Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) was in troubled waters last year, after allegations that Chinese members of the staff had shown a bias in Beijing’s favor. It would now appear that the broadcaster’s management wants to avoid rough seas by keeping a written report by an elder journalist and author, Ulrich Wickert, under the carpet. Mr Wickert’s report acquitted the Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department, but it came with an unfavorable verdict on the station’s crisis management.
One shouldn’t simply imply that the broadcaster wants to sit the problem out. They may really want to keep those of the staff who were embroiled in the struggles last year out of the firing line now.
That would be laudable. But it can’t work. The Chinese audience, so far as they are aware of the case, won’t simply forget about it, and Chinese media dwelled on it long after news emerged which did raise questions about the Chinese department’s professionalism, at least in detail. The former deputy manager’s interview with herself, which slipped onto the broadcaster’s website unchecked, certainly didn’t look good.
So far, the station seems to act in public like if nothing had happened at all. Deutsche Welle had already played an important role in the promotion of democracy before, said Eric Bettermann, its director. With the station’s Global Media Forum, scheduled in Bonn in June this year, the broadcaster wants to offer a platform for the global media community. Bettermann did address quality challenges, according to the Kölner Stadtanzeiger‘s report of February 9. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Ulrich Wickert had delivered his report to the broadcaster on February 4 – five days before the announcement of these latest lofty plans.
While the Deutsche Welle’s management thinks of playing an important role in the promotion of democracy, how is its quality improvement process going?
A report by the Guardian of Friday hit me right between the eyes today. It describes how the BBC deals with complaints – the topic in the case reported was Tibet.
Prof Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University had been interviewed about Tibet on Radio 4’s Today pogram. A complainant took issue with the approach the moderator took there, saying that listeners had been treated to about five minutes of pure propaganda about how Tibet is, and has always been, an integral part of China and that subversive elements are trying to split the mother country. The BBC Trust investigated and decided the case.
This makes me wonder who investigated complaints about the Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department before Chinese dissidents and other critics – apparently all of a sudden – managed to set the agenda.
There seems to be a procedure in place at Deutsche Welle (see para 19). But you can read comments from Germany’s political parties’ media spokespeople once in a while more frequently, than from the station itself. Maybe the Voice of Germany should take professional care of quality programming on its own. Does it? And did the critics of the Chinese department make use of the procedure? If not – why not? Did they write their open letter to Germany’s parliament after their complaints hadn’t been dealt with, or did they choose a path of maximum publicity?
Maybe after a successful implementation of quality assurance measures, it will be a good time for Deutsche Welle to become a convincing advocate for democracy – and transparency. The station’s improvement process should be as public and transparent as its ambitious contributions to global democratization. Maybe.
But there is no use in preaching it without living it. The best thing Deutsche Welle can do is to be a reliable source of information. All the rest is either by the way, or even useless.