At least a part of the print run of the weekly news magazine Focus disappeared from newsstands across the country after publishing a number of critical articles related to President Viktor Yanukovych, Kyiv Post reported.
Readers complained that the magazine, which went to press on Friday, could not be found in Kyiv, Odesa and other cities because it was called back. Readers and journalists also said that electronic versions of stories about Yanukovych disappeared from the magazine's web site shortly after publication. Deliveries to subscribers seem to have gone unaffected, though.
The stories that may have caused the troubles were infographics illustrating three years of Yanukovych's presidency and included pictures showing dynamics in international rankings, prices of food, promises he kept, and so on – most of it was not flattering for the president.
One of the stories illustrated how much the Ukrainian president costs the taxpayers. The magazine discovered that more than Hr 1.2 billion ($150 million) is spent on Yanukovych annually and analyzed how the money could have been spent differently.
There are conflicting accounts of events at Focus coming out of the newsroom and the publishing house. Some journalists said that when stories went online on Friday, the site was blocked for an hour, and then stories disappeared. Several journalists, who spoke to the Kyiv Post on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the atmosphere in the newsroom is “tense” and some journalists are considering quitting their jobs in protest to what they interpreted as censorship.
But chief editor of Focus Yana Moyseyenkova says the stories in question never went online on Friday. “The stories on Yanukovych were queued to be uploaded today, on the third anniversary of his presidency on Feb. 25,” Moyseyenkova said. These stories did start reappearing on the site on the same day.
Moyseyenkova said she was not in charge of print distribution, but said magazines were available in some parts of Kyiv, in Dnipropetrovsk and Brovary, and that a PDF version of the magazine will eventually be posted on focus.ua for all to see.
Borys Lozhkin, president of UMH Group, the publisher of Focus, couldn’t be reached for comments over the phone. But his holding released a statement saying that about 20 percent of Focus print run of 32,000 was recalled due to technical problems.
But the journalistic community received the news of technical problems with a lot of skepticism. Mustafa Nayyem, a journalist of Ukrainska Pravda news website who was among the first to discover that Focus was missing from sale in Kyiv, said that if the chief editor's account of the events was to be believed, it is hard to explain how the stories in question appeared in Google's cached pages over the weekend. Nayyem posted their screen shots on his blog on Sunday.
Nayyem also said it was suspicious that the management failed to react to fears of censorship for a total of nine hours since the news about Focus came out.
This is not the first time that Focus magazine finds itself in similar circumstances. In 2009, the magazine ran a cartoon featuring the then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko having a sexual intercourse with the then Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk. The latter threatened with a lawsuit, and most of the print run was taken out of circulation.
Another Ukrainian magazine – Ukrainsky Tyzhden faced similar troubles in 2012 when it run a cartoon showing media owners Dmytro Firtash, Rinat Akhmetov, Petro Poroshenko and Lozhkin in a humiliating attempt to please the president by putting their media to his feet. Ukrainsky Tyzhden then alleged that all the copies were bought out from circulation at the request of Lozhkin’s UMH Group, an allegation he denied.