Search Results for “"Erik Bettermann"”

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New Deutsche-Welle Director: Great Challenge, Fascinating Task

Peter Limbourg, previously in charge of news and political information at ProSiebenSat.1 TV Germany, became director of Germany’s publicly-owned foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on October 1. He succeeds Erik Bettermann. Deutsche Welle spokesman Johannes Hoffmann published a press release on Monday (edited by press officer Xiaoying Zhang), quoting Limbourg:

It is a great challenge and a fascinating task to be at the helm of Germany’s international broadcaster. Deutsche Welle is a media organization that enjoys an excellent reputation with its audiences worldwide. In a world, where a large number of international broadcasters are now promoting a variety of views, it is all the more important for us to persistently stand for our shared values. We will continue to ensure the credibility that DW’s staff, with great commitment, has established over the last 60 years by providing quality journalism. We will also consistently enhance DW’s multimedia profile.

Limbourg is considered “close to the Christian-Democratic Union”, the ruling party of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Limbourg’s predecessor, Erik Bettermann, is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and had been in several political functions on the party’s federal level and in the city state of Bremen before becoming DW director. He had been DW director from 2001 to 2013 (September 30), starting during Gerhard Schröder’s (SPD) chancellorship, and getting a second six-year term in November 2006, when the SPD was a junior partner in a “grand coalition” with the Christian-Democratic Union. At the time, Deutsche Welle was funded with 270 million Euros annually, according to Der Tagesspiegel, a paper from Berlin.
Deutsche Welle, as a public broadcaster, is supposed to be autonomous in its decisionmaking, but this autonomy appears to be constrained by political influence on the appointment of its directors, and budgeting and task planning are subject to consultation procedures with the federal government and the lower house of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag.  Deutsche Welle itself does, however,  have  the last word concerning the task planning.

In 2013, the DW budget was still (or again?) at about 270 billion Euros, the same amount as reportedly in 2006.

Deutsche Welle saw a major change in its tasks in 2009, when then director Bettermann announced that the broadcaster wants to reach people who influence opinion making and democratic processes. Prior to that, in 2008, a brawl in the broadcaster’s Chinese department had caught the attention of both the German and the Chinese press. A collection of links of blogs reflecting the aftermath can be found here. A second round of disputes at the Chinese department, including labor disputes, started by 2010. Contrary to 2008, the disputes ended with the termination of contracts with four Chinese or German-Chinese members of DW staff, and went almost unreported in the German press, while getting a lot of coverage in the Chinese press.

An aspect that was usually not emphasized in the Chinese coverage, but played an important role in the weak position of the Chinese or German-Chinese staff appears to be the nature of their work contracts. Probably in or around 2011, Michael Hirschler, a labor union officer, described how DW had frequently succeeded in getting rid of quasi-employees. This seems to apply in all or most cases in the Chinese department of 2010/2011, too.

Peter Limbourg’s statement as quoted in the DW press release of October 7 does not seem to suggest big changes in the broadcaster’s policies. He wants to conduct extensive talks with DW’s staff, the Broadcasting Board, the Administrative Board as well as political and social groups and then set out a new strategic plan for Deutsche Welle for the period from 2014 to 2017. The emphasis appears to be on “shared values” and “multimedia”.

For some information (based on German press) about how the new director was elected, and other impending changes at DW, click here.


Federal Labor Court, June 22, 2013
Interview: Wang Fengbo, Jan 26, 2012
Different platforms, Deutsche Welle press, June 2011

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Deutsche Welle: Limbourg succeeds Bettermann

Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann will retire on September 30 this year. His successor will be Peter Limbourg, currently working in a leading position for German private mass media company ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG. DW broadcasting board chairman Valentin Schmidt announced the decision on March 15; the DW press release was written by the broadcaster’s spokesman Johannes Hoffmann. A press release in English is also available.

14 of the 17 board members voted “Yes”; one voted “No”, and two abstained, according to the German release.

Limbourg might count himself lucky, even if his job at Deutsche Welle, under growing budgetary constraints, won’t be an easy one. He is currently Senior Vice President for news and political information at ProSiebenSat 1, which sounds pompous, the Tagesspiegel (Berlin) wrote on March 15, but the hard truth was that information counted very little at his current employer. Information, the Tagesspiegel continues, counts all the more at Deutsche Welle.

On March 14, the Frankfurter Rundschau wrote that only four weeks earlier, Valentin Schmidt had still ruled out an early decision – that would have to wait until June. The search for candidates to succeed Bettermann hadn’t been completed, and the broadcasting board also wanted to wait and see how the candidates to date presented themselves. Applicants from within Deutsche Welle, among them Gerda Meuer, head of the DW academy (and once working for the German service of Radio Japan) weren’t even invited. By the end of February, only Limbourg had delivered a convincing presentation, and Limbourg it was.

In one respect, however, a trend described by Frankfurter Rundschau on February 17 made it into the vote: Limbourg was a journalist, rather than a politician. A complaint of unconstitutionality was pending at Germany’s federal constitutional court, critical of the oversized influence of political parties in the boards and commissions of German broadcasters, and apparently, the DW broadcasting board didn’t want to risk criticism in line with that complaint. The more, however, representatives of the churches were emerging. Valentin Schmidt, a 72-year-old evangelic Christian, is likely to be succeeded by a catholic prelate, Karl Jüsten, at the end of this year, wrote Frankfurter Rundschau. Both Limbourg and one of his most likely competitors (Stephan-Andreas Casdorff, who withdrew his candidacy before March 15) are catholic.

German chancellor Angela Merkel probably liked the emerging constellation, the Focus (Munich) speculated one day after Limbourg was chosen. Soon, the director and three out of his five sub-directors would be on a ticket of the Christian Democrats (the incumbent director, Erik Bettermann is a social democrat), and Karl Jüsten, the probable next chairman of the broadcasting board, was catholic and therefore close to Merkel’s Christian Democrats anyway.

Limbourg will be the first director at a public broadcaster who previously worked for privately-owned television.

Guanchazhe (Observer), a Shanghai-based website, quotes a scholar from Berlin as saying that the high-sounding election of the new DW director, as well as a low-key restoration of Feng Haiyin (apparently von Hein, a German) as head of Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department could bring about a new atmosphere, with some more objective reporting and less ideology in China-related reports (柏林的一名学者18日对记者表 示,“德国之音”选出新台长和冯海音重新担任中文部主任,可能会给该台涉华报道带来新风气,多-些客观报道,少一些意识形态).

Those who had suggested that Feng Haiyin was “close to the CCP” had apparently never listened to the DW broadcasts, scoffs Dream Tramp, a commenter in the thread. All his scripts were full of vicious attacks (说冯海音“亲共”,显然是没听过德国之声广播。他写的每一篇稿子都充满着对土共的恶毒攻击。). German media are more anti-communist than British or American media, suggests another.
Correct, replies Dream Tramp. And [the German media were] stupid at that. I’ve frequently heard them recklessly rushing at rumors – their professional level is far behind Britain’s and America’s.



» Interview with Wang Fengbo, Jan 26, 2012
» Negotiations with Politics, Dec 26, 2011


Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Added:] Book Review: Li Qi’s “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare”

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein, and that’s true. You get very different comments, depending on the language you use on the internet. I’m realizing that I should have written about Deutsche Welle in German much earlier, say, since 2008. The share of Germans who read English-language blogs is probably much higher than the share of Chinese who do so – because English and German are much more similar to each other than English and Chinese, or because we are culturally closer, etc.. But that doesn’t mean that you can “reach” Germans with English.

That said, you have to find media here who would actually accept posts about Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department. Der Freitag seems to be one.

The following is what I wrote there, in the community section. Think of it as the book review in English I promised on Tuesday.

Public Diplomacy. Qi Li is a German citizen. From 2001 to 2011, he worked at Deutsche Welle. The “expiration of his contract” was a big media topic in China. In Germany, it wasn’t.

When Zhang Danhong, deputy Chinese department manager back then, made controversial remarks about China’s political issues during public appearances more than four years ago, it was well documented by the media. No wonder: 2008 was the year of the Beijing Olympics, and the “China” topic topped the agendas of many German papers and broadcasters.

Not only Zhang’s public-appearance comments, at Kölner Stadtanzeiger (a paper) or Deutschlandfunk (radio) were controversial; Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department became controversial, too. Dissidents who lived in Germany wrote a letter to the German Bundestag (federal parliament) on September 13, 2008:

We believe that Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department – broadcasting mainly in Chinese – is, to a large extent, isolated from German society and functioning like an island. This has led to a striking deviation from Deutsche Welle’s mission statement, to promote democracy and human rights and to explain Germany to the world.

It wasn’t necessarily the first letter from dissidents against an allegedly misguided editorial department. And according to Li Qi, who published his working experience with Deutsche Welle’s Chinese online department (2001 – 2011) last month, it wasn’t that much the open letter written by the dissidents that got Deutsche Welle into hot waters, but a letter by the “Deutscher Autorenkreis” (German authors’ club) ten days later. Li:

I’ve learned through the years that Germans take Germans seriously. The dissidents’ letter didn’t unsettle Deutsche Welle or the Bundestag. They might have been ignored forever, even though many of them have taken German citizenship long ago. And Zhang Danhong, too, was constantly described as “Chinese” by German media, even though that wasn’t correct, in terms of citizenship.

Back then, Deutsche Welle reacted publicly. Zhang Danhong was temporarily suspended from work at the microphone, and lost her position as the Chinese department’s deputy manager. Above all, however, the Chinese department’s work – and that of the online editors in particular – was investigated. A translation agency translated the Chinese articles back into German, and former German ARD (channel-1) correspondent and “Tagesthemen” (a newsshow) editor Ulrich Wickert reviewed them. “You are free to decide about the results. You are completely free in this regard” (Sie entscheiden, was am Ende herauskommt. Sie sind völlig frei), Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Hans Leyendecker quoted Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann, months later.

Wickert’s findings: accusations of slanted China coverage were completely unfounded. Wickert didn’t only criticize that politicians had picked up the accusations unchecked, but also that the director, apparently because of public and political pressure … [took personnel decisions] hastily and unjustifiedly. To be clear, this wasn’t about Zhang Danhong’s public-appearance remarks, but about the Chinese editorial department’s work.

Wickert’s report remained unpublished. Different to the original allegations, it gave no rise to headlines. It took an inquiry by the Süddeutsche Zeitung to Bettermann, who reportedly rated Wickert’s report as “very good work – great”. Bettermann didn’t want to publish the report however, so as “not to revive the China debate again”.

When reading Li’s book, you can hardly escape the feeling that Deutsche Welle has been very successful at that.

Four online editors at the China department lost their freelance assignments or jobs respectively, in 2010 and 2011. If and how far the “freelance” assignments amounted to “employee-like” contracts (arbeitnehmerähnlich Beschäftigte), and if and how far the jobs had to count as temporary (befristet) can’t be discussed here. Some of that still seems to be disputed at the labor courts – Wang Fengbo expects his case to be at the federal labor court this month.

More interestingly, Deutsche Welle – despite Wickert’s acquittal – prescribed a “monitor” for the Chinese department, Jörg-Meinhard Rudolph from Ludwigshafen. Officially, he was meant to monitor style and language/expression, and to correct those, if need be. In fact, according to an open letter by the four former employees, he rated how “close” to the CCP (or how distant to it) articles written by the editorial department were.

It was an angry letter, published by the four at the online paper “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” in April 2011, and even just for its length, it was no journalistic masterpiece. But its content is mostly authenticated. Deutsche Welle employees committee member Christian Hoppe, quoted by EPD in May 2011:

Some of the letter’s phrasing had been overboard, said Hoppe, but by and large, the events in the editorial department were described accurately (die Autoren des „offenen Briefs“ seien „mit einigen Formulierungen über das Ziel hinausgeschossen“, würden jedoch “die Vorgänge in der Redaktion insgesamt korrekt wiedergeben”).

According to Li, Wang Fengbo and another colleague met a journalist in Cologne for two hours, in the evening on April 14, 2011. The journalist, himself a freelancer, “wanted to report about it, but didn’t know what his superiors thought” (Li’s account). “In fact, we never heard about a report at his paper.”

But another source did report, as quoted above. Li:

You can’t google the report, though, because it can only be read at “epd medien”. Press agencies like dpa, ap, epd enter their stories into a database. That’s how they make them available to the media.

The book – Li categorizes it as reportage – isn’t above the story. There is bitterness in some of its chapters. But it is a schoolbook for a number of cultural and political issues: “intergration“, suspicions of extremism, public diplomacy (and how it shoots itself in the foot, “politically”), journalism, labor law, and – one begins to suspect – about the despair of superiors who have to execute an agenda which can’t be plausibly explained to any reasonable contemporary.

Not least: about how a public institution (apparently) got into the eddying of a parallel society. That “parallel society” isn’t malign in the way rednecks would have it. It isn’t malign at all. But politics faces it without a clue, unprepared and sort of trigger-happy.

While the Chinese press reported – and someties raged – extensively, there was almost no German coverage. “Is the topic of no interest for German media?”, Li asks towards the end of his book. It’s not only him – Wang Fengbo, too, finds that hard to believe.

They aren’t Eva Herman or Susan Stahnke, obviously. Deutsche Welle may only be known to those Germans who, into the 1990s, took their shortwave receivers to Mallorca, or before travelling the world. But when it is about good journalism – at a public broadcaster (or a public media platform), public interest seems likely. And if one is inclined to believe that a number of Deutsche-Welle employees were wronged, this poses questions about the usual practice in our media: how well (or badly) do we actually want to be informed?

Li Qi: “China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle”, August-von-Goethe Literaturverlag, Frankfurt a/M, 2012.
Only available in German.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Former Deutsche Welle director (in 2001): “no Subservience”

Erik Bettermann became director of Deutsche Welle in May 2001. German (conservative) daily Die Welt on May 11, 2001:

In a hurriedly arranged press conference, Betterman missed no opportunity to highlight the maximum [separation between the state and] Deutsche Welle which needed to be defended against the covetousness of political parties, too. “I’m nobody’s auxiliary person”, the studied social education worker, who turned 57 on Tuesday,  protested against dogged office grapevine.

In einer eiligen anberaumten Pressekonferenz ließ Bettermann keine Gelegenheit aus, auf die möglichst große “Staatsferne” der DW hinzuweisen, die es auch gegen alle Begehrlichkeiten der Parteien zu verteidigen gelte. “Ich bin kein Erfüllungsgehilfe von irgendjemand”, verwahrte sich der studierte Sozialpädagoge, der am vergangenen Dienstag 57 Jahre alt wurde, gegen den hartnäckigen Flurfunk.

Three months earlier, Bettermann’s predecessor, Dieter Weirich, had told Die Welt in an interview that the most commanding soap-box speakers on the subject of freedom of the air waves were also the greatest enemies of the concept.

Former DW director Dieter Weirich. Source: Jennings / Wikimedia. Click picture for source.

Weirich left his post as DW director at the end of March, 2001, rather than when his term officially ended, on November 30, 2001. As a christian democrat, he stood no chance to be re-elected as the station’s director, and besides, Die Welt described his working relations with then Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, Michael Naumann*), as first-class emnity (eine Feindschaft erster Güte). Weirich didn’t protest, and suggested that then Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder should be happy about his performance – after all, Schröder had recommended that Germans should show no subservience (Untertanengeist). He himself had never given in to attempts from members of his own party, the christian democrats, to make the Welle the federal [governments] subordinate. His concept of the Deutsche Welle directorship had always been politically neutral.

Die Welt: There were advances from [federal commissioner] Naumann’s office last year, to reduce the responsibilities of the [DW] director, and to broaden the influence of political parties.

Weirich: Freedom of the airwaves is schoolbook content in this country. The most commanding soap-box speakers on the subject of freedom of the air waves are also the greatest enemies of the concept. That’s nothing new.

Die Welt: Aus der Naumann­Behörde gab es vergangenes Jahr Vorstöße, die Verantwortung des Intendanten zu reduzieren und den Einfluss der Politik zu erweitern.

Weirich: Rundfunkfreiheit steht hierzulande in Schulbüchern. Die imposantesten Sonntagsredner zur Rundfunkfreiheit sind ihre größten Gegner. Das ist nicht neu.



*) Michael Naumann had by then left the federal commissioner office. His successor was a fellow social democrat, Julian Nida-Rümelin.



» Wang Fengbo, January 26, 2012
» Anticipatory Obedience, June 10, 2011


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Information Warfare in the Far and the Middle East (and in Europe)

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

1) To be Blown Away: Pyongyang continues Dialog with other Means

Xinhua/Enorth, Oct 20 —

According to a KCNA report on Friday, North Korea’s People’s Army’s Western Front headquarters issued a statement condemning South Korean organizations’ plans to distribute leaflets among North Koreans, saying that once such distribution was detected, military strikes would be conducted right away and without prior warning.


The notice said that YTN Television and other media reported that South Korea would insult North Korea’s supreme dignity and sacred system by disseminating leaflets from Imjingak Park in the city of Paju [in South Korea’s northwestern, Gyeonggi Province. They schemed to write slanderous content against the sacred and supremely dignified North Korea on those leaflets, and use more than ten big balloons to fly them into North Korea.


The notice said that this action was a move by South Korean authorities themselves, directed and carried forward by the [South Korean] military. This was an intolerable challenge against the North Korean army and people, a deliberate action to push North-South relations to the worst situation.


Paju is situated near the Korean peninsula’s demarcation line. The notice said that from now on, Imjingak Park and surrounding areas, as a forthright site for leaflet dissemination, would become a target to be destroyed by North Korean troops. As soon as any dissemination activities from Imjingak Park and surrounding areas were detected, the North Korean People’s Army Western Command headquarters would conduct military strikes right away, mercilessly, and without prior warning.


KCNA (Japan), Oct 19 —

Pyongyang, October 19 (KCNA) — The Western Front Command of the Korean People’s Army released the following notice Friday:

The Lee Myung Bak group of traitors, keen on escalating confrontation with fellow countrymen, is planning to scatter leaflets slandering the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, being unaware of its fate on the verge of ruin.

According to YIN and other media of south Korea, leaflets slandering the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and insulting the noble social system in it will be scattered from Rimjin Pavilion in Phaju City, Kyonggi Province at 11:30 a.m. on October 22.

The south Korean group of traitors said that it would use the Association for Promotion of Democracy of North Korea, a collection of riff-raffs, in the operation with the aim to intensify psychological warfare against the DPRK. It is set to send more than 10 huge balloons carrying the leaflets to areas of the DPRK side.

What matters is that the plan was directly invented by the group of traitors and is being engineered by the south Korean military.

This is an unpardonable challenge to the army and people of the DPRK and a deliberate act aimed to push the north-south ties to the lowest ebb.

The Lee regime considers that aggravated north-south ties before the “presidential election” will be favorable for the conservative forces. Human scum under the patronage of the group has common mentality with the group. This resulted in the undisguised operation of scattering the leaflets.

It is the firm will of the army not to overlook any act of provoking the dignity of the supreme leadership of the country and its social system.

The Western Front Command of the KPA issues following notice upon authorization:

1. Rimjin Pavilion in Phaju City, location from where the puppet forces made public they would send leaflets and its surrounding area will become targets of direct firing of the KPA from now.

The location is the origin of provocation which can never be left as it is and a target of physical strike to be immediately blown away.

2. The moment a minor movement for the scattering is captured in Rimjin Pavilion and in its vicinity, merciless military strike by the Western Front will be put into practice without warning.

Scattering of leaflets amounts to an undisguised psychological warfare, breach of the Korean Armistice Agreement and an unpardonable war provocation.

3. South Korean inhabitants at Rimjin Pavilion and its surrounding area are requested to evacuate in anticipation of possible damage.

The KPA never makes an empty talk.

2) Blatant Violation of TV regulations in Middle East

Satellite dishes, Aleppo, Syria

Hello, Halab, can you hear us? (Archive)

Jon Williams on Twitter:

BBC World News being deliberately jammed from within Syria. Unclear who responsible, but blatant violation of international TV regulations.

VoA News, Oct 19 —

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America and other U.S.-funded international broadcasters, has joined European public media outlets in condemning the jamming of satellite signals across the Middle East and Europe.

BBG Director Richard Lobo said in a statement Friday that the jamming of U.S. satellite signals and those of other broadcasters is a “blatant violation of international regulations.” He added that the deliberate interference of news and information programs in countries with restrictive media denies millions of people access to information.


Deutsche Welle Chinese website, Oct 19, 2012


On Thursday morning (October 18, 2012), Deutsche Welle was first jammed. Deutsche Welle director Eric Bettermann protested against this interference with media freedom. Bettermann said that Deutsche Welle is preparing a resolution, together with other countries’ international broadcasters.


Experts suspect Iran to be the mastermind behind the scene. According to media reports, this country has jammed Western broadcasters and television stations several times in recent years, preventing people to listen to some programs.


Experts reckon that recent interference with Western broadcasters is related to European satellite Eutelsat ceased broadcasting 19 Iranian programs.  On Monday (October 15, 2012), the European satellite operator stopped Iranian Television network’s IRIB programs, making it impossible to listen to Iranian radio programs and watching Iranian television programs outside Iran, including international news channel 电视新闻.


The satellite operator says that the switch-off was a decision by the Council of the European Union in March. At the time, EU leaders included Iranian radio and television network IRIB in the EU sanctions list. In August 2009 and in December 2011, IRIB broadcasted the trials of people who had confessed after torture, which was in violation of international law.

欧洲通信卫星公司表示,停止转播伊朗电台电视台的节目是欧盟理事会今年3月做出的决定。当时,欧盟领导人将伊朗电台和电视台联盟IRIB的负责人列入了受欧盟制裁者名单。 IRIB曾在2009年8月和2011年12月播放刑讯逼供和公开审判的镜头,此举违反国际法。


Die Zeit, Oct 19, 2012

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that Deutsche Welle suspects that Iran is behind the attack against their program. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the broadcaster, together with other foreign broadcasters, prepares a resolution. DW director Erik Bettermann protested against the disruptions.

Wie die FAZ berichtet, vermutet die DW den Iran hinter der Attacke gegen ihr Programm. Laut FAZ bereitet der Sender mit anderen Auslandssendern eine gemeinsame Resolution vor. DW-Intendant Erik Bettermann protestierte gegen die Störungen.

According to the report, Iran had repeatedly disrupted broadcasts from Deutsche Welle and the BBC. The latest infringement would thus be related with the cut-off of Iranian programs on the Hotbird satellite. Eutelsat and the British company Arqiva had switched them off in accordance with EU sanctions against Iran.

Dem Bericht zufolge hat der Iran in den vergangenen Jahren wiederholt die Ausstrahlung von DW und BBC gestört. Der jüngste Übergriff stehet demnach im Zusammenhang mit der Abschaltung der Übertragung von 19 iranischen Programmen über den Satelliten Hotbird. Eutelsat und das britische Unternehmen Arqiva waren mit der Abschaltung Sanktionen der EU gegen den Iran nachgekommen.

IRIB, Oct 20, 2012

[Iranian lawmaker Hojjatollah Souri*)] added that dozens of Western channels are working in Iran and many of them target the culture and beliefs of Iranians. He continued “But these countries cannot tolerate 19 Iranian international satellite channels and this shows that these 19 channels belonging to the Islamic Republic are more influential than … Western ones.”



*) According to UK for Iranians, a man named Hojjatollah Souri is in charge of Evin Prison. The lawmaker quoted above may or not be the same person.



» Keep Shortwave, for Now, July 24, 2011

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When your Employer Suspects that you are a Communist…

Wang Fengbosee interview – and his colleague Zhu Hong lost their cases at the Higher Labor Court Cologne (Landesarbeitsgericht Köln, LAG) on Monday (February 13). They had sued their [former] employer, Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) for  discrimination, a case which the court rejected. There is no written opinion from the court yet, but according to an EPD (Evangelischer Pressedienst) report, the judge viewed the way Deutsche Welle accepted findings of an investigation by Ulrich Wickert in 2009 as evidence in Deutsche Welle’s favor.

Wickert had investigated allegations from Chinese dissidents and German authors, in 2008, that Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department had been “CCP-friendly”, and came to the conclusion that the allegations were completely unfounded. Back then, Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann told a Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter who inquired about the report that Wickert’s work had been “great”, but added that he didn’t want to publish Wickert’s report, as he didn’t want “to revive the China debate again”.

The court saw Deutsche Welle support for Wickert’s findings as evidence that there was no discrimination for ideological reasons. According to the plaintiffs, Deutsche Welle rejected the 2008 allegations against the DW Chinese department in public, but put the dissidents’ and other critics’ demands into practice, all the same.

Although there had actually been no allegation from Deutsche Welle that the plaintiffs were “communists”, the judge addressed this issue, saying that once Deutsche Welle, as a public broadcaster (Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts) suspected an employee of being a communist or a supporter of national socialism, this was a sufficient reason to terminate the employment, EPD quotes the judge. The judgment is appealable.

Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts is probably best translated as an independent public institution, and as I understand it, the issue may therefore affect employees in many other institutions with public or municipal tasks, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

“Advocacy Journalism is not the Problem” –

an Interview with former Deutsche Welle Editor Fengbo Wang on the Zhang Danhong Controversy, Dissidents in Germany, and the Persian Factor

Wang Fengbo came to Germany in 1991, studied politics in Mainz, and was editor of what is now the European Chinese Post, an overseas Chinese paper. In the interview following this introduction, Wang describes the publication as a dissident paper, a description which appears to be correct. In 1989, he had seen dead bodies piled up in a Beijing hospital, Wang told an EPD (Evangelischer Pressedienst) reporter last year. “Having seen that, there is no other way for you than to be a supporter of democracy”, he added.

From 2002 until December 2010, Wang Fengbo worked for Deutsche Welle‘s (the Voice of Germany’s) Chinese department. He and three more of his colleagues lost their jobs, or freelance contracts respectively, as their contracts weren’t renewed. In April last year, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung published an open letter by the four, to Germany’s Federal Parliament’s lower house (Bundestag), and to the Deutsche Welle broadcasting commission. According to their open letter, Deutsche Welle initially gave budget cuts as a reason for ending the contracts, but later – successively, in the process – added more reasons. Besides, the open letter states, the dismissed employees or contributors were replaced by “younger, unexperienced journalists”. The budget cuts, originally cited as reasons for the Deutsche Welle’s measures, had proven untrue, and the Open Letter sees the four as deferred victims of a “campaign” against Zhang Danhong, formerly the Chinese department’s deputy manager, who came under fire in 2008.

This interview may help to shed some light on the events since the “Zhang Danhong” affair, or it may help to start such a process. To date, information is sparse; however, a member of the employees committee confirmed last year that an open letter published by the four former Deutsche Welle employees had described the situation correctly, even if some of its phrasing had been “overboard”.


Q: How long did you work for Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department? Were you a freelancer, or a permanent employee?

A: I began to work for DW as a freelancer in 2001. Beginning from 2002, and until May 2007 I worked there as a so-called permanent freelancer-editor (Fest-Freier Redakteur) with a Freelancer-Contract (Honorarrahmenvertrag) by the Chinese Online Editor-Team of DW. In my function and responsibility there was no difference between me and colleagues with a permanent contract. By the definition made by the director of the whole Online Section at that time, I was the “core-manpower” of the team. From May 2007 to December 31, 2010,  I was an editor with a “permanent contract”. Unfortunatelly, this “permanent contract” was initially limited to December 31, 2010. My current lawsuit with DW centers around the dispute wether or not this time limitation is legal.

Q: What did an ordinary working day look like? What would it involve?

A: My career at DW was clearly divided into two phases, and it may sound somewhat like black humor, if I say the dividing line was the Olympic Games in Peking, in 2008. For most employees of the Chinese Deutsche-Welle department, this event was the beginning of a nightmare which is still ongoing today.

In the time before December 2008, I was an editor in the Chinese Online Edition-Team, and my daily work was just the same as the most editors in a free western press organisation. Within the daily routine practice, I usually took two main roles: the duty editor (Chef-vom-Dienst) and a normal editor or reporter. As a duty editor, my responsibility was to work out the daily working schedule (agenda setting), such as the topics of the day, about assigning different tasks, etc.. A duty-editor’s day usually ended with the planned topics being covered and coming up on our homepage. Overall, there were four or five colleagues who belonged to the “core-manpower” of the Chinese Online team and they took turns weekly, to act as a duty editors. During the weeks when I didn’t work as an editor on duty, I did inqiries on assigned topics or issues, did interviews, and wrote my stories based on former research and interviews. The final work was to publish the finished story on our homepage through the content-management-system. This Chinese Online team was small but comprehensive, with the topics-coverage ranging from current world affairs to specific political, economic, cultural and sports issues. Our journalistic output was  usually in Chinese language, and in case that our expertise in issues relating to China was needed by our colleagues of other language-teams, we also wrote in German or English.

From December 2008, with the so-called “Zhang Danhong-Affair” ending with the removal of the head of the Chinese Radio Programm of DW, Matthias von Hein, the Online-Team and the Radio programme began to work as a whole Chinese Programm. This merger of the daily routines came much earlier than originally scheduled, although the merger itself was already going on. Since 2007, Deutsche Welle had been trying to undergo a structrual reform aiming at turning the traditional radio-based broadcaster into an internet-based new media platform. The reform  started with German and English language-programms as pilots and the other programmes – around 30 different languages – were to follow with different time-schedules respectively. The fact that reform put online and radio programs in a competitive situation did matter a lot, as could be seen in the Chinese Programm of Deutsche Welle.

From late December 2008 to December 2009, the head of Asian radio programme, Ms. Golte, acted as the temporary head of the merged Chinese programme. From the first day after the merger, I was silently excluded from the routine responsibilities of a normal editor and was allowed only to layout the hompage for several months. Although later I was allowed to adapt mainly radio manuscripts from the Central Programm in the German language, I, together with all other colleagues from former online-team, continued to be marginalised. We were not allowed to do tasks such as topic-planning and final editing. Effectively, I and other former online-colleagues lost the identities of autonomous journalists, for we had no say in setting topics, and our articles, if any, were subject to the judgement of the final-editor, who, under the offical excuse of quality assurance, often killed a whole text, or passages or sentences that might be “politically not correct”. Of course the DW functionaries would never acknowledge that this practice existed.

In December 2009, Mrs. Woltersdorf took over the Chinese Program and she indeed brought about some changes. Around April or May 2009, we, the former online editors, were allowed to plan topics and to be final editors in rotational turn. Since then, a normal working day typically began with a meeting and each colleague was to present a brief  “media scanning”, telling what they had read from competitors like VOA, BBC, Radio France or Radio Free Asia. The weekly topic-planner has the final say regarding which topic should be covered and which topic will then be assigned to whom. For the Chinese programme still has a one-hour broadcast, for each topic-assignment they usually first work out a radio manuscript suitable a for a maximum duration of 5 minutes as a radio-piece, typically including the so-called original soundtracks usually cut from a short telephone-interview. Theorectically they should then rewrite the radio manuscript into an online text, but practically, the texts published in the webpages of the Chinese programme hardly differ from a radio manuscript. Until today, a large part of non-China related topics seen or heard from the Chinese program are still translated texts delivered by the central editorial department.

Q: You said that the radio and online services had been put into a competitive situation by their merger. That is to say, there was competition between the editors, as after the merger, fewer employees would be needed?

A: The reform idea was to shift DW from Radio to an Internet-based multimedia-platform. The fact that the majority of DW journalists are radio journalists caused speculations as to who will dominate the merged teams, radio over online or just the other way round? To ease the fears and rumours, the DW management gave an official assurance that the merger shall not mean job cuts. In case of the Chinese department around 2007, some colleagues from the radio department went to the general program director, with two thick document folders which had been secretely prepared for about half a year, accusing the online team of having offended copy rights. There might be some minor faults regarding the copy right, but the charge was exaggerated, for many of the articles allegedly  violating copy rights were written just by radio. If any mistake of such kind existed, they should have communicated with the online team immediately, but they kept recording such “mistakes” secretely for about half a year.

Q: Hristina Krasteva, in a paper about Deutsche Welle in 2007, described several “types” of concepts journalists at Deutsche Welle held. Page 96 and 98 describe her try to develop a typology. Does it include your own approach as a DW journalist, or how would you describe your own concept of your work there?

A: I believe the types of self-understanding described in this paper is more an ideal typology than a real-world description. I would say my approach was rather a mixture of these types. I think certain journalistic professional standards shall be valid for all these types. I would say, you can define your roll als being a democracy promoter, or as a mediator between cultures, or as the alternative voice, or only an information communicator, all that is fine. But you have to do it in a professional way, i.e. with journalistic prudence, objectivity, well balanced. You should be aware that as a journalist, you have a different role to play, for example, from a member of a human rights organisation. And generally, I should say, even if you are a staunch fan of advocacy journalism, you should know that you won’t achieve your goal if you try to treat your readers or listeners as if you were their moral sermonizer and political savior.

Deutsche Welle has always been having difficulties in defining its unique attributes since the end of the cold war. To this day, there is still great controversy among the journalists of Deutsche Welle, which target listeners or internet users they are working for. The types of journalistic self-identity in the Krasteva paper, e.g. democracy promoter, mediator between cultures, provider of alternative voices are more wishful theoretical concepts than a description of the reality. The German department of Deutsche Welle is still not able to give a satisfactory answer to the question, i.e. in the age of internet and globalisation, why a German expat should be interested in its  radio broadcasts or internet content, as ARD, ZDF or Spiegel are only a mouse-click away, all over the world. Things become far more complicated, if you try to promote democracy in Iran, Russia or China.

On the other hand, the said typology in the Krasteva-paper describes the very need of Deutsche Welle and its journalists to present themselves to the general public in a way that would justify  the around 300 million-euros budget financed by the state.

In a debate about the future of Deutsche Welle, the former federal culture minister Mr. Bernd Neumann, in 2006, would have seen Deutsche Welle as “the voice of Germany as a country with a great cultural history, and one of the greatest exporting nations”. There is a certain similarity as the Chinese authorities are talking about ” soft power”.  But Deutsche Welle, with all its political legacy it has as part of extended public diplomacy can hardly afford to be just a seller of “soft power”. It has to be political. That is why, at least in my opinion, the DW itself prefers to call itself “the voice of human rights”, for this would better legitimise its huge budget needs.

To tell the world that you are the voice of human rights is a simple thing to say, but how you voice human rights in an effective way is an another, subtle thing. Taking all these aspects into account, I myself prefer a pluralistic and balanced approach as for the question what a DW-journalist is supposed to be.

Q: My personal impression of the Chinese programs from early in the 2000s until 2008 – I was only an occasional listener, and my impressions wouldn’t replace some statistics, obviously – was that Deutsche Welle sold Germany as a brand: how many beautiful fountains Aachen had, Germany as a place for foreigners to study, Germany’s leading industries, etc. Is that a traceable perception in your view, or do you view it differently?

A: There has been a cultural approach as regards how DW should present Germany to the world. Nevertheless, politics, international or domestic, has always been dominant in its coverage. However, as far as the Chinese program is concerned, there has been dramatic change indeed, since the latter half of 2008. The dividing line was the so called “Campaign against Zhang Danhong”. The Open Letter by me and three other former colleagues has explained how and why this could happen.

To the end of 2008, as the Chinese program was becoming more and more narrowed and biased in its view about China, many listeners and online users wrote letters to the public email box of Chinese program, complaining about the “China-bashing” approach of Deutsche Welle. Unfortunately, these listeners or users were branded “50-cent-partisans” (Wu Mao Dang) and that email box for reader’s comments was simply shut down. The internal statistics show that the online-user visits of the Chinese program dropped drastically after the beginning of 2009, to the extent that the Chinese program would be almost not relevant to the international press coverage about and its influence in China. The Deutsche Welle’s management would argue that this was because of the Chinese program’s website being blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall. But that is only the tiny part of the truth. In those several years before 2008, the Chinese website of Deutsche Welle had always been blocked in China, but there had still been visits ranging from about 30,000 to 70,000, and at its peak around 10,0000 visits daily. Since 2009, the regular daily visits have been always around two or three thousand. For I left Deutsche Welle at the end of 2010, i don’t know the statistics since early 2011.

In about August 2010, I was asked by Mrs. Woltersdorf to give a short presentation to a group of Chinese visitors to DW. These visitors were young academic professionals taking part in a one-year research program in Germany financed by the “Kanzlerstipendium”, which is given only to a few selected outstanding young scholars. After the official presentation, they expressed openly that the Chinese program is becoming more and more biased and radical toward China and they do not believe that Deutsche Welle coverage about China is objective any more. They said, as young scholars, most of whom have studied in USA or Europe, they do believe in the universal validity of human rights and the need to improve the human-rights-situation in China. What they are dissatisfied with is the way Deutsche Welle does its work. They feel that Deutsche Welle were a platform only for the voices of political dissidents. Indeed, since September 2010, a very active and known Chinese dissident has become an offical editor of the Chinese program. If Deutsche Welle is losing credibility in this share of Chinese young professionals who are supposed to contribute best to the mutal understanding beween Germany and China, how could Deutsche Welle justify its hundreds of millions of public finance?

For me personally, advocacy journalism is not the problem. It is a great problem if you are practicing advocacy journalism but you tell your audience you are neutral and pluralistic. Beiing honest is the first virtue of journalism. In the case of the Chinese department, the very debate about standards of journalism has been impossible after the “Zhang Danhong affair”.

Q: It’s certainly speculation to guess how online statistics would develop if the Welle took the approach you recommend – but let me speculate anyway, for a moment. Let’s suppose the Welle takes this approach: advocating human rights, becoming very explicit about human rights violations in China at times, and maybe this, too, would offend many Chinese listeners. This would – if my guesswork is correct – still spell rather reduced traffic on the Welle’s Chinese website. But you can’t make traffic the only criterion, can you? Isn’t there a risk of losing your own way as a broadcaster, if you keep toning down your message until the audience is satisfied?

A: I really love this question! For this is the question we, the former online colleagues, have discussed a thousand times! We are usually already one step closer to an answer if we have raised the question. The problem of the Chinese department since the later months of 2008 has been that you risk your “political correctness” if you dare to ask which appoach serves the goal of DW better.

Furthermore I think we shall distinguish advocacy journalism from advocacy of human rights. To say that I am not a fan of advocacy journalism is not to say I am against advocating human rights. That is a big difference. This is rather a question of the path to goal, not the goal itself.

I don’t doubt that DW has a mission to advocate human rights, comparable to the so-called value-oriented foreign policy of the federal government of Germany. But does it necessarily mean that you must do this by not caring about your website traffic anymore?  If you have zero traffic, how could you then promote your great values?
I think that kind of argument is actually based on an unbewared, dangerous presumption, i.e., the general Chinese audience were against human rights and if you try to criticize China for violation of human rights then they shall run away or they shall feel offended.

I myself do maintain a healthy degree of skepticism about any statistical number, especially as the internet is censored in China. What I find ridiculous is the way to work purposefully to target zero traffic. This is something I call the “Persian-paradox”, in some joking way. I was told by a colleague about how the Persian language department of DW has responded to such kinds of questions. The DW management itself is actually much more into increases of website traffic than we the normal editors. Anyway at least no department has been criticized when web traffic increased. The Persian online department was the late-comer in comparison to other five online pilot-language departments, i.e. German, English, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. The Persian online team should have to face the question about the need for their existence if they should keep their site visit numbers at a very low level. During the protest wave around 2009 in Iran, they firstly achieved a relatively high record of visits, but this should have made them feel uneasy. And days later the Persian website of DW was blocked in Iran and they should have felt a great release by telling around in House of DW the good news:  “we are also blocked!”

I cannot tell if the story is true. But i do believe, be it just a fiction, it can best illustrate the dilemma or paradox of DW. I guess the logic behind this should be: If you are not blocked yet, you are not sufficiently politically correct. The compulsory logical conclusion out of this state of mind is a clear one: The DW [outlets] can [only be proved]*) morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. The DW can be only morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. Isn’t this a new form of cold-war mindset? Shall DW be satisfied with the role als a monologue-talker?

I am not saying I have a ready better solution to this conflict of goals. What I want is a corporate climate that encourages such discussions, but instead the opposite has been the case at DW. It is a too-easy , lazy and self-cheating way to be contended with talking the flowery phrases of human rights and then sit back saying: Look, we are blocked by the Chinese goverment and we are therefore very successful!

You don’t have to be blocked to promote human rights. And if you are blocked just because of your promoting human rights, you still have many many ways to reach your target audience, who themselves are not anti-human-rights at all.

Q: Press coverage of China became much more critical around 2008, including some pretty low points – I remember this title story illustration by German news magazine Der Spiegel, in August 2007. Did you feel some kind of cold wind blowing before that? If so, what did it involve? And did the Chinese department or the Deutsche Welle management receive protest letters from Chinese dissidents, or others? Did the signatories to the open letter to the German Bundestag – their open letter was dated September 9, 2008, some indications of the content in English here – contact Deutsche Welle, before writing to Parliament – or were you aware of such contacts with your department, or the management?

A: As a journalist I follow the German press coverage of China regularly, and I was not surprised to find that it became more critical. The mainstream German press has always been seeing China either as a brutal violator of human rights or a newly, fast rising economic giant. In my opinion, more than just a few German field correspondents in China have not been able to really understand what has been going on in China. There could be many reasons for that. But one thing is true: You cannot understand China as a whole if you do not look at the things carefully between the two extreme poles.

Given that the Deutsche Welle management is usually – at least as far as the Chinese programme is concerned -, not open and transparent in dealing with critics of any kind, I don’t know if they had received protest letters before and during the heated campaign against Mrs. Zhang Danhong. I guess they did. But I do know something about the open letter to the German Bundestag by the  several Chinese dissidents in Germany. As far as I know, they have not tried to contact the Deutsche Welle management. If I’m not mistaken, they have written two open letters, with the latter one directly to the German Bundestag. As the first open letter or something like that became public, I called one of the signatories immediately. For I had been the editor-in-chief of the Chinese dissident-newspaper in Germany (now named as European Chinese Post) for about 8 years, I know the majority of these signatories very well, personally. In this phone-call lasting several hours I tried in a very detailed way to explain how the Chinese program has been working and why the general charge against the staff of Chinese program for their alleged affinity to the CP-China is absolutely nonsense. Unfortunately, the next day, I heard they still sent the open letter to the Bundestag. To me, it was above all a great personal dissapointment.

This small group of dissidents is apparently enjoying labeling other people communist. As they themselves disagreed as to who should represent the group to attend a hearing about the Chinese program in the Bundestag, one signatory, on the internet, branded another signatory as the 6th column of CP-China, and the other slapped the other one’s face as they met each other during the Bookfair in Frankfurt in early 2010!

Q: An examination acquitted the Chinese department, dismissed the 2008 open letter’s allegations, and criticized Deutsche Welle’s director Erik Bettermann for acting prematurely by suspending Zhang Danhong.
You stated in your open letter that basically, Mrs. Zhang had only rated China’s human rights performance in a way Georg Blume of Die Zeit (a major German weekly) – this may refer to this article by Mr. Blume.
However, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk in August 2008, she also seemed to compare censorship of Free-Tibet or Falun Gong websites in China with censorship of extreme-right and child pornography in Germany. That was gross, wasn’t it? Did it influence the decision to suspend Mrs. Zhang from working at the microphone, or was that an allegation which came in later – i. e. faultseeking to justify the decision ex post?

A: Censorship in China is certainly quite a different dimension and nature from that of extreme-right or child pornography. I don’t think Mrs. Zhang Danhong wanted to legitimize Internet censorship in China. Through all the years as I worked together with her and by going through all those interviews which caused her trouble, I have never heard or read that she has given credit to censorship in China.

It is not fair to single out one sentence from the whole context in which Mrs. Zhang Danhong made those statements. Under that special circumstances, around Beijing Olympics 2008,  whereas mainstream western press coverage of China showered undifferentiated, generalized and simplistically condemning criticism over China, a journalist like Mrs. Zhang Danhong, with all her China background knowledge and expertise, would instinctively try to give her own much differentiated judgement and in a certain way she was “forced” into playing the role of defending China, although she had no such intention at all. Around 2008, the western press often seemed to forget the simple fact: “the small people” wanted to host the Olympics and they are not the Chinese government.

After all, the fact is that Mrs. Zhang Danhong was punished because of her speech and this happened in a democracy and in a free media institution who is telling the world everyday that freedom of speech is an integral part of human rights.

Q: To clarify, by saying that Mrs. Zhang was “forced” to play the role of a defendant of China or its government, you mean that the other guest or guests in the talk show were playing exactly the opposite role – a role of criticizing China?

A: Later on Mrs. Zhang Danhong has told some of our colleagues how she felt at those talk-shows and expressed that sort of feeling. I could remember her first TV-talk show by the Maybrit Illner, where she was confonted with a German actor who was very polemic in criticizing China. I have never been at such talk shows but I could imagine how difficult it might be to express oneself unmistakenly and perfectly in foreign language before millions of audience.

Q: The examination report, by Ulrich Wickert, hasn’t been published by Deutsche Welle. What’s known about it was published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, in March 2009, and what is publicly known about is content (some info in English here) only became known because a journalist with the Süddeutsche went after it. Do you know details of the report which haven’t been published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung?

A: If you consider how profoundly the so called “Zhang Danhong Affair’s” impact on the Chinese public’s perception of Deutsche Welle – and to some extent Germany’s China-policy – has been, it is a dubious thing that the Wickert-report was treated as a highly confidential document by the management of Deutsche Welle. Despite the fact that every journalist of Deutsche Welle is very concerned about what Mr. Wickert said about Mrs. Zhang Danhong and her Chinese colleagues, nobody has ever had the opportunity to see the paper. Fortunately, I got this paper directly from Mr. Wickert’s office. Mr. Wickert has indeed “rehabilitated” the reputation of the Chinese department, damaged by several so-called Chinese dissidents by coming to the very clear conclusion, that it is sheer nonsense to criticize the Chinese journalists of Deutsche Welle by alleging that they had been too friendly to the Chinese government. Mr. Wickert testified that the several thousands of articles he has examined correspond to high professional standards. He also made a very clear statement, i.e., the DW management has treated Mrs. Zhang Danhong wrongfully. I suppose that is why this paper has been kept secret.

Q: According to your open letter of April this year, Bettermann, the managing director, rejected demands that the Chinese department’s work should be monitored by specialists chosen by recognized human rights organizations, but complied with the demands in practice. You refer to a sinologist, Jörg M. Rudolph, who monitored your work for half a year – secretly first, and openly later, but without a defined set of standards, or standards that would have been made known to the department, all of the time until at least April this year. The standard he goes by, as far as discernible, would be the extent as to how an article or contribution would be “CCP-friendly”, or not. According to your open letter, the Chinese department’s temporary manager at the time didn’t speak Chinese, and the permanent manager who replaced her in December 2009, Adrienne Woltersdorf,  is not capable of “communicating adequately”, spoken or in writing, with the department – was (or is) Mr. Rudolph monitoring the Chinese department on their behalf? Do you know if he is still working there? Can you give an account of how you became aware of the monitor‘s existence, and of how he and you interacted with each other?

A: Nobody knows if Mr. Rudolph is still monitoring the Chinese department today. Mr. Rudolph took this job at the end of 2009 and monitored the Chinese department continuously until at least April 2011. The management has never told us in a direct, open, honest and transparent manner, to which extent, for what purpose and for whom Mr. Rudolph is doing his monitoring work. It is not honest to tell that Mr. Rudolph is there just to help the department’s temporary manager to understand the Chinese language. As Mrs. Adrienne Woltersdorf, who took over the manager postion in December 2009, promised more transparency and professionality, she could not find any excuse to keep the monitor-reports secret. For a short period of about two months, the daily report from the monitor was emailed to every member of the Chinese department. These available reports revealed what the real role of this monitor was. He has very often classified certain articles or contributions as “CCP-friendly” and criticized the authors as too socialized by the communist system. For example: In one comment to my report about how the Chinese were becoming targets of “Neo-Nazi” attacks in the Mongolian Republic, Mr. Rudolph said people like me, who were socialized in China, should  generally not treat topics related to ethnic conflicts. At first I wrote this report in Chinese language, and as other departments showed great interest in this article, Mrs. Woltersdorf asked me to write one piece in German. Before the German one was finished, the above said judgement by Mr. Rudolph was in the hand of Mrs. Woltersdorf. She then kept my report to herself and didn’t pass  it on to the Central Program Department, who supplies topics of general interests to all language departments in German or English languages. Several days later, I sent my article directly to the editor of Central Program and that editor published this text immediately and called me personally in order to compliment me for a well-done report.

I first became aware of the existence of this monitor in early January 2009 as a picture edited by me was taken offline. That picture shows German chancellor Merkel und Chinese Primier Wen Jiabao walking at different paces at a state-visit welcome ceremony.  My caption was: When could Germany and China walk at a same pace? The picture disappeared without asking for my consent before, and it was an unusual practice. I traced that change back to the decision of Mrs. Golte, the temporary manager of the Chinese department. I thought it might be some colleague who reported to her, for at that time and thereafter it was quite a common practice that colleagues denunciated each other to the boss. (Chinese would say: Da Xiao Bao Gao  /打小报告) Mrs. Golte told me that a third person from outside has told her that this picture was politically not correct (!). I kept asking who was this “third-person” and got no further answer. About several months later, as Mrs. Golte said at a department meeting that she values transparency very much, I asked her if she could tell us who is this third person. She had no other choice than revealing the existence of this monitor.

There has not been any direct interactive exchange of ideas between the monitor and the monitored. One single personal meeting happened around later 2009 as Mr.Rudolph showed up in the Chinese department for about 15 Minutes.

Mrs. Woltersdorf is supposed to have a comprehensive knowledge of Chinese language and there should have been no official reason for the need of this monitor, but Mr. Ruldoph has apparently outlived Mrs. Wolterdorf. Mrs. Woltersdorf was forced (officially speaking a free decision, which can hardly be true) to leave the Chinese department in July 2011, but Mr. Ruldolph might be still working there.

Q: She has left Deutsche Welle? Definitely?

A: Mrs. Woltersdorf has definitely left DW. The new chief is the old one – Mr. Matthias von Hein, who took up his office since 1rst January, 2012. How and why this has happened was literally a thriller in real life. I could only say, it was a combination of comedy and tragedy.

Q: When you received your notice, which reasons did Deutsche Welle give for them? And how did the initial and the subsequent reasons differ from each other?

A: Mrs. Woltersdorf, head of Chinese Program since December 2009, told me in a conversation in July 2010 that she had two news to tell me, i.e. a good one and a bad one. I asked her to begin with the bad one. She told me my working contract as a permanent employee would not exceed the official limit to the end of 2010. The good news should be that I would still be a full member of the Chinese program as I would be given a freelance contract. “You should not feel sad, because you may earn even more money that way, continuing to work for Chinese program everyday and as a freelancer.” Mrs. Woltersdorf told me. She said she just had talked personally with Mr. Gramsch, the program-director of Deutsche Welle, and he had decided that, because of the budget-cuts, the Chinese program should cut one permanent postition. “It is a pity that you happen to be the first one whose contract is going to  end in this difficult time. ” Of course, I was not happy with this solution and began to seek to defend my rights by talking with the employee committee, and with the higher-level management of Deutsche Welle. I tried to talk personally with Mr. Gramsch, but this conversation,  which was supposed to be personal and confidential, ended up like a court trial against me, as my very adversary, Mrs. Golte, the head of Asian program, was also present at the talk. The Deutsche Welle management obviously has no intention to hear directly what was actually going on in the Chinese program.

From that time on, DW management has began a series of faultseeking to justify the decision ex post. Mrs. Woltersdorf even refused to sign a memory note of our conversation. In December 2010, as I still believed I could at least continue to work as a freelancer, Mrs. Woltersdorf told me that I was fired, taking effect at the end of 2010. The reason? Mrs. Wolterdorf said to me: “If you do not come to me again with a memory note to be signed, I will tell you the truth: you have made the whole noise in this house!” (“Sie haben den ganzen Krach im Haus gemacht!”)

Until the day I left Deutsche Welle, the management has given me no other official reason than budget-cuts. It might be true that Deutsche Welle as a whole should receive a smaller budget, but the budget for the Chinese program has remained steady so far, if not even increased. Later on in the process of the lawsuit, DW has been trying to invent some fake reasons which are in themselves contradictory. For example, at the local labour court, Deutsche Welle said that I was unable to speak at the microphone. As I presented the court a CD recorded with my broadcasting works, Deutsche Welle said this time in its written defending reply to the regional labor court (Landesarbeitsgericht) that I was unable to live moderate. I suppose the next thing DW would say is that I can’t  sing at the microphone. If i could prove that I could sing, they would again suggest that I still could not sing like Placido Domingo after all.

Q: Did the labor court follow Deutsche Welle‘s reasons, or did they cite different reasons for confirming the station’s decision?

A: For me it was an amazing experience to see how the judge at the local labor court simply neglected any argument based on facts. The judge said that even if the budget was not cut and if I were the best candidate for this job, Deutsche Welle still has the freedom to fire his employee at will. This freedom is the so called “freedom of radio” (Rundfunkfreiheit). But as a learned political scientist, I have my doubts if the freedom of radio station constitutionally overrides the individual basic rights. That is why I am now taking my case to a higher court, which is scheduled to sit on January 23, 2012**).

Q: Have you found work as a journalist again, since – full time or part-time? And if it is OK to ask, what are your feelings about the past three years?

A: Until today I am still trying to find a new job. People of  my age (47) don’t have too many opportunities in the labor market. I have sent hundreds of application letters but I haven’t got a  single invitation for an interview. It was quite a frustrating experience to deal with the employment agency (Agentur für Arbeit). You cannot expect respect and dignity from such social services. I don’t want to go into details because it was very hurting.

Those two years from 2009 to 2010 were an ordeal for me and for several former colleagues who didn’t want to abandon professional standards. Believe it or not, in the Chinese department, the past three years, has been in something like a state of fear. The working conference every morning has become a sort of ritual occasion where some colleagues show how they are anti-China and how they are politically correct. It was offending to experience how people lie and talk big just for fear of losing their jobs!

It sounds like a bad joke but it is real. In the two years after 2008 when I was still in the Chinese department, people turned their heads around several times to make sure that no other one might listen before he or she dared to tell their genuine opinion. The everyday lunch has become a kind of political affair as to the question who walks to the dining hall with whom. One colleague once went to lunch together with me and after lunch she told me that we should not go back together to our office, otherwise people would believe she was allied with a person like me who was in the boss’ bad books. Even when I had already been sacked by Deutsche Welle last year, one former colleague called me and at the end of conversation asked me not to tell other people that she had called me.

What has happened to the Chinese department of DW is first of all a human tragedy.

Q: How has the work of the Chinese department changed since 2008? And – if you have kept listening to the programs once in a while, or reading online – have you seen changes in the programs since you had to leave?

A: Just like what I have described above, since later 2008 the Chinese department has actually been  working not only against the Chinese authorities (doing so is legitimate, of course), but unfortunately also against the majority of its should-be recipients. Unless you equate the Chinese people to the Chinese government or CP-China, as a journalist sticking to a high professional code, you would see this trend as a tragedy of Deutsche Welle. Today, the most normal Chinese people who I personally know associate Deutsche Welle with China-bashing from the West. This is a reputation that Deutsche Welle should not have deserved.

Q: Mr. Wang, thank you very much for this interview.



  *) Correction/update, Jan. 28
**) The hearing has been postponed.


This interview was conducted in English, by an exchange of e-mails.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Deutsche Welle: End of the Radio Era

“Since October 30th, 2011, Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) has been breaking new ground”, the Bonner Generalanzeiger, in an article on November 23, quoted the Welle’s website.

[Main Link:
Links within blockquote added during translation.]

Not everyone at Deutsche Welle seems to follow this path willingly or hopefully, writes the Generalanzeiger.

The end of the radio era – Deutsche Welle terminated its shortwave program in German after sixty years, in favor of its online presence – gnaws at the employees’ self-image and causes fears. After all, employment reduction in a three-digit dimension is hanging in the air.

[The outlook provided] issues in abundance for the staff meeting in the Welle’s board room on November 22, the first such meeting after the end of the radio era. That, and an initial all-clear from the director, Erik Bettermann: there would be no operational layoffs, but there would be early-retirement arrangements, and the severance of fixed-term contracts. Most of the employment reductions would hit freelancers, according to the Welle’s press spokesman Johannes Hoffmann.

The Welle once offered more than twenty radio languages – a global network on analog shortwave. Just one example from a deluge of listeners’ letters: “No Welle no more. Germany abolishes itself”*), wrote a sailor.

That much about the users. For the Deutsche Welle employees, the reshuffles spell a reduction of technical and editorial jobs, in unknown numbers. There are worries about the broadcaster’s sustainability, too. Voices within the Welle are talking about perplexity and deep frustration, and little trust in the new multi-media arrangements. More video, for example, could lead to dangers for the language departments in Bonn.

During the staff meeting, which was held in closed session, there was talk about chaos at restructuring, and lacking orientation. The Deutsche Welle needed new products for new markets, that was also said. But the path was difficult – why? The Welle was a broadcaster with two locations, with grown corporate cultures, and with two heads of programming with no love lost between them, an employee said.

Press spokesman Hoffmann appreciates some of the fears, but “we must position Deutsche Welle multi-medially, in a way which makes it sustainable”. The process was under way, “but the structural reform will only take effect early in 2012”. Bonn, so far with a focus on radio and the internet, would spend more time on television production, and cooperate much more closely with Berlin, than before. Currently, television magazines are adapted for eastern-European languages, and successfully broadcast in those countries.

In a footnote or update to the article, the Bonner Generalanzeiger adds that

Deutsche Welle [is] under pressure to reduce its costs: besides a need to react to globally changing media use, a massive financial problem is part of the reform background. Currently, Deutsche Welle gets 273 million Euros from the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media. According to the Generalanzeiger, quoting the broadcasting commission’s chairman Valentin Schmidt, Deutsche Welle ran a funding gap of “at least ten million Euros”, in 2011.



*) “Germany abolishes itself” (or “Deutschland schafft sich ab”) was the title of a book published by former Berlin senator and then Bundesbank governor Thilo Sarrazin, in a somewhat different context.



» Deutsche Welle cuts Shortwave, May 20, 2011


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