Photo: Oleksiy Sorokin / FB
Controversy rages over why Adnan Kivan, the owner of Ukraine’s largest English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, decided to suddenly suspend its work and fire its journalists. Its former deputy chief editor Olga Rudenko told Euromaidan Press that Kivan had received “signals of dissatisfaction” from the government, confirming rumors that pressure from the President’s Administration could have been a reason for the abrupt silencing of an important international voice of Ukraine.
“I know that the owner was periodically given signals of dissatisfaction from government officials and law enforcement agencies. These signals did not change our editorial policy. I do not know to what extent these signals were the reason for his decision. I’m sure it played a role,” Rudenko, who served as deputy chief editor of the publication until October 2021 and is currently studying at the University of Chicago, said.
Kyiv Post journalists arriving at their office on 8 November suddenly found out that they were fired and the publication is shut down “for a short time.” Its owner Adnan Kivan, an Odesa developer of Syrian origin, announced that the publication was taking a pause in order to be relaunched in four language versions — English, Ukrainian, Russian, and Syrian. However, a statement being circulated by Kyiv Post journalists says that the abrupt closure is an “act of vengeance” for the newspaper’s independent position and that Mr. Kivan attempted to impose a manager who the team believed could endanger the newspaper’s editorial independence.
Kyiv Post shuts down; staff says this is the owner’s act of vengeance
Ms. Rudenko told that the “signals” from state authorities were not new for the Kyiv Post — they started earlier.
“Kivan talked to Brian [Bonner, the editor-in-chief] about them. We heard about some of them. But Brian made sure that it all ended there. Most of the newsroom hadn’t even heard of them and didn’t feel anything. They were protected.”
Did only Mr. Kivan receive these “signals,” or were they sent to the previous owner Mohammad Zahoor, who sold the newspaper to Kivan in 2018, as well?
“I am sure that he received signals, too. But the previous owner had almost no active business, so he was more secure,” Ms. Rudenko said.
Adnan Kivan, whom Forbes ranked as 42 out of the top-100 richest Ukrainians, owns a network of business and trade centers in Odesa, as well as residential quarters built by his development company Kadorr Group. He is the largest developer in Odesa.
Another Kyiv Post editor Toma Istomina told Detektor Media that Mr. Kivan attempted to wind down the newspaper’s criticism of the government because of repercussions from the authorities:
“The last time he was in the Kyiv Post office (he was rarely here overall), he complained that we write, and he gets the shots.”
However, Ms. Istomina said this did not influence the texts of the outlet. In addition, Kivan was dissatisfied with the media figures, which is why he got the idea of expanding the Kyiv Post. Adnan Kivan wanted the expansion to happen under the management of Olena Rotari, the former chief editor of the Odesa 7th Channel TV, which also belongs to Mr. Kivan. But the journalists objected to her being appointed bypassing the editor’s office.
“We understood that she was Kivan’s journalist. And there is no editorial independence on his 7th Channel. Therefore, she cannot be a journalist who meets our standards. Brian [Bonner] said that she can be hired if she goes through the standard process: an interview, maybe additional tasks. He made it clear that it would not be taken just like that, because this is not how an independent publication works. And after that, a rift formed,” Tamara Istomina told.
According to the editor, the Kyiv Post team started working on Kivan’s idea of enlargement, but after yet another trip of chief editor Bonner to Odesa and another statement that the editorial office will not accept appointments from above, Kivan let him know that “Kyiv Post is over.”
Commenting to Detektor Media, Adnan Kivan said that the President’s Office did not pressure either the publication or him personally in order to change the editorial policy. Serhiy Nikiforov, President Zelenskyy’s spokesperson, also denied any pressure from the President’s Office, commenting Monday that the closure of Kyiv Post was as much “a surprise to the President’s Office” as to the rest of Ukrainians.
Mr. Bonner, who has expressed a desire to retire after closing down the operations of the newspaper, also claimed in an interview with RFE/RL that Kivan denied any pressure from the President’s Office in conversations with him.
“He told me there was no pressure. As an independent newspaper, we often write things that people in power complain about, … that’s what happens. But, as far as I know, it was possible to cope with everything. This is a normal part of being an independent publication — someone will definitely not like you,” he said.
Asked whether the newsroom itself was under pressure from the authorities, Bonner said: “You are not doing your job unless you get a few complaints.” He expressed his hope that Mr. Kivan would renew the newspaper soon as “stronger, more independent, everything that it was before, yet better. If not, if he decides not to do so, I hope he will sell it to a worthy owner who will be able to preserve the best traditions of editorial independence.”
The abrupt closure of Kyiv Post caused the “surprise” of the UK’s ambassador fo Ukraine Melinda Simmons:
Surprised by the sudden decision to close KyivPost, which has been an example of independent journalism for 25 years and has played an important role in supporting reform and democracy in Ukraine. Not a good day for free media. I hope it will be back soon #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/Kb8tsdKLVA
— Melinda Simmons (@MelSimmonsFCDO) November 9, 2021
The US embassy to Ukraine wrote on twitter that the closure of Kyiv Post was a “sad day for Ukrainian media”:
Yesterday was a sad day for Ukrainian media. For 26 years, the Kyiv Post has been one Ukraine's most important independent media voices in any language and an indefatigable standard bearer of journalistic standards. (1/2)
— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) November 9, 2021
As well, reactions followed from the EU’s Ambassador to Ukraine Matti Maasikas and Swedish ambassador Tobias Thyberg:
Sad to hear about closing down @KyivPost. It was the first English-speaking source for most foreigners – something Ukraine now risks losing, with consequences. pic.twitter.com/AlB7jogUjG
— Matti Maasikas (@MattiMaasikas) November 9, 2021
The @KyivPost has been shut down. It has been one of the world’s strongest sources of news & analysis on #Ukraine. Free & independent media in Ukraine needs defence on multiple fronts. A sad day. pic.twitter.com/3VJ48HyFe0
— Tobias Thyberg (@TobiasThyberg) November 9, 2021
PEN Ukraine issued a statement in support of the demands of the Kyiv Post staff — to restore the operation of the independent editorial office of the Kyiv Post in its entirety, or sell the Kyiv Post, or hand over the Kyiv Post trademark to the newsroom.
Tags: Media freedom, Ukrainian media