Swiss media group Ringier has denied accusations of muzzling journalists at an independent Romanian newspaper it owns.
Staff at the “Evenimentul Zilei” complained last week that the publisher was interfering with editorial policy ahead of elections in November.
Journalists from the paper, which is one of Romania’s biggest-selling dailies, said they had been told to tone down criticism of the government.
“This pressure began at the same time as the election campaign kicked off,” they said.
Ringier, which bought the Evenimentul Zilei four months ago, has rejected the claims, insisting it has not tried to interfere with the newspaper’s editorial independence.
Ringier spokeswoman Myrta Bugini told swissinfo that management led by Michael Ringier had not given any orders to that effect.
She added that the group had only tried to optimise work processes at the Romanian daily.
“We have only proposed some basic measures that were agreed by the paper’s management,” said Bugini.
These measures include better planning of editorial output and streamlining the production process by making one person responsible for editorial content.
Journalists at the Evenimentul Zilei are not the only ones voicing concern about foreign interference.
Staff at another independent daily, the “Romania Libera”, said this week that their German owner – the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung” - had instructed them to cut political news and focus on lifestyle stories.
Peter Studer, president of the Swiss Press Council, told swissinfo he was surprised by the accusations levelled at both the Swiss and German publishers.
“This is surprising because both publishers have stated several times in a very official way that they will respect the political independence and editorial policies of these papers,” said Studer.
“We have to ask whether they really interfered in editorial matters… or whether they intervened because they thought that ethical or administrative standards were not at their highest level at these papers,” he added.
Shaky press freedom
The European Union, which Romania hopes to join in 2007, has been alarmed by the country’s failure to protect press freedom.
According to organisations defending journalists’ rights, such as Reporters Without Borders, this has increasingly diminished in recent years,
Bullying phone calls, threats and even violence against journalists are not uncommon, they say. There is no trade union to protect journalists’ interests.
Many media outlets in Romania rely heavily on government advertising to survive. Analysts say press critical of the authorities get little or none of this advertising.
They fear this could encourage some papers to shy away from stories that might offend the ruling ex-communist party.
swissinfo with agencies