2018-06-13 19:05:55 UTC
to be pulled on the nation's multitude of political talkshows for a year,
arguing that their populist agenda has helped fuel the rise of the far
Olaf Zimmermann, who heads the German cultural council, an umbrella group
for organisations from art galleries to television companies, said public
broadcasters needed to step back and rethink a format that has helped
cement gloom-ridden public attitudes towards refugees and Islam, and
propelled the Alternative für Deutschland party into parliament at last
"I'd suggest for them, take a break for a year, though the length of the
intermission isn't the decisive factor. What is crucial is that they return
with new talkshow concepts and try to come up with more suitable contents
with regards to social cohesion in our society," Zimmermann said, arguing
that the public broadcasters ARD and ZDF were obsessed with refugee-related
issues, often framing them negatively.
The cultural council, which is taxpayer funded, has pointed out that since
2015, at the height of the refugee crisis when almost a million refugees
and migrants entered Germany, more than 100 political talk shows have put a
topic related to migration at the centre of their discussion.
Since September's election, which saw the AfD enter the Bundestag for the
first time, much debate has surrounded the extent to which framing an
issue, or lending a topic a certain perspective, might have helped their
Television analysts have argued that the issue of refugees has been dealt
with in a mostly negative way.
TV bosses have defended their formats, admitting the intensity of the
refugee debate led to the topic being far more widely discussed in 2015 and
2016 than ever before, but arguing that it was no longer a dominant theme.
Even last week, however, ARD's main talkshow HART ABER FAIR - HARD BUT FAIR
- led with the question: "To what extent is it possible to integrate young
men who have fled from war and archaic societies? How unsafe is Germany as
a result of them?"
The programme was triggered by the murder of a 14-year-old German girl
whose body was discovered in Wiesbaden last week. The 20-year-old Iraqi man
suspected of her rape and murder was extradited from Iraq to Germany this
week to face trial.
Zimmermann said in too many cases refugees were unfairly presented as a
threat to German society.
The production team of HART ABER FAIR said it rejected the accusation that
they had unfairly labelled all refugees as dangerous. "As journalists we
find the concept of framing alien to us. We are simply trying to represent
the issues which are occupying people, for what they are," they said.
A recent talkshow moderated by the veteran host Sandra Maischberger was
advertised in TV listings with the title: "Are we too tolerant towards
Islam?" Critics were quick to pounce on the word "we" as being problematic
because it suggested "them and us". The programme's title was swiftly
changed to: The Islam debate: where does our tolerance end?
Other recent talkshow topics included ones entitled Refugees and
criminality, and Beethoven or Burka?
Kai Hafez, a media analyst, said that immigration was rarely presented in
talkshows as anything other than negative. "The viewers get used to these
negative expressions, and long-term that way the rightwing populists manage
to press their points home," he told Der Spiegel.
For their part, the AfD-- whose representatives are relative newcomers on
the talkshow circuit, the party only having been founded in 2014-- have
been deeply critical of the extent to which they are excluded from TV
Last week that impression was only intensified after Alexander Gauland, the
party’s leader, had his invitation to appear on HART ABER FAIR withdrawn in
protest at his description of the Nazi era as the equivalent of "a bird
shit" in the context of "more than 1,000 years of successful German
AfD supporters reacted to the ban with fury on social media, calling it
part of a campaign to squeeze the party off the airwaves.
Typically a German talkshow concentrates on a single topic for 60 to 90
minutes. Guests invariably include media representatives, at least one
member of the cabinet and opposition politicians.
Many media watchers have long been critical of the extent to which the
arguably tired and unimaginative format dominates German television,
accusing programme makers of choosing it because it is cheap-- despite
Germany having one of the highest licence fees in the world-- and blaming
it in part for the dramatic fall in viewers in recent years.
Controllers of the broadcasters have hit back. "We believe the talk shows
are an enriching part of our programming," Rainald Becker, the
editor-in-chief of the ARD told Die Welt. "Of course we discuss Islam now
and then, but we also have other topics such as housing, the collapse of
bee colonies or the shortage of carers.
"And to those who want to complain, I say to them: you know that there's an