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29.08.2013

UNIAN: Alleged moves to punish and muffle outspoken editors

   

Four site editors who previously made public allegations of censorship by UNIAN management are being moved to a new department of the UNIAN information agency.  The editors consider this to be revenge for their earlier stand and an attempt to prevent them having impact on the site’s content.  UNIAN’s General Director denies any political or other motive and calls the move the company’s internal matters.

On Wednesday, 28 August five UNIAN employees informed that they were being moved to a new television monitoring department.

Lyubov Zhalovaha, Senior Site Editor, told Telekritika that in the morning access to their workplaces had been blocked, and they found that a password was now stopping them from accessing the administrator’s site.  They were taken into the conference room and told they were being moved.  They asked for time to speak with a lawyer but their request was rejected.  Management told them that they had to sign the order regarding the change and that if they needed to consult lawyers, they must do so by telephone without leaving the room.  Vadim Osadchy, UNIAN’s General Director was present, and other members of staff were brought in as official witnesses.

The order is about moving four site editors who in winter signed a statement accusing UNIAN of censorship: L. Zhalovaha; V. Romanenko; R. Romanyuk and O. Volynsky (see http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1360710281):. Of the six who signed that statement, one is on maternity leave, and one has left UNIAN.  The order also covers the head of the economics section Tetyana Maidanovych.

All five keep their job status and pay, and management claims that the move is part of staff restructuring.

Lyubov Zhalovaha says that after several hours of discussion with lawyers, they signed the order, but expressed a separate opinion.  They believe this to be an infringement of Item 2.16 of their collective contract since the grounds for such restructuring have not been met.

The five affected have prepared a statement which they will shortly be making public. They consider the move to be revenge for the censorship scandal and aimed at removing them from posts where they can influence the site content.  They point out that the pretext is unconvincing since UNIAN has had a monitoring department for over 10 years, yet now another one is being created which answers directly to the General Director.

The Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine agrees that this is a reprisal and speaks of flagrant infringements of specific articles of labour legislation.  It suggests that the ultimate aim is to create an agency serving one political party, and warns that the UNIAN management under Osadchy “is destroying the reputation of one of the oldest information agencies in the country.”   It lays the main responsibility for this on the head of the “1 + 1” Media Group, Oleksandr Tkachenko, and calls on its owner Ihor Kolomoisky to stop his subordinates’ arbitrary ways.

This is yet another blow to UNAN which until 2012 had a high reputation.  On11 February the UNIAN site posted faked statements from the opposition MPs Oleksandra Kuzhel and Serhiy Vlasenko.  The reports were first removed, then reinstated. 

The above-mentioned six editors issued a statement in which they said that they didn’t know who had commissioned the material, but believed that the management was concealing something from them.  They referred then to problems over censorship and pressure back in 2012.   

The editors appeared to have withstood another attempt to take on commissioned material and / or in other ways compromise the agency. A statement was issued on 4 March by the management; staff and main owner of the UNIAN information agency informing that they had agreed on steps to resolve recent problems.  It said that the members of staff were satisfied with the assurances they had received and the management had taken responsibility for the news which received considerable publicity in the media.

Since then, TVi has effectively been taken over with a large number of prominent journalists leaving in protest.  There have also been changes in ownership with important publications such as Forbes and Korrespondent.net being bought by the young oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko whom Forbes had carried out a journalist investigation into, and who is believed to have support from people in high places within the current regime.  There are increasing concerns that the Ukrainian media is being cleaned of critical voices in preparation for the presidential elections in 2015.

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