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Illinois governor allegedly tried to silence "Chicago Tribune" editorial staff

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is concerned by allegations that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich tried to pressure the "Chicago Tribune" newspaper. Blagojevich was arrested on 9 December 2008 along with his chief of staff, John Harris, for what US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described as "a political corruption crime spree."

According to the indictment, intercepted telephone calls show that Blagojevich and his staff used the Illinois Finance Authority's possible involvement in the sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team and stadium as leverage to have "Chicago Tribune" editorial board members fired. Both the baseball team and the newspaper are owned by the Tribune Company.

In a 6 November phone call, Harris told Blagojevich he had discussed the matter with a Tribune Company financial advisor and told the advisor: "Look like they could move ahead fine but, you know, there is a risk that all of this is going to get derailed by your own editorial page."

Five days later, Harris called Blagojevich to inform him that the same advisor had spoken to the owner of the "Chicago Tribune", who "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue" and that "certain corporate reorganisations and budget cuts are coming and, reading between the lines, he's going after that section."

In a statement released on 9 December, "Chicago Tribune" editor Gerould Kern said he was never contacted or pressured by management to change editorial coverage and that staff cuts had not affected the editorial page.

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