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A retired media boss at a major German state broadcaster has admitted his network and others take orders from the government on what — and what not — to report.
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, 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. He said:
“…the topics about which are reported are laid down by the government.
“There are many topics that would be more important than what the government wants. But they, of course, want to deflect attention away from what doesn’t happen. Yet what doesn’t happen is often more important than what does happen – more important than gesture politics”.
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”.
That the German mainstream media is not free and routinely obscures or bends the truth has been a key criticism by the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of Europe (PEGIDA) movement, which has coined phrases like Lügenpresse — the liar press — to express their frustration.