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15.04.2011

Kyiv Post on strike: details

   

 

The Kyiv Post editorial staff is protesting interference in its tradition of independence journalism through owner Mohahammad Zahoor’s decision to fire chief editor Brian Bonner over publication of an interview with Agricultural Minister Mykola Prysyazhnyuk (vol. 16, issue 15, April 15, 2011, http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/102436/).

Hereinafter, the Kyiv Post editorial staff announces a strike, demanding to reinstate Brian Bonner as Chief Editor. We will continue writing and editing our articles, but will post no news or layout the paper for print.

At the moment, the editorial staff has no access to the website.

Background, as the editorial staff knows it

On early April 15, after the newspaper had been sent to the printer, Zahoor called Bonner to say that the Kyiv Post will be liquidated if the newspaper published the interview conducted on April 11.

Zahoor asked Bonner to stop publication of the article online and in print in an hour-long telephone discussion that ended about 1:30 a.m. After considering the request, Bonner refused and notified Zahoor by SMS and email by 2:50 a.m. on April 15 that he would not participate in censorship of the Kyiv Post. He received no reply by morning.

Prysyazhnyuk granted an hour-long interview to two Kyiv Post journalists on April 11 but, according to Zahoor, immediately reconsidered and asked the Kyiv Post owner not to allow it to be published in the newspaper.

In discussions with Zahoor before the newspaper was published on the night of April 14, Zahoor discussed the article but never demanded that it should be withdrawn from publication.

Several telephone discussions took place, however, throughout the week between Zahoor and Bonner on the sensitivity of the article and its potentially harmful implications for the Kyiv Post and Zahoor’s company. Zahoor described Prysyazhnyuk as a “good friend”. Bonner assured Zahoor the article would be an accurate account of the interview conducted with the minister and the published article met those high standards.

At 11:35 p.m.on April 14, Zahoor emailed Bonner asking to see the article if it is in printing already. Bonner e-mailed the article. About 1 a.m., Zahoor telephoned Bonner and said that the article had been translated into Russian and sent to the minister, who, Zahoor said, reacted negatively. After much discussion, Zahoor then said the Kyiv Post would be liquidated by morning if the article was published in print or online.

Position of the editorial staff

Every newspaper owner has the right to define editorial policy and select the editor of his or her own choice, and everyone is certainly replaceable.

But the firing of Bonner, who has held the position for nearly three years, destroys the newspaper’s history of independent journalism, one of the founding principles of the organization in 1995.

This tradition of non-interference with what journalists write is something that Zahoor publicly pledged to uphold when he bought the newspaper nearly two years ago.

But the Kyiv Post staff is united by something more valuable: seeking a brighter future for Ukraine, one that includes respect for independent journalism, the cornerstone of any democratic society.

The action was preceded by warnings to Bonner dating back to June, from Zahoor’s representatives in the ISTIL Group, to tone down the news coverage of the Kyiv Post and to adopt a more supportive stance of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration.

At the same time, however, ISTIL Group representatives including Zahoor have repeatedly praised the high-quality journalism of the Kyiv Post editorial team. They have also told Bonner that they agree with much of what is published in the newspaper – news and opinions. But they have said that such independent journalism potentially threatens the company’s other investments in real estate, media and other areas.

Numerous internal debates over these issues have taken place since June, with periodic attempts made to undermine editorial independence.

Zahoor even quashed preliminary talks by his subordinates last year to sell the newspaper to a high-ranking member of the Yanukovych administration. The talks were opened because of fears that independent journalism would prove to be a liability for ISTIL Group.

The issue is not about one newspaper, one chief editor, one article or any single person.

The Kyiv Post editorial team, as all independent journalists, has simply tried to do the best job possible of reporting and analyzing Ukraine’s news since its launch in 1995. All of us regret the circumstances that threaten the great tradition of journalistic excellence and independence/

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