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Stop Censorship! denounces shameful situation related to censorship in Forbes Ukraine

Media Law Intitute supports the Statement of the “Stop Censorship!” movement


The movement «Stop Censorship!» denounces the shameful situation related to censorship and intervening into the editorial policy in the /Forbes//- //Ukraine/ editorial office, which caused resignation of our colleagues, the journalists of this media outlet. We encourage the owners of Forbes Media LLC to realize their responsibility and to intervene into the situation, guaranteeing preservation of the editorial policy of both the magazine and the websiteaccording to the conditions of the license agreement and the general freedom of speech principles.

After finalizing the purchase agreement for the media holding by UMH group of ВЕТЕК companies, the new management changed the editorial policy. For example, according to the new rules the journalists were forbidden to write on the topics related to the party in power and to high officials. In particular, the journalists were not allowed to prepare and publish the materials pertaining to the current and the previous rhetoric of the Party of Regions concerning integration into Europe, concerning the advisors to the Vice Prime Minister Arbuzov, etc. Also the overall amount of political materials published was
considerably reduced (from two per day to two per week).

In addition, the journalists started to receive threats of lawsuits for compensation of moral damage for the articles published in the past, and other sanctions, if they would publicly criticize the magazine’s management or the owners of the holding. The website journalists received a proposal to resign “based on mutual consent of the parties”, only because, allegedly, “we will not be able to work together with you, anyway.”

This situation shows that the main goal of purchase of the media holding was to establish a strict control over the editorial policy of the outlet, which previously criticized its new owners;in particular, last year it published a journalist investigation about Serhiy Kurchenko. The black list of forbidden topics published by the /Forbes//-//Ukraine/ex-journalists shows that Ukrainian authorities are afraid of being criticized, and the new management of the media holding UMH will attempt to remove any criticism from the mass media it controls.

The members of the movement “Stop Censorship!” urge the /Forbes Media /management to respond immediately to the situation with the censorship and the journalists being fired, which caused an immense damage to the reputation of the Ukrainian /Forbes/, and can harm reputation of the well-known international brand. We urge to undertake serious measures to remind the Ukrainian issuer about the principles of editorial independence, importance of compliance with the license agreement and respect to the freedom of speech. Members of the movement deem the situation where the materials published under the well-known international brand are being censored in the interests of a certain circle of people, inadmissible.

The movement “Stop Censorship!” also demands from the new owner of the media holding UMH, Serhiy Kurchenko, to publish his position in regard to the situation where the journalists of the media he just acquired are being fired, or forced to resign. In particular, on November 18 it became known that there was a number of journalists who were fired by this media holding– this time, from the magazine and website /Korrespondent/.

The movement“Stop Censorship!” addresses the international organizations’ branches and the embassies in Ukraine, and suggests that they pay special attention to the wide-scale layoffs of the journalists due to implementation of censorship. As of November 17,2013, due to censorship and pressure, journalists of four well-known media outlets were rendered unable to do their jobs:31 journalist from the channel /TVi/, 6editors from the /UNIAN /website and its correspondent in Brussels, three journalists of /Obkom/, and 14 journalists of the Ukrainian edition of /Forbes/. Also, on November 18 we learned about the new mass layoff of journalists from the holding UMH — in particular, Vitaliy Sych was dismissed from the position of the editor-in-chief of one of the most popular Ukrainian mass outlets, the magazine/Korrespondent/, as well as a number of its leading journalists.

All this shows that the situation with the freedom of speech in Ukraine continues to decay in 2013, regardless of the fact that the representatives of authorities several times declared their adherence to European fundamental values in general, and to freedom of speech in particular.

***

Pressure on the journalists of the Ukrainian /Forbes/started in November of 2013, after the agreement on purchase of the media holding UMH, to which the media outlet in question is a subsidiary, by the group of companies BETEK was finalized. On November 12, the journalists were forbidden to write on certain topics, in particular, about the current government. On the same day, the management of the holding proposed to resign”upon mutual consent of the parties” to all 6 employees of the /Forbes /website. Instead, the journalists of the printed version were told that two claims were being filed against the media outlet, and the magazine would take efforts to turn these claims into actions of recourse, meaning if the claims were satisfied in the court, the journal would then in its turn sue the journalists and demand compensation from them. The holding management did not publish any details about the claims, yet the journalists were sent a message that the claims were but an excuse and they could be easily arranged. After this, the journalists understood that their normal work in /Forbes/ is over, and they could get punished based on claims of any company, or just laid off. As a result, 14 /Forbes/journalists decided to resign.

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