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President pressures "Bild" to kill story

(IPI/IFEX) - 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:

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.

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