Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.
This week, we have two detailed stories on the recent media shakeup in Ukraine and a roundup of other noteworthy media news.
Perhaps the most notable media news story in the CEE region came from Ukraine this week with the closure of Kyiv Post, the country’s leading English-language publication.
Over the past several decades, it has been a trusted source of news and a lodestar of independent journalism. However, on Monday the paper’s owner, construction tycoon Adnan Kivan, announced the outlet will close “for a short time,” saying he hopes to reopen it “bigger and better” in the future.
Kyiv Post’s editorial team then released a statement clarifying that all journalists were fired effective immediately. The journalists called the actions “an act of vengeance” by the owner and an attempt to “[get] rid of inconvenient, fair and honest journalists.”
The journalists say they asked the owner to “sell the paper or to hand over the Kyiv Post trademark to the newsroom” instead of closing, but he refused. They are now looking for investors to start a new outlet.
The closure appears to be a continuation of the conflict between the publisher and the editorial team, particularly over the plans to launch a Ukrainian-language outlet under the paper’s brand. Analysts also say the move might be the owner’s attempt to avoid angering the authorities – whom Kivan’s construction business depends on – over Kyiv Post’s coverage.
The closure has attracted multiple concerned comments from Kyiv Post readers, which include high-level foreign diplomats, expats, and business leaders. In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, the paper’s now-former chief editor Brian Bonner said he is “talking to deeply concerned ambassadors.”
As The Fix notes, the closure is “especially concerning given trends in the region” – “Ukraine has been a sort of oasis” compared with free press crackdowns in neighboring Russia, Belarus, Hungary, and Poland, but there are concerning trends.
This week, Ukraine saw another important media story as the country’s former president and media owner Petro Poroshenko sold two TV channels to comply with a newly-signed “anti-oligarch law.”
A few days earlier, Ukraine’s current president Volodymyr Zelensky signed a new law targeting the country’s wealthiest individuals known as “oligarchs.” As RFE/RL notes, the law provides “a definition for an oligarch based on several criteria including wealth in the tens of millions of dollars, monopolistic-like control of an industry, possession of media assets, and political activity.” Those meeting the definition will be subject to a number of limitations, including bans on financing political parties and on taking part in privatization of state assets.
Blasting the new law as an assault on free speech, Poroshenko said he was “forced” to sell two television stations he owns, 5 Kanal (Channel 5) and Pryamiy kanal. The outlets were sold to a newly-established media holding comprising the channels’ journalists and Poroshenko’s political allies, including MPs representing the party headed by the former president.
Ukraine’s “anti-oligarch law” has received mixed feedback from international observers. Ukraine’s civil society and the international community have long called on the government to put more checks on the power of the country’s wealthiest individuals. However, “critics argue that the criteria for determining who qualifies as an oligarch are either subjective or open to manipulation,” giving the president too much power, Atlantic Council’s David Clark writes.
Other noteworthy news media stories: