Ulrich Wickert is a former television anchorman, correspondent, and son of Erwin Wickert, a diplomat and author of several books on China. Last year, Erik Bettermann, director of Deutsche Welle (aka the Voice of Germany) asked Ulrich Wickert for an evaluation of the station’s Chinese department’s work. The situation was tense; Bettermann had to testify in a parliamentary commission next day. Wickert agreed to review the Chinese department’s previous articles and productions, and Bettermann was in a position to tell the parliamentary commission that an independent review was in progress, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Wickert delivered his findings on February 4, according to the Süddeutsche. Apparently, it took an investigative journalist to smell the finished report. The Süddeutsche asked the Voice for a comment, and Bettermann praised Wickert’s work as “great”, but said he didn’t want to publish Wickert’s report, as he didn’t want “to revive the China debate again”.
Wickert’s findings in short, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung: accusations of slanted China coverage were completely unfounded. Politicians had picked up the accusations unchecked, hoping that they would help them to get public attention.
It’s no sweetheart report. Director Bettermann is criticized by Wickert for hasty and unjustified personnel decisions, apparently because of public and political pressure. Wickert also quotes Freimut Duve, former OSCE representative on freedom of the media: a statement by a journalist must not be put into context with his or her country of origin. Zhang Danhong, the Chinese service’s deputy manager, had come under attack for saying that China had succeeded in lifting 400 mn people out of poverty during the past thirty years, thus contributing more than any other political force to achieve article three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Reacting to the controversy following Zhang’s remarks, Bettermann had suspended her from work in front of the microphone last year. Wickert pointed to a similar statement by Georg Blume, China correspondent for the weekly Die Zeit, which never became controversial.