Type Size
 
Wednesday, 04 January 2012

German President Pressures Bild to Kill Story

Critics Condemn Voicemail Message Threatening ‘War’ Over Report 

By: Steven M. Ellis, Press Freedom Adviser for Europe and North America

German President Christian Wulff (L) and the head of the president's office, Lothar Hageboelling, leave a TV studio after an interview in Berlin on 4 January 2012. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her backing on Wednesday to Wulff, who has faced growing pressure to resign for trying to get Germany's top-selling newspaper to kill an embarrassing story on a home loan scandal. Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

VIENNA, 4 Jan. 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) on Wednesday criticised Germany’s president following revelations that he had pressured the country’s leading tabloid to kill a critical story about an unusual personal loan he received.

President Christian Wulff faced growing calls to step down after representatives from Bild magazine confirmed that he left Chief Editor Kai Diekmann a menacing voicemail message last month raising the prospect of “war” if the tabloid reported on the loan.

Wulff, whose post is largely ceremonial, is said to have later apologised to Diekmann. However, he also reportedly telephoned the magazine’s publisher, the Axel Springer company, in an attempt to prevent the story from being published.

Despite the warnings, Bild reported that Wulff, before becoming president in 2010, received a 500,000 euro loan from the wife of close friend Egon Geerkens, a German entrepreneur, at an interest rate below the usual bank rate. Wulff, who was prime minister of Lower Saxony at the time, has denied misleading state deputies about the loan.

IPI Executive Board Chairman Dr. Carl-Eugen Eberle, who also heads IPI’s German National Committee, yesterday issued a statement labelling Wulff’s actions unacceptable.

The full text of the IPI Germany statement, translated into English, appears below, followed by the text of the statement in German.

***********************************************************

Media Chiefs Placed under Unacceptable Pressure
International Press Institute (IPI) Criticises German President

The International Press Institute (IPI) in Vienna, a global network of publishers, editors and leading journalists, criticised the behaviour of President Wulff, who attempted to prevent a critical report from being published by making phone calls to the chief editor of Bild magazine, the chairperson of the board at the Axel Springer publishing company, as well as, reportedly, to publisher Friede Springer. Instead of offering his response to the investigation, as the publication had offered, the president attempted to put the chief editor under pressure by telephone in order to prevent the article from being published.

“Press freedom is in danger when those who hold high office attempt to wield influence over an editor-in-chief or publisher in order to suppress a critical article about themselves. Anyone who would seek to use the closeness of a personal contact to the editor-in-chief in order to steer the work of the newsroom endangers the impartiality and independence of journalists. Journalistic work requires distance from the actors in question. The president in particular should recognise and respect this,” Carl-Eugen Eberle, chairman of the IPI Board and head of the IPI German National Committee, said.

***********************************************************

Medienverantwortliche unzulässig unter Druck gesetzt
Internationales Presseinstitut IPI kritisiert Bundespräsidenten

Das Internationale Presseinstitut IPI in Wien, ein weltweites Netzwerk von Verlegern, führenden Journalisten und Medienschaffenden, kritisiert das Verhalten von Bundespräsident Wulff, der durch Anrufe beim Chefredakteur der „Bild“-Zeitung, beim Vorstandsvorsitzenden des Axel-Springer-Verlags und nach Zeitungsberichten auch bei der Verlegerin Friede Springer das Erscheinen eines kritischen Zeitungsberichts über die Finanzierung seines Privathauses zu verhindern suchte. Anstatt, wie von der Zeitung angeboten, zu den Recherchen Stellung zu nehmen, hatte der Bundespräsident den Chefredakteur telefonisch unter Druck zu setzen versucht, um das Erscheinen des Artikels zu verhindern.

„Die Pressefreiheit ist in Gefahr, wenn der Träger eines hohen Amtes gegenüber dem Chefredakteur oder der Verlagsspitze seinen Einfluss geltend zu machen versucht, um das Erscheinen eines kritischen Artikels zu seiner Person zu unterbinden. Wer die Nähe eines persönlichen Kontakts mit dem Chefredakteur nutzen möchte, um die Arbeit in den Redaktionen zu steuern, gefährdet die Unbefangenheit und Unabhängigkeit der Journalisten. Journalistische Arbeit erfordert Distanz zu den Akteuren, über die berichtet wird. Gerade der Bundespräsident sollte dies wissen und achten,“ äußerte sich Carl-Eugen Eberle, Chairman of the Board von IPI Wien und Vorsitzender des deutschen Komitees von IPI.

 
Newsletter
Sign up for our newsletter below