Serving “Europe and the Public Good”

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Economist has praised Angela Merkel as “the indispensable European”.

If these comments by the former head of ZDF Bonn  [ZDF is a public broadcaster] are accurate, we now have a better idea of what that really means.

Breitbart:

National public service broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), which was recently forced into a humiliating apology for their silence on migrant violence and sex assault is being drawn into a fresh scandal after one of their former bureau chiefs admitted the company takes orders from the government on what it reports. He said journalists received instructions to write news that would be “to Ms. Merkel’s liking”.

Former head of ZDF Bonn Dr. Wolfgang Herles make the remarks during a radio event (from minute 27) in Berlin where journalists discussed the media landscape. Moving on to the freedom of the press, the panel chair asked Dr. Herles whether things in Germany had got “seriously out of whack”. With an honesty perhaps unusual in Germany, Dr. Herles replied that ordinary Germans were totally losing faith in the media, something he called a “scandal”. He said:

“We have the problem that – now I’m mainly talking about the public [state] media – we have a closeness to the government. Not only because commentary is mainly in line with the grand coalition (CSU, CDU, and SPD), with the spectrum of opinion, but also because we are completely taken in by the agenda laid down by the political class”.

Worse than the mainstream [media], government controlled and poll-tax funded media in Germany just agreeing with the ruling coalition, the stations actually took orders on what was and was not to be reported on…

While these orders are sent to media companies from unspecified places in the government, they are communicated to individual journalists by news executives using a new-speak jargon. Dr. Herles explains that while “there are, in fact, instructions from above”, when the editor in chief of ZDF communicated these instructions to his juniors he would merely say reporting should be framed in a way that “serves Europe and the public good”.

There would be no need to add in brackets that this actually means it should be reported “to Ms. Merkel’s liking”, as they would be understood as the true meaning.

“Today, one is not allowed to say anything negative about the refugees” said Dr. Herles, concluding: “This is government journalism and that leads to a situation in which people no longer trust us. This is a scandal.”

There has been very little reporting of the comments in the German media, and what there was has been critical of the remarks. Focus reported the comments of one centre-left media figure, Der Freitag newspaper editor Jakob Augstein who when asked whether there had ever been such “instructions from above”, said: “No, I deny vehemently there has ever been commands from the top”.

So far as I can see, Augstein has not been employed by ZDF, although he has worked with them.

Herles’ comments strike me as being all too believable, not least because of the oblique way in which the line was laid down and, yes, the language that was used:

“Serves Europe and the public good”.   

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