As a result, an internal investigation has been launched by Segodnya daily’s management, and both top managers accused of censorship have been suspended from their duties until Dec. 23, when the investigation is expected to be completed.

Billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, the paper’s owner, told Interfax news agency on Dec. 15 that he hoped the paper “becomes even stronger” after the conflict is settled, and that he respects that the editorial staff has its own position and is not afraid to voice it.

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The journalists of Segodnya, a Russian-language paper with a daily circulation of 100,000 copies, threatened to go on strike more than a week ago over the threat that its controversial chief editor Ihor Guzhva would be sacked.

Guzhva was effectively sidelined by Olena Hromnytska, a former spokesperson for President Leonid Kuchma, and a no less controversial figure who was appointed to head the media group earlier this year.

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The journalists said she attempted to censor certain types of stories, and dictated to journalists how certain politicians and public figures should be covered.

“A tense situation emerged in Segodnya Multimedia company over last several months,” said the journalists’ statement published on the paper’s website on Dec. 9. “Olena Hromnytska is trying to implement corruption schemes for publishing paid articles […] and also to introduce censorship in the newspaper.”

In particular, the statement said she ordered some stories removed from the website about Odesa Mayor Oleksiy Kostusev and presidential adviser Hanna Herman. She also mandated favorable coverage of certain politicians and public figures, the journalists say.

Hromnytska has refrained from public comment on the erupting conflict. But she had in early December sent a note to Systems Capital Management holding, the mother company of Segodnya Multimedia, accusing Guzhva of using unreliable sources and unchecked facts, censoring reporters’ stories and making non-transparent editorial decisions. Former journalists of Segodnya newspaper confirmed her accusations in their blogs.

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Guzhva denied these accusations, and called on Ukrainian media to start a new anti-censorship organization. In the meantime, the existing Stop Censorship movement expressed concerns over the problems in Segodnya, while six parliament members petitioned the Rada’s media committee to conduct a hearing on the conflict.

Natalya Ligacheva, chief editor of Telektirika media watchdog, said that despite mutual mudslinging, the conflict is primarily over labor issues. Segodnya has a tradition of dismissing key journalists along with the chief editor, and many of the reporters speaking out for Guzhva were worried about their jobs after his sacking.

“Initially people started the fight to keep their jobs,” Ligacheva said. “There is nothing bad in this but one has to clearly understand the priorities of these people.”
She welcomed the fact that many facts of censorship emerged as a side effect during Segodnya’s airing of its dirty laundry.

The threat of the chief editor’s dismissal is traced to an April report in the usually tame newspaper about President Viktor Yanukovych’s luxurious, multimillion-dollar estate in Mezhyhirya outside Kyiv. Journalists hired a helicopter and took a series of aerial photos of the vast residence, complete with a sports center and a yacht club.

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The sensational report was one of the first of its kind, and its popularity was matched by the anger coming from the president, according to one source in the paper, who spoke to national Stop Censorship movement on the condition of anonymity.

“A strong tension apparently arose between shareholders and President Viktor [Yanukovych], and for the first time the editor was told that the issue is very serious, and [his] dismissal is possible,” the source said.

Nevertheless, after this report, Guzhva was one of the six loyal journalists the president chose in June for a guided tour of what he presented as his Mezhyhirya residence.

By that time, however, Segodnya got its own visiting censor, a source in the newspaper told Stop Censorship. The source pointed to Mykhailo Batih, a former director of UNIAN news agency, but Batih denied the accusations.

Viktoria Siumar, director of the Institute of Mass Information, said such censors are common these days. She said there is a similar censor at the Glavred Media holding of Ihor Kolomoisky, another government-friendly oligarch. But the press service of 1+1 TV channel that belongs to Kolomoisky denied Suimar’s accusations.

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“It is hard to confirm that it is a censor, not an adviser,” Siumar said. “But if journalists say so, there is something in it because there is no smoke without fire.”
Siumar said the current situation in Ukraine’s media is not unlike that of former President Leonid Kuchma’s era. The media then received “temnyky,” or theme lists from the president’s administration, instructing newsrooms if and how they should cover certain events.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna can be reached at [email protected].

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