European Values (II)

BERLIN/WARSAW (Own report) – Whereas Berlin is attacking the Polish government because of its media law; massive criticism is being raised against the German public broadcasting. While German politicians are calling for sanctions to be imposed on Poland, because it is placing its public media under government supervision, a right-wing conservative former CDU minister has become Chair of an influential panel of Germany’s ARD public television channel. Observers note that, even after the Federal Constitutional Court’s intervention, state officials or individuals with close government ties exercise significant influence on the public broadcasting steering committees. Due to their structural relationship to the state, on the one hand, and the programs’ political orientation toward government policy, on the other, one could speak of “embedded journalism” in Germany, a former correspondent of the ZDF public television concluded a few years ago. The journalist went to work for the Swiss Television, because it does not have “a NATO state’s obligatory alignment.” The German public television’s foreign news reporting is even increasingly being accused of using falsifications.

Intervening during Broadcasts

At the beginning of this year, some German commentators warned German politicians not to be too aggressive with Poland. “Particularly Germans should refrain from assuming the role of tutor on the issue of freedom of the press in the public arena.”[1] Particular reference has been made to a scandal in 2009, when CDU/CSU politicians on the ZDF administrative board had prevented – even against the wishes of the ZDF intendant and other ZDF bodies – the presiding Editor-in-Chief Nikolaus Brender’s contract be prolonged with ZDF. Brender later reported that, at the beginning of his mandate, it had been quite “normal” for politicians, “ministers or their spokespersons, to directly tamper with programming,” even intervening “while a broadcast was on the air.” That Brender had allowed questions to be raised during broadcasts about the US government’s allegations of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, had also lowered his standing.[2] The Federal Constitutional Court ultimately had to intervene, because of the hefty dispute at ZDF. On March 25, 2014, it ruled that the ZDF Inter-State Agreement was unconstitutional, because it includes “regulations, permitting state officials or individuals with close government ties to unilaterally enact or thwart decisions” on ZDF panels. This is “inconsistent with the imperative” that public broadcasting is “independent of the government.”[3]

Ex-Ministers in High Positions

Massive criticism of the “persisting intimate relations” between the boards “of ARD and ZDF and the political level” [6] was most recently voiced because of the CDU politician, Steffen Flath’s election to chair the board of the MDR Broadcasting Council. Flath had been Minister of the Environment (1999 – 2004) and Minister of Culture (2004 – 2008) in Saxony, and subsequently from 2008 to 2014, Whip of the CDU group in Saxony’s Parliament. His election had been facilitated by the fact that the MDR Inter-State Agreement has never been adapted to the regulation of the March 25, 2014 Constitutional Court’s ruling. Therefore MDR’s Broadcasting Council is criticized for being in violation of the constitution.[7] With MDR assuming the chair of ARD, beginning January 1, 2016, Flath – a member of the right-wing conservative “Berlin Circle” within the Christian Democrats – will, therefore, also chair the ARD’s Conference of the Committee of Chairpersons. Critics have discovered influential politicians also in such top-level positions of broadcasting panels, which have been revised in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s ruling. For example, Mecklenburg West Pomerania’s former Minister of Finances, Sigrid Keler (SPD), was officiating at the end of November, as NDR’s Administrative Directrice.[8]

Embedded Journalism

Protests have repeatedly been raised against the political program stipulations developing from the affinity public broadcasting panels have with political parties and government bodies. In 2008, for example, the Middle East correspondent Ulrich Tilgner quit at ZDF, to take a post at the Swiss television, because, as he explained, “the latter does not have an alignment obligation of a NATO member country.” On the other hand, editors at German public service televisions tend to exercise anticipatory obedience to official policy.[10] Based on his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tilgner criticized the tight bonds between public service broadcasting and the government. A relationship has developed between the media and policy makers that leads to planned and predictable reporting.” “As if by a stroke of magic, correspondents begin reporting from distant countries of the need to send more soldiers, precisely when politicians back home announce such initiatives,” continued the former ZDF correspondent. “In the context of business journalism, this is called ‘sponsoring,’ and in politics, ’embedded journalism’.”[11]

Under Supervision

German politicians are now demanding that decisive measures be taken against the Polish government, which seeks to insure a desired political coverage through direct access to the competent media personnel. “There is every indication” that the EU “will place Warsaw under supervision,” declared the German EU Commissioner Günter Oettinger, early this month.[15] Last weekend, the Whip of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, stated that if “violations of European values are ascertained,” “the member states must have the courage to impose sanctions.”[16] The Whip of the CDU/CSU European Parliamentary group, Herbert Reul, made the demand: “We need economic sanctions, if political means of dialog prove insufficient.” Ignoring the objectionable situations in their own country and in other EU countries,[17] Berlin is using Warsaw’s methods to attempt to impose supervision on a potentially dissenting EU member country’s government. will report more soon.

More information on this theme can be found at European Values (I).

Full article: European Values (II) (German Foreign Policy)

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