevgil Musayeva, the editor of the Ukrayinska Pravda news site, claimed that Kivan’s construction company recently failed to win a number of government contracts or pull off several real estate deals in a sign of political pressure. The president’s spokesman said in a Facebook post that he was “disagreeably surprised” by these allegations.


The president’s office tends to use excessive methods to combat disinformation. A method of imposing sanctions – with opaque criteria, no judicial control and violating Ukraine’s international obligations – was recently used to censor pro-Kremlin media.


Ukraine is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.