After disclosing alleged mistreatment of disabled people by the state’s health department, a journalist from West Virginia was sacked last month.
In the weeks before she was fired from her part-time position at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Amelia Ferrell Knisely claimed that she had received a warning to stop investigating claims that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources was withholding information about the treatment of disabled people in state care.
“I was let go from my job at WVPB last week following threats from DHHR about my reporting on DHHR’s treatment of people with disabilities,” she posted on her Twitter.
A month ago, Knisely reported that a disability rights organization had accused the government of improperly institutionalizing disabled people. The group claimed that by permitting patients to remain in institutions needlessly, the state was engaging in patient dumping or warehousing.
Additionally, she covered a letter that Republican Senate President Craig Blair wrote to Governor Jim Justice requesting an official investigation into the accusations.
The sacked reporter claimed that officials at the health department had threatened to tarnish WVPB, a radio and television network that is supported by tax dollars.
Knisely was reportedly fired in its place.
“It is crucial for the press to hold government agencies accountable. It must be emphasized that these events followed my reporting on the mistreatment of people with disabilities, who are in state care.”
She stated that Butch Antolini, the executive director of the WVPB and the former director of communications for Justice, gave the order. After Justice reorganized the agency’s governing board, his predecessor was fired, and Antolini took over in 2021. Justice had a history of attempting to cut the $4 million in yearly state financing for WVPB.
Knisely has not received a response from Antolini, but other authorities have rejected any attempts to sway media coverage.
Knisely was not fired, according to William H. File III, the chairman of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, and is still on the station’s payroll. Antolini “was not coerced or pressured by anyone,” he added.
Knisely asserts that the state requested a “complete retraction” from her on a report she submitted in November, just one month after joining WVPB.