Going Postal: Press Freedom Under Fire In Kiev.
Posted by democratist on April 16, 2011
April 16th 2011,
Democratist has got wind of an emerging scandal in Kiev, which may provide some additional clues as to the current state of the country’s business and media environments, as well Ukraine’s ongoing struggle with high-level corruption.
Staff at the English language Kyiv Post went on strike yesterday following owner Mohammad Zahoor’s decision to fire editor Brian Bonner over publication of a rather tense interview with agriculture Minister Mykola Prysyazhnyuk which centered on the question of allegations of corruption in relation to Ukraine’s multi-billion dollar grain export business, and the possible involvement of Party of the Regions (PoR) lawmaker Yuriy Ivanyushchenko with a company that has received some rather favourable treatment in this regard. The staff are calling for Bonner’s reinstatement.
According to a note on the Post’s Facebook page, the dispute began on Friday morning, when after the paper had been sent for printing, Zahoor called Bonner to say that the Post would be shut down if it published the interview. After considering this request, Bonner refused and said he would not participate in the censorship of the paper.
Prysyazhnyuk gave the interview on 11th April, but subsequently had cause to reconsider his position, and apparently asked Zahoor to block publication.
Media freedom in Ukraine has come under increased pressure since last February, when Viktor Yanukovich (who famously lost the repeated second round of elections in 2004 after the “Orange Revolution”) was elected to the presidency. Human Rights Watch states that 2010 also saw increased pressure and attacks on human rights activists and in other areas.
Zahoor is probably the richest foreigner in Ukraine, with a net worth estimated at anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion. He made his money in the Donetsk steel business over the last two decades, after having initially studied in Ukraine as a metallurgy student in the 1970’s.
He is now chairman and owner of the ISTIL Group which, after selling up in 2008, went on an asset-buying spree, including the purchase of various properties in Kiev, and the Post in 2009 for a reported $1.1 million.
Revealing, Mr. Zahoor has already had somewhat strained dealings with the Ukrainian political class; after having given a speech praising President Leonid Kravchuk during the 1994 presidential campaign, he apparently came under pressure for several years when Kravchuk’s rival, Leonid Kuchma, came to power.