Romanian Sports Newspaper Shuttered; Journalists Allege Interference

On Halloween night, Swiss publishing company Ringier Sports Media Group (RSMG) abruptly  shut down the print edition of Gazeta Sporturilor, a 99-year-old Romanian sports newspaper. There was no public statement; employees were stunned.

Newspapers RawpixelThe nearly century-old sports newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor closed when journalists declined to provide advance copies of their articles related to advertising clients, primarily from the gambling industry. (Photo: Rawpixel, License)Journalists at the newspaper, which is known for its investigative journalism, learned their jobs were gone through an email on Nov.1, the same day the news was posted on the web edition of Gazeta Sporturilor.

“A man from Ringier, Predrag Mihailovic and two lawyers came to the warehouse in Crângași [Bucharest, Romania]. We at the newspaper were shocked and didn't even understand what was going on," said one of the Gazeta Sporturilor employees.

The closure, which the company claimed was due to financial losses, comes in the wake of concerns raised by journalists regarding attempted interference in the newspaper's editorial content, particularly regarding the gambling industry.

The conflict had been brewing for months.

On July 31 and Aug. 8 of 2023, Cătălin Țepelin, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Sporturilor, was asked by top RSMG officials for advance copies of any articles concerning advertising clients, primarily from the gambling industry.

Țepelin refused and emphasized the importance of journalistic independence.

The Swiss publishers own both Gazeta Sporturilor and Libertatea, a daily print and online newspaper which covers news, sports and lifestyle issues. Cătălin Tolontan, the editorial coordinator of both Libertatea and Gazeta Sporturilor, confirmed Gazeta Sporturilor’s claims of pressure.

In August, the editorial departments of both publications requested a meeting with RSMG management in Zurich. However, RSMG only agreed to meet with Cătălin Țepelin and Cătălin Tolontan.

The two journalists submitted a petition, signed by 25 staffers from Gazeta Sporturilor and Libertatea, decrying the editorial interference.

MediaSind, the National Executive Office of the Romanian Union of Journalists, expressed concerns about RSMG's violation of national and European legislation — which oblige EU member states to protect media “from governmental, political, economic or private interference”— saying that it's not the first time that RSMG has interfered in editorial policy.

The International Federation of Journalists also joined in calling for media companies, including RSMG, to respect European laws regarding freedom of expression.

Furthermore, a letter from 19 journalism professors at the Faculty of Journalism of the University of Bucharest highlighted concerns about employer interference in editorial policy, specifically referencing Stilian Shishkov, responsible for “the strategic development of Ringier Sports Media globally”, who is also founder and CEO of the Sportal Media Group and a member of a betting industry association.

By October, the dispute had intensified. On Oct. 2, RSMG fired Cătălin Ţepelin, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Sporturilor, with Robin Lingg, chairman of the board of RSMG, announcing the decision.

In response, Gazeta Sporturilor and Libertatea issued a press release on the next day signed by 96 journalists opposing RSMG’s decision.

The Swiss publishers said Ţepelin’s departure was a “managerial and operational” decision and asked Dan Udrea, the deputy editor-in-chief, to take on the position of editor-in-chief. Udrea declined.

Additionally, Cătălin Tolontan, the editorial coordinator, was asked to leave his job at Gazeta Sporturilor in an email sent by RSMG to the newsroom on Nov. 1, the day the print edition was shut down. The publisher said Tolontan would now work only at Libertatea.

Gazeta Sporturilor, recognized also for its investigative journalism, gained international acclaim through its role in inspiring the award-winning documentary film "Collective".

The closure of the print edition marks the end of its nearly century-long uninterrupted existence, with the newspaper originally set to celebrate its centenary in 2024.