German reporters protest nixing of probe into tabloid editor

FILE – In this March 11, 2009 file photo, the headquarters of Axel Springer AG, the publisher of Germany’s biggest newspaper BILD, are pictured in Berlin, Germany. BILD chief editor Julian Reichelt faced scrutiny over his management style. (AP Photo/Franka Bruns, File)

LONDON (AP) — Journalists at one of Germany’s largest newspaper groups have protested their publisher’s decision to nix a lengthy investigation into alleged abuse of power by the chief editor of the country’s top-selling tabloid newspaper.

A letter circulated on social media late Sunday accused the Ippen media group and its publisher, Dirk Ippen, of “breach of trust” for deciding to halt the report, which had been months in the making. The letter was dated Friday and the report was due to be published Sunday.

The investigation focused on Julian Reichelt, chief editor of daily Bild, who has faced scrutiny over his management style that allegedly included bullying and abusing his position of power toward female staff.

Reichelt, one of the mightiest figures in German media, was briefly suspended from his post earlier this year but later reinstated, after Bild’s publishing company Axel Springer SE said his actions didn’t warrant dismissal.

In their letter, four leading members of Ippen’s investigations team said their planned report would have brought “new and exclusive” information to light and had been thoroughly fact checked and approved by lawyers.

“The fact that you nevertheless decided not to let us publish the story runs counter to all the rules of independent reporting,” the letter said.

Ippen media group defended its decision to stop the story from being published.

“As a media group that stands in direct competition to Bild, we must carefully ensure that we avoid the impression we might want to economically harm a competitor,” the company said in a statement, adding that doing so was “not an easy or quick decision.”

“In the end it’s the clear right of a publisher to set guidelines for his media,” said the company, which owns numerous newspapers in Germany and last year acquired Buzzfeed’s German brand.

It denied that there had been any pressure from Axel Springer executives over the matter and that communications with its rival publisher on the story had been limited to “the usual exchange of letters between lawyers on either side that occurs in such cases.”

The New York Times published a report Sunday containing further details of an internal probe by Axel Springer into Reichelt’s alleged affair with a trainee.

Axel Springer has successfully expanded its business in the United States in recent years. It owns online media company Insider and the business-oriented Morning Brew, and in August it announced a deal to buy the U.S.-based political news company Politico and the tech news site Protocol.

Axel Springer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

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