Combative Director, Annoyed Politicians, December, 2014
German politicians reacted with resentment last month, to an announcement by Deutsche Welle (DW) director Peter Limbourg to cease programs in German and other important languages if there was no significant increase in the broadcaster’s funding. “I’m thinking of the cutting of the German language as an unnecessary threat posture to get more funding. A Deutsche Welle that does without the German language and doesn’t broadcast in rare languages misses the mark and damages its reputation”, the main representative of the Christian Democrats in German parliament’s foreign affairs commisson, Roderich Kiesewetter, told a German paper, the Handelsblatt, around December 15.
Tabea Rössner, media spokesperson for the Greens in German federal parliament and quoted in the same article, also criticized Limbourg’s policy. The decision to adjust the broadcaster to the English language was “fatal for Deutsche Welle’s future”, Handelsblatt quoted Rössner. The multi-language character of DW was its core competence and its unique selling point. “Thus, a source of information, with broad great esteem for its reliability, is lost for the broad population.”
Kiesewetter had been positive about Limbourg’s idea to “counter” Russia Today (RT) television, some two months earlier.
Some 600 DW employees took to the streets in Berlin’s government quarter on December 15, according to Frank Überall, treasurer of German journalist association DJV. They reportedly protested against Limbourg’s plans. DW would only remain a success story if further developed in close cooperation with the employees and politics, and Limbourg should know that, Überall told his organisation’s website, djv-berlin.de, in December.
Members of the two biggest groups in German federal parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, had stated in November that they had recognized the problem of structural underfunding at DW. On December 18, three days after the demonstrations in Berlin and in a debate of DW’s Aufgabenplanung (task planning), federal state minister for culture Monika Grütters and spokes persons of all parliamentary groups said that DW should get more funding on a regular basis. Above all, rising labor costs needed to be taken into account. All parties seem to have agreed that far.
The Christian Democrats, their Bavarian sister Party and the Social Democrats (SPD) – i. e. all bigger parties and all of them forming the current federal government – agree with Limbourg that DW English-language television needed to be strengthened. Martin Dörmann (SPD) pointed out that while the German television program reached only 250,000 viewers, the English program had an audience of 30 million. Members of parliament from the governing parties also suggested that DW “countered” frequently propagandistic coverage from other foreign broadcasters, from countries like Russia and China. That’s where the opposition disagreed.
The Left Party and the Greens, currently the only oppositional parties in federal parliament with only a fifth of all mandates there, oppose the idea, if it leads to closing down departments in other languages. Rather than entering a mindless competition with the English-speaking television stations of other countries, DW needed to strengthen their core competences.
In a motion for a Bundestag resolution, the Greens also addressed a paragraph from Germany’s co-determination law for federal institutions, the Federal Staff Representation Act (Bundespersonalvertretungsgesetz), § 90. The paragraph in question states that only permanent employees (with indefinite as well as temporary contracts) are eligible to elect members of the employee committees or to be elected. Non-permanent employees should be represented by the employee councils, too, according to the motion, which was turned down by the CDU/CSU/SPD majority.
The motion, if accepted, wouldn’t have greatly strengthened the position of non-permanent DW employees when defending themselves in the labor court against sackings, but it would have allowed – and obliged – the employee councils to pay closer attention to such issues.
Member of parliament Marco Wanderwitz (CDU) rejected criticism from Green member Tabea Rössner that Limbourg had taken DW employees hostage in order to get more money. However, Monika Grütters (also CDU) acknowledged that Limbourg’s move to threaten the closure of the German service had been wrong.
As many other departments, too, the German radio service was closed down during the past decade.However, there are still German-language television programs and a German-language internet website run by DW.
Foreign-language Service “from a German perspective”, January 2015
From the the [German] foreign office’s press release:
the foreign office and Deutsche Welle have agreed to establish a new multi-medial foreign-language service to promote international coverage of Germany abroad. The news agency dpa will contribute content, and the foreign office will support the project financially.
The new multi-medial foreign-language service shall spread current news and background from a German perspective to media partners and end-users all over the world. News from Germany and topics that shape discussions in the German public are at the center. The foreign-language service will be produced in German, English, Spanish, and Arabic, and fitted with regionally relevant topics respectively.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democrat) is quoted in the press release as saying that the new service offers the opportunity to spread news from and about Germany in a contemporary way and at high standards, thus shaping Germany’s image abroad in a positive way.
Limbourg, also according to the press release, said that the offer contributes to put Germany’s global political and economic weight into a medial context. Lasting partnerships can only evolve with cultural understanding. We want to promote this understanding with an honest, independent view onto Germany.
A press release by Deutsche Welle (in English) also mentions a budget from the foreign office, but does not become more specific than the foreign office either.
» Phoenix/DW, press release, Dec 19, 2015