Reporters Without Borders is outraged to learn that Brian Bonner, the editor of the Ukrainian English-language newspaper, the Kyiv Post, was fired on 15 April for disregarding the owner’s instructions to kill an interview with the agriculture minister. The press freedom organization stresses that the owners of news media must never try to determine their editorial policies. This is essential in order to guarantee media independence.
Bonner’s removal comes at a bad time for the Ukrainian media, with the government increasingly opposed to criticism and now apparently using dismissal as its latest weapon for getting rid of outspoken journalists.
A respected journalist who had been editing the Kyiv Post for the past three years, Bonner was preparing to publish an interview with agriculture minister Mykola Prysiazhniuk about the lack of transparency in government grain export quotas on 15 April when he received call fromMohammed Zahour, a British businessman who heads Istil Group, the newspaper’s owner.
Zahour asked him to drop the interview and threatened to block the entire issue if he did not. Bonner refused and was fired the same day. He had received several warnings from Zahour’s representatives in recent months and had been accused of not giving President Viktor Yanukovych enough support.
The newspaper’s journalists have gone on strike, describing Bonner’s dismissal as meddling. In an open letter released today, they urged Zahour to reinstate Bonner and said firing was never the right solution to editorial differences. The Kyiv Post would be independent “no matter who runs the government” and “independent newspapers are both rare and important in this region, ” they added.
In a response posted on the newspaper’s website, Istil Group claimed that Bonner’s firing was not due to the publication of the interview with the agriculture minister but to differences of opinions. A Kyiv Post journalist told Reporters Without Borders that access to the newspaper’s computers and email service was blocked by the management today. This morning, the journalists could not acces their office.
Bonner’s firing came just five days after Serhiy Tyhy was dismissed as editor of Gazeta Po Pievski following various disputes with the newspapers owners. Its journalists had not been paid for three months and its publication had been blocked. According to Tyhy, one of the reasons given for his dismissal was a February article criticizing the president.
Media freedom has declined sharply in Ukraine since Yanukovych became president. It now ranks 131st out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.