Several reporters from Lithuania’s 15min.lt news website have resigned in protest against alleged “interference" by the company’s director, who has recently announced a restructuring at the editorial office.
According to Dovydas Pancerovas, an investigative journalist who resigned from 15min.lt together with his colleague Birute Davidonyte, the company wanted to remove several editors including the chief editor, Raimundas Celencevičius.
Pancerovas claimed the move was aimed at “limiting the journalists’ independence” and “silencing the critics, which in recent times have been unhappy with the [director’s] work and [his] results”.
“It’s a given that in democratic countries the head of a media company cannot interfere in the work of the editorial staff,” he said in a comment on Facebook.
Meanwhile, 47 workers at 15min.lt have founded a trade union in protest against the planned restructuring.
Žilvinas Pekarskas, head of the new trade union, said it was established in response to "the company director's unwillingness to listen to employees' opinion on the planned radical changes to the structure of the editorial office".
“We are concerned there's a risk to the editorial office's independence, and we will also defend 15min's values," he said in a comment on Facebook.
The trade union now includes almost 40 percent of all employees at the company.
Members of the trade union also support journalists Dovydas Pancerovas and Birute Davidonyte who left the company in protest, Pekarskas said.
"Part of professional journalists have already expressed their position that they would also be forced to leave if ill-considered decisions were implemented," Pekarskas said. "We plan to take all legal measures to defend the press freedom and independence of journalists and other creative workers working for 15min.lt, including conversations with the company's board we have contacted already."
Ramūnas Šaučikovas, managing director of 15min.lt, hoped the trade union will foster dialogue and help implement changes.
"I view the trade union's establishment as a good thing as I believe that it will represent all the employees at the company and will help foster a constructive internal dialogue," Šaučikovas told BNS.
"Any modern media outlet is facing constant changes and a trade union can play an important role in their successful implementation. 15min.lt has the reputation of an independent media outlet. We respect workers' rights and take their opinion into account. We will continue to base our joint work with the trade union on these values," Šaučikovas said.
15min.lt is part of the Postimees Grupp media group whose sole shareholder is an Estonian investment company, UP Invest. Estonian businessman Margus Linnamae is the majority shareholder of UP Invest.
Dainius Radzevičius, head of Lithuania's Union of Journalists, welcomed the step to establish a trade union.
“ I’m very happy that the independent [15min.lt] trade union has taken a new step in the contemporary history of Lithuanian journalism.”
The trade union has “become a good example that professional solidarity is critical when aiming to ensure independent journalism and socially responsible activities in the editorial office,” he added.