Axel Springer Removes Julian Reichelt After Times Report

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The German media giant Axel Springer said on Monday that Julian Reichelt, the editor of Bild, its powerful tabloid, had been removed from his duties after The New York Times reported on allegations that he had behaved inappropriately with women at the publication.

The Times reported on Sunday on details of Mr. Reichelt’s relationship with a trainee, who testified during an investigation sponsored by the company that he had summoned her to a hotel near the office for sex and asked her to keep a payment secret.

Mr. Reichelt had “not clearly separated private and professional matters, even after the compliance proceedings were concluded in spring 2021,” and had misled the company’s executive board on the subject, Axel Springer said in a statement. Mr. Reichelt has denied abusing his authority.

The company’s chairman and chief executive, Mathias Döpfner, praised Mr. Reichelt for his leadership but said retaining him had become impossible. He said his replacement, Johannes Boie, would combine “journalistic excellence with modern leadership.”

Mr. Reichelt was also removed from his duties at Bild TV, a television network introduced in August, said Deirdre Latour, a spokeswoman for Axel Springer.

Axel Springer — whose leading publications pride themselves on their ability to dig up exclusive news before others do — also said in its statement that it would take legal action against third parties who it claimed tried to illegally influence the company’s compliance investigation, “apparently with the aim of removing Julian Reichelt from office and damaging Bild and Axel Springer.”

Despite the apparent threat, Ms. Latour said that “they will not go after whistle-blowers or anybody who brings forward complaints.”

Bild is the flagship publication of Axel Springer, a titan of German media since after World War II. The company is now focusing much of its energy on the United States and digital publishing. In 2015, the company bought Business Insider (now called Insider) for $442 million. This summer, it announced that it had purchased Politico for $1 billion.

Mr. Reichelt took a leave of absence in March after Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, reported that Axel Springer was investigating complaints that he had relationships with female employees and accusations of abuse of power.

Twelve days later, he returned following an internal investigation, conducted with help from the Freshfields law firm, concluded that Mr. Reichelt had mixed his personal and professional lives but had not broken any laws. The investigation found no evidence of sexual harassment or coercion, Axel Springer said at the time.

Mr. Reichelt “made mistakes,” Mr. Döpfner said in a statement in March. “However, having assessed everything that was revealed as part of the investigation process, we consider a parting of the ways to be inappropriate.”

Mr. Reichelt was reinstated with a co-editor in chief, Alexandra Würzbach, the editor of Bild’s Sunday edition, who had taken over his duties in his absence.

In explaining its decision on Monday to suspend Mr. Reichelt, the publisher cited “revelations” about his behavior that had “come to light in recent days, following media reports.”

Pressure built in Germany after the Ippen media group, a competitor of Bild, decided on Friday to pull its own in-depth investigation into Mr. Reichelt. That revelation stirred outrage among reporters in Berlin, leading one to ask Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman at a news conference on Monday whether that decision had raised concerns in the German government that freedom of the press could be in danger. Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment.

Ippen said in a statement on Monday that it had decided not to publish its investigation to avoid the appearance that it wanted to harm a rival publisher.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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