The editor of Germany’s biggest tabloid has been relieved of his duties as its publisher faced allegations that it tried to cover up the full findings of an investigation into sexual misconduct and bullying within its own offices.
Media giant Axel Springer SE, the largest media publishing firm in Europe, recently expanded its global portfolio by acquiring the US political news website Politico for more than $1bn, inviting closer scrutiny of its workplace culture on the other side of the Atlantic.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Julian Reichelt, the editor of Bild, Axel Springer’s flagship tabloid and Europe’s biggest-selling newspaper, promoted a female junior employee to a high-level newsroom job while having an affair with her.
Axel Springer announced on Monday night that Reichelt had been relieved of his duties with immediate effect. The company said in a statement that after recent revelations, further information regarding the editor’s behaviour had come to light.
“The board has learned that even after the end of the compliance procedure in spring 2021, Julian Reichelt continued not clearly separate private and professional affairs and had told the board untruths about this.”
Reichelt temporarily stepped aside in March this year over “alleged compliance violations”, but was reinstalled to a powerful position after less than two weeks. “Based on what they learned during their investigation,” Axel Springer SE’s executive board said at the time, “Julian Reichelt will continue his work.”
Reichelt said in statement released by the company on his return: “What I blame myself for more than anything else is that I have hurt people I was in charge of.”
A testimony that the female worker gave to investigators hired by the company to look into allegations of sexual misconduct said a then 36-year-old Reichelt told the 25-year-old employee in November 2016: “If they find out that I’m having an affair with a trainee, I’ll lose my job.”
The full extent of the investigation’s findings had not been made public until now.
In recent months, Reichelt has again featured prominently in Bild’s printed newspaper, its website and TV news channel, for example as the host of town hall-style gatherings in western German regions devastated by this summer’s flash floods.
Further details from Axel Springer’s compliance report were due to be published on Sunday by a team of investigative reporters working for Ippen Digital, a large German conglomerate of regional news websites.
In a letter also published on Sunday, however, the journalists claim that their month-long investigation into abuses of power in Bild’s offices were halted at the last minute even though “no legal or editorial reasons were given”.
An Ippen spokesperson told the New York Times it had vetoed the investigation “to avoid the appearance of combining a journalistic publication with the economic interest of harming the competitor”. In Munich and the surrounding area of Upper Bavaria, Ippen Digital publishes tz, a tabloid that could be seen as a direct competitor to Bild, though its circulation is considerably smaller.
In a statement in response to the allegations, Axel Springer said: “Axel Springer is dedicated to the highest degree of transparency possible and principally does not have a problem with critical debate. But such coverage has to reach a limit where it concerns the private and confidential sphere of employees as well as – in this particular case – witnesses, who were assured of strict anonymity as part of the compliance procedure that was concluded in the spring.
“As far as Axel Springer is aware, there was no attempt to prevent publications linked to the compliance investigation.”