The International Federation of Journalists today expressed alarm over evidence from two Romanian newspapers of multinational media owners interfering in the editorial policies of their subsidiaries. “When outside political interests start pulling editorial strings it can have devastating consequences on quality and media pluralism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
Journalists at the Romania Libera claim that the Westdeutsche Algemeine Zeitung, WAZ Group, based in Essen, Germany, have pressured them to change their editorial content in recent months. They accuse WAZ of attempting to reduce the quality by cutting the coverage of political issues and space for editorial comment, as well as giving daily instructions on who not to criticise.
Meanwhile, journalists at the Evenimentul Zilei have accused their owners, the Swiss based group Ringier, of meddling that endangers the independence of the paper. They also claim that they are under pressure to soften the newspaper’s critical tone in order to increase circulation.
Both sets of journalists state that this breaches agreements reached at the time of the initial financial investments that neither the WAZ Group nor Ringier would interfere in the editorial policy, but concern themselves solely with marketing issues.
“The IFJ has been consistently warning that excessive media concentration and foreign ownership in Europe was damaging pluralism,” said White. “The situation in Central and Eastern Europe is particularly acute where foreign publishing groups dominate ownership. Until recently criticisms have been deflected by claims that the companies did not interfere in editorial policy. These protests have exposed that fantasy.”
The IFJ is particularly worried because the disputes appear to be less about the angle of editorial policy than the very existence of a critical editorial that scrutinises those in power. “This is no longer a debate about publishers and journalists jockeying for the right to set the editorial line. Instead it is about the deliberate sacrificing of journalistic standards to maximise revenue,” added White.
In Romania the WAZ Group only own one paper, but in neighbouring Bulgaria they control the majority of papers in circulation and in Macedonia they run a virtual monopoly.
The IFJ is backing journalists in their protests. “This puts them at great risk in a country where labour rights are poorly respected and unions struggle to organise”, said the IFJ. The support of the newly formed media trade union, Media Sind, and the IFJ affiliate the Romanian Journalists Society to these protests has also been welcomed.
The IFJ is urging the German and Swiss Journalists’ Unions to investigate the issue and raise the matter with the management of WAZ and Ringier.
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.
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