Ex-German media boss admits on live radio the national news agenda is govt controlled

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
The ZDF broadcasting centre in Mainz. © Wikipedia
If you really want a lesson in how the Western popular press works, this is it.

Without question, Germany is the leading power in Europe. ZDF is its state broadcaster and most popular channel.

Together with sister network ARD; German's are obliged to pay €17.98 per month to fund it.

This week, during a radio event in Berlin, the retired head of ZDF Bonn, Dr Wolfgang Herles, dropped a bombshell. He admitted the network, and others, takes orders from the government on what, and what not, to report.

Now, you'd expect this kind of story to be splashed across the world's press, wouldn't you? A former senior management figure acknowledging that his ex-employers work in tandem with the authorities to control the news agenda in such an important country? If such a revelation was made in a ‘developing' nation, NATO media would be all over it.

Yet, it's not. As I write, only London's Daily Mail and America's Breitbart and RT have bothered to report this amazing story.

The BBC, a carbon copy of ZDF and ARD in Britain, is busy promoting a documentary about a fake Russian invasion of Latvia. Meanwhile, in Germany itself, RT Deutsch and Munich's Focus appear to be the only two significant outlets tackling the revelations. This in a country where the Dresden region was once known as the "valley of the stupid" because Western TV signals couldn't reach much of it during the Cold War.

Well-founded fears

Many people across Europe suspect that most domestic state TV is under fairly direct control of politicians. The BBC, despite its mendacious cultivation of an image of fairness, is a pretty obvious example. It is governed by a Trust, wholly appointed by the Queen on the advice of government ministers of the day. Russia's most popular station, the First Channel, although partially privately owned, is also administered by state appointees.

What makes Herles' outburst so significant is his seniority. Before retiring last year, he was a prominent culture editor and presenter. In the 90's, he hosted his own chat show, ‘Live', and prior to these ventures, he'd been head of ZDF Bonn. At that time, Bonn was the West German capital. It's important to understand that ZDF, while available across Germany, is technically owned by the Bundesländer (states).

Thus, Bonn-based Herles would have had far greater understanding of how German politics worked than most in ZDF's Mainz headquarters, never mind far flung regions.

Turning a blind eye

Since the Cologne sex attacks on New Year’s Eve, there have been strong allegations that German media downplayed, or even ignored, the story. With migrants, predominately Arabic in origin, pouring into the country since last year, highlighting assaults where the alleged perpetrators were of Arab appearance could help turn public opinion against Angela Merkel's “open-borders” policy. On the other hand, ignoring infractions by newcomers serves to keep Germans ignorant about how Berlin's scheme could jeopardize their own safety. A lot of people are, understandably, angry about that.

Wolfgang Herles. © Wikipedia

Herles' admission was prompted by the assertion that ordinary people have lost faith in Germany's tightly-controlled media. "We have the problem that – now I'm mainly talking about the public [state] media – we have closeness to the government," he revealed. "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."

The retired ZDF chief went on to concede that the station took orders on what to broadcast. "The topics about which are reported are laid down by the government," he confessed. Ironically, the Guardian, with no actual evidence, has prominently published numerous allegations of the Kremlin engaging in this practice. However, it ignores a similar assertion about Germany, which is actually backed up by a credible figure.

Of course, it's not just the publicly-owned media; their private counterparts are also far from balanced. Bild Zeitung, Germany's bestselling newspaper, is bound by the charter of its holding company, Axel Springer SE, "to further the unification of Europe." Moreover, it must "support the Transatlantic Alliance, and solidarity with the United States of America in the common values of free nations." Even the fairest editor in the world wouldn't have much leeway under those conditions.

Pan European myopia

As it happens Germany is not alone. Last year, the Times Ireland exposed how Dublin's state-controlled RTE routinely furnishes questions to government ministers before they appear on air. Incredibly, RTE News, currently helmed by controversial British executive Kevin Bakhurst, responded by attempting to smear The Times

Meanwhile, in Sweden, the fervently liberal Expressen newspaper this week labeled The Daily Mail ‘racist.' The British newspaper's crime? Daring to report facts on the country's migrant crisis that are precluded in Sweden. Because the domestic media refuse to cover negative stories involving migrants, many Swedes are now forced to access British and Russian media to read news about their country.

Right now, the pro-EU press is struggling to control the narrative. Dismissing rival viewpoints as "propaganda" can only work for so long. Furthermore, turning a blind eye to stories that question EU policy is a tougher proposition in the age of social media.

Last year, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine closed online comment threads on all articles about migration. Last week, The Guardian followed suit, blocking all posts related to immigration, Islam and race.

These moves aren't a huge surprise. In recent years, journalists and commentators who refuse to fall-in-line with the liberal European consensus have been increasingly barred from the mainstream media. This stands in marked contrast to previous decades in which debate was actively encouraged and opposing views cherished. Maybe Mikhail Gorbachev wasn't far off when he warned:"The most puzzling development in politics during the last decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in Western Europe."

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.