Clash in Romania as Media Freedom and Gambling Industry Interests Collide

On November 1, Gazeta Sporturilor (GSP), Romania’s leading sports publication and one of the oldest media brands in Europe, abruptly ceased print publication. The closure, which occurred without notice, has raised concerns among journalists and staff, as the publication has also undergone a change in leadership, with the editor-in-chief and editorial coordinator being dismissed. The closure is the result of “different visions on the business strategy and print losing money,” according to the company. However, the journalists have alleged “intrusions in the editorial independence and requests to show articles in advance.” This unexpected decision has been met with shock and dismay by staff and readers alike.

Ringier, the Swiss media group that owns GSP, has also announced the relocation of the GSP newsroom to new headquarters and the removal of Cătălin Tolontan, the editorial coordinator of GSP & Libertatea, from his oversight of GSP as part of a wider restructuring. The closure has left many feeling isolated and has been perceived as a slight to the 100-year-old newspaper.

Some believe the closure of the print edition is in retaliation for the publication’s investigative reporting, which has tackled sensitive issues such as corruption in Romanian hospitals and match-fixing in sports. This investigative work has garnered global recognition and praise for its journalistic integrity.

Tensions between the staff and management have been building for some time, with journalists accusing management of pressuring them to showcase articles related to gambling companies that were also advertising clients. There have also been allegations of interference in editorial content by representatives of Ringier Sport Management Group, who are said to have expressed concern over the separation of commercial and editorial content.

Ringier’s ties to the gambling industry have further drawn scrutiny. The shareholders of Gazeta Sporturilor include the Bulgarian company SMAK MEDIA EOOD, represented by Stilian Shishkov, a member of the Bulgarian Association of Gambling, a lobbying group for the gambling industry. Additionally, gambling advertising in Romania is largely unrestricted, with ads for betting and gambling allowed to run throughout the day on sports channels and during sporting events.

The sudden closure of GSP’s print edition has sparked concerns about editorial independence and the influence of commercial interests on journalism. As the future of GSP and Libertatea remains uncertain, many are closely watching to see how the publication navigates these challenges.