Search Results for “"Erik Bettermann"”

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


Friday, June 10, 2011

“Free Speech, Dutch Values”: Another Shortwave Broadcaster bites the Dust

RNW QSL, 1985

Radio Netherlands QSL, 1985, showing the Flevoland shortwave broadcasting site's location

Radio Netherlands (RNW)  is likely to close down its shortwave broadcasting sites on Bonaire and Madagascar. Shortwave broadcasts from Flevoland, south of the Lake Yssel, were apparently  terminated a few years ago.

If thriftiness is a particularly Dutch virtue, one may indeed refer to the budget reduction, probably from 46 million down to 36 million Euros, with a brand-new  motto, as director general Jan Hoek‘s statement would suggest:

RNW will serve as the journalistic calling card of the Netherlands. The new focus ‘Free speech, Dutch values’, comes ahead of a cabinet decision about budget cuts to public broadcasting.

According to Hoek,

We reach the greater part of our audience via local media organisations which re-broadcast RNW content. In this way, RNW reaches tens of millions of people in their own language, meeting their information needs. External research has confirmed that new technological developments have not made RNW redundant, but rather offer new opportunities to make a difference.

Also part of the RNW package which still needs to be approved by the Dutch cabinet, Dutch-language broadcasts will be slashed altogether.

The anticipatory obedience shown by Hoek, as well as – not too long ago – Deutsche Welle‘s director Erik Bettermann as they face substantial budget cuts might be an indicator as to why their broadcasting stations don’t matter that much any more, anyway. The industry seems to be lacking passion.

When Tom Meyer (Tom Meijer), host and producer of the “Happy Station”, the world’s longest-running show on shortwave, learned in the early 1990s that the show would have come to an end in the foreseeable future, he handed in his notice. The management seemed to believe “that shortwave has had it”, he said in a guest contribution to the programs final episode, in 1995.

Sixteen years later, Meyer was right.


» Deutsche Welle targets “Opinion Leaders”, May 20, 2011
» “Stuff of the Past”, April 2, 2011
» RNW Chinese website

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Deutsche Welle, Open Letter: Huanqiu wades into the Details

Following the People’s Daily‘s English edition (with an article published on May 21), Huanqiu Shibao today reprints much, or all of the open letter “published on the internet” (前不久通过互联网发表 [的] 公开信) [i. e. particularly by German online paper Neue Rheinische Zeitung (NRhZ, see previous post), plus some less established websites – JR].

Huanqiu Shibao:

Summary – Four ethnic Chinese who formerly worked for the “Voice of Germany” have recently published an open letter on the internet, and based on their personal experiences, condemned the “Voice of Germany’s” defiance of ethical journalistic standards, its review and ousting of Chinese staff, its conducting thought examinations and political examinations, installing a secret internal “supervisor”, purging staff “with different views”, and using standards of ideology and the question if they did or didn’t criticize China in interviews and news coverage as a standard. The open letter believes that the “Voice of Germany’s” Chinese department has become some kind of political tool. As it is a rather long letter, we are publishing it in two parts.

The open letter’s main points, according to Huanqiu Shibao  [all links within the account added by JR]:

  1. The non-renewal of existing contracts and dismissals had initially been explained with budget cuts, but several other explanations had been added once the ones about the budget had been proven false. In fact, the measures taken by the Welle had been belated consequences of a previous brawl, about Zhang Danhong, in 2008. It is also pointed out that what Zhang had said had basically been similar to statements by Die Zeit China correspondent [Georg Blume]
  2. Critics of the DW’s Chinese department had demanded examinations of the staff’s backgrounds, including family people / parents, re party membership etc., and reviews of how the DW advocated human rights. As seen from outside, the Welle had turned such demands down, but actually, the station hadn’t only satisfied the demands. Zhang had been defended only half-heartedly, and the Wickert report (compiled by former television anchor Ulrich Wickert), asked for by DW director Erik Bettermann, had never been made public.
  3. Pressure had been exerted on staff, unsubstantiated criticism of their work had been expressed by a temporary head of the Chinese department (Golte-Schröder, in charge from December 2008 to December 2009, and chiefly head of the DW Asia department). She is also criticized in the open letter for not speaking Chinese) and for not being able to judge the staff’s work, having relied on a Chinese national (戴英, Dai Ying), instead.
  4. While People’s Daily’s English edition, in an article of May 21, doesn’t mention the name of a secret supervisor, Huanqiu Shibao now quotes the open letter’s paragraph in question in full, including the name of Jörg Rudolph (约尔格.鲁道夫), who was controversial (umstritten in German, 很有争议 in Huanqiu’s Chinese translation) in academic circles. Rudolph had been – or was still – in charge of rating articles, making sure that nothing that could be pro-China in dissidents’ views would appear again (seine Tätigkeit soll vielmehr sicherstellen, dass in den Beiträgen der Redaktion schon der Anschein einer chinafreundlichen Berichterstattung in den Augen der Dissidenten vermieden wird / 鲁道夫的工作并不是要避免文章语法或格式错误,而仅仅是要保证中文部不再出现任何在异见人士看来“亲华”的文章). It was also in a discussion between Rudolph and the Chinese department staff, according to the open letter, that Rudolph expressed the expectation that Taiwan would, in the future, be referred to as an independent state. The open letter points out that this was not in accordance with the policy of Germany’s foreign office.
  5. The staff had been told, or asked,  to commit themselves to certain goals or standards (neither the goals nor the order or request seem to be described  clearly in the open letter, but the impression is stated that the aim of the measure had been to create or add pressure). In the end, the personnel department and the employee committee had decided that the commitment to be given was legally dubious, and was retracted (Nach der gemeinsamen Überprüfung von Personalrat und Personalabteilung wurde die Unterschriftsaktion als rechtlich bedenklich bewertet und zurückgezogen). Three of the five who hadn’t signed were among those who had been dismissed by Deutsche Welle.
  6. Outsiders could get the impression that in the case of Zhang Danhong, political issues and human rights had been the heart of the matter, write the open letter’s authors. However, there had never been differences between the Chinese department’s editorial staff and the leadership of the Voice of Germany (or Deutsche Welle, DW), concerning the importance of human rights which, the staff, too, had always believed, should be the basis for China’s future. Rather, matters of professionalism were been at the center of the dispute. (作为“中国论战”和“张丹红事件”的旁观者,大家可能都很自然地认为事件跟政治取向、人权理念的差异有关。但事实并非如此,因为所有相关记者都认为,中国 的未来应立足于自由民主的基本秩序,以人权、民主为准则。在诸如对人权影响的看法,以及“批评中国存在破坏人权的行为”等问题上,被解雇的员工与编辑部的 新领导层的看法是一致的。)

This is no rendition of the open letter in full, but might give you an idea about its central issues – until China Daily or the People’s Daily’s English edition provide a full English translation. Addenda or corrections (via comments) are welcome. The German original can be found here.

For more Deutsche Welle-related information from this blog, click this tag, and brace for dozens of posts. Not all of them (but most of them, I guess) are related to the Welle’s Chinese department.

Update: search results, May 26, 2011 ("Voice of Germany" "open letter")

Update: search results, May 26, 2011 ("Voice of Germany" "open letter")


Ai Weiwei and Sino-German Relations, Adam Cathcart, May 25, 2011
Letter to H. E. (2008), Dorks on Duty, April 9, 2010

Saturday, April 2, 2011

International Shortwave Broadcasting, “Stuff of the Past”?

1. Deutsche Welle Reshuffle, Update

An open letter by former Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) editorial journalists, published on several Chinese commenting threads previously, has been picked up by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, within an online flyer dated April 1. Similar to the lawyer of a former freelance journalist with the Chinese service, the open letter – signed by four former editorial journalists – draws a link between current reshuffles and a controversy in 2008 between the Voice, Chinese dissidents, and intellectuals who sided either with the broadcaster’s Chinese service, or the dissidents, and which led to a hearing in one of Germany’s federal parliament’s commissions.

Unfortunately, the open letter’s approach doesn’t seem to be of much help to make the latest events more transparent. An interview reportedly conducted by an intern, scripted by the Chinese service’s former deputy manager, and with exactly this former deputy manager as the interviewee, turns into “an occurence” where the latter had

tried to react to harsh allegations from a Chinese dissident who lived in the United States, in an in-house interview on the Chinese service’s website. The displeasure it caused at the Deutsche Welle management led to the personnel decision described above.

The Deutsche Welle refusal to publish an expert opinion by Ulrich Wickert, completed in February 2009, which had found accusations of slanted  coverage completely unfounded, is supposed to avoid another flare-up of the “China debate”.

But there is no need to make assumptions. Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann himself had told the Süddeutsche Zeitung exactly that – he didn’t want to “revive the China debate again”. The open letter makes the management’s approach appear secretive, even where it is stated explicitly.

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung’s publication of the open letter provides a link to a Bettermann statement, concerning increasing cooperation between the Voice and domestic radio stations. The federal government, as quoted by Bettermann, believes that this cooperation could lead to “further quality improvement at justifiable costs”. The Voice needed to do its share in balancing the federal budget. Radio Netherlands‘ website quoted Bettermann as saying that the adoption of a new structure would affect the number of employees by 2014, by a triple-digit number.

2. Chinese Media Coverage on BBC Chinese Shortwave

Developments at foreign radio stations – Deutsche Welle, BBC, or the Voice of America, aren’t only closely watched by Chinese dissidents, but by the Chinese media, too. Official Chinese media drew links between the 2008 criticism of the Deutsche Welle Chinese service and Germany’s nazi past. In a somewhat more subtle approach more than two years later, the English-language Global Times wrote that the BBC and VoA being phased out of China demonstrated a blow to the ideological campaign that certain countries have waged for over half a century. In addition to competition from other media, they were being marginalized due to their biased and unprofessional reporting.
Update, very latest link:, March 29, 2018
[New Link: / Old Link:, July 24, 2011]

BBC German Service, 50th Anniversary, 1988

Bush House, on a BBC German Service 50th-Anniversary QSL card, 1988

That said or quoted, be prepared for one or another in the world of PRC media when it comes to views on foreign broadcasting.

On March 30, Southern Weekend (南方周末, Guangzhou) cited opinions from traditional BBC listeners who felt sad about the termination of the station’s shortwave broadcasts, and added that others said that the BBC’s broadcasts had been full of hostility (充满敌意), and should have been closed down long ago. The paper quotes  Kang Yi (康艺), a veteran member of the BBC’s Chinese department from the 1960s to the 1990s, who also believes that shortwave broadcasts should have ended long ago, but obviously for different reasons – that shortwave had become stuff of the past (“国际短波广播是过时的玩意”).”When I joined the BBC, the MI6 would investigate your identity to make sure that you weren’t a spy”, she told Southern Weekend. In line with related articles from many other papers, Southern Weekend’s baseline is that the times have changed, and that a cold war was no issue any more. What the Global Times describes as the VoA’s and the BBC’s “strong ideological labels” even now, reemerges, in a more plausible way, as “a strong ideological nature of international shortwave broadcasting during the cold war” (在康艺看来,冷战时期,各国的国际短波广播自然都有强烈的意识形态色彩:“那就是一种宣传(Propaganda)), in Kang’s words, as quoted by Southern Weekend.

Kang remained a listener (and online reader) of the Chinese department after her retirement, writes Southern Weekend. For some ten years, beginning at the end of the 1990s, the department was headed by someone who didn’t even understand the Chinese language, she remembers – and some staff had developed a habit of “cut-and-paste”, be it from Xinhua, be it from elsewhere, and be it for online articles, or for broadcasts on air. Li Wen ((李文), who grew up in Tianjin and migrated into Hong Kong with his family when he was a teenager, became the department’s manager in 2009. As far as possible, he subscribes to the BBC’s concept of presenting a variety of opinions (李文用“尽可能呈现不同观点”来描述BBC的理念).

“When Western countries bomb Libya, we will present all points of view. Supportive ones, opposing voices, all of them” (“西方国家轰炸利比亚,我们就会把各方观点在节目里呈现出来。支持的、反对的声音,都有”).

Contrary to the Global Times, Southern Weekend doesn’t portray the end of the BBC’s shortwave broadcasts to China as the death of the BBC’s Chinese service:

Li Wen is quoted as saying that from April 11 on, they would broadcast on the internet 24 hours a day, with news every two hours, and that a set of audio programs would also be launched. And in a chronology of its own, Southern Weekend points out that the BBC has a long history of cutting programs.

It’s an interesting reading experience. Southern Weekend has been my favorite read in China for a decade or longer – The paper has frequently been available even in Northeastern China, and it’s probably one of the few Chinese publications which could easily compete with any international weekly, if they weren’t hampered by censorship and propaganda guidelines.

The Southern Weekend article on the BBC also makes me think about shortwave as a medium once again. I’m feeling less puzzled by the BBC Chinese department’s withdrawal from shortwave now, than I did when I heard the news first – whatever the BBC, or VoA governors said, hardly sounded convincing, or even as if they believed their own words.

But neither Kang nor Li seem to be too worried that Chinese internet users could be out of useful tools when facing the Great Firewall. That said, many rural places in China will still depend on shortwave – China National Radio itself operates a number of domestic shortwave frequencies, and several provincial broadcasters do likewise.

Not to mention China Radio International‘s (CRI) shortwave broadcasts around the world, including Europe as a target area. If shortwave messages are “stuff of the past” seems to depend on the sender.


Deutsche Welle Reshuffles, April 1, 2011
Noise doesn’t spell Strength, April 7, 2010


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Are Mass Media Losing Relevance?

How can the public perform, when there has long been a second public, when above all, the conspirational sets the tone?
Hans Leyendecker

The brawl about the Voice of Germany was about allegations that its Chinese service had become a mouthpiece of Beijing’s propaganda. There is no final result of the investigation yet – several thousands of older news articles are apparently still under review -, and the Liberal Democrats seem to consider the Chinese service’s coverage angled until proven otherwise.

But in general, the discussion goes into a different direction at the moment. Erik Bettermann, the Voice of Germany‘s director, demands more funding. Without that it would be impossible to compete with other international services, and to provide quality journalism. Not so much to make sure that the Voice doesn’t get politically hijacked, but for its relevance in general.

Money isn’t everything. But even accurate translation from German into Chinese by professionals takes time. Fact-checking takes time, too. The Voice is different from commercial mass media in that it gets public funding and in that it speaks many languages, but its main task is to keep people informed. Without being a reliable (and comprehensive) source of information, it doesn’t matter what its charter wants.

Newspaper circulation in developed countries has declined, with consequences for the papers’ funding. Just at a time when more professional staff would be needed to compete with information sources from the internet, the papers’ budgets are getting squeezed.

Hans Leyendecker is one of Germany’s rather few investigative journalists. In a speech to Netzwerk Recherche (inquest network, roughly translated) in April 2002, he pointed out that most information that the media got about the terror network (this was a bit more than half a year after 9-11) came from intelligence services, where disinformation was part of the business.

Nevertheless, readers and spectators were bombarded with alleged revelations. There was a race for the placement of exclusive inanities with the aid of news agencies. Horror scenarios were to generate attention: fear of fear sells.

(….) Increasingly, media refer to other media which don’t know anything either. Something that could at the most be speculation is presented as fact. For a long time, there has been that mainstream named self-reference by communication scientists. Media refer to media, and that becomes news once again.

So these are some reasons – probably the main reasons – why the mass media are losing relevance. One might say that they deserve it. But I believe that what we would get if everything went from paper to the internet would be even worse. I don’t expect solid information for free. If I still get some, so much the better.

Blogging is usually the last thing I need for information. I’m not saying that it offers nothing. But it offers me rather little, even compared to the mainstream. I think there are blogs that are worse than mine, but unless I’m translating something from Chinese that hasn’t been published in English elsewhere, I don’t feel that I’m doing something really useful. It’s more for my own pleasure than for the pleasure (let alone information) of others. Above all, many blogs seem to express the distrust that the bloggers feel towards the mainstream. It looks like an answer to the mainstream, but generally looks conspirational to me itself. Sit down in front of your computer with an important and controversial issue on your mind, and try to find reliable information on that issue from the blogosphere. Good luck with that, and see you again next year.

China’s media situation is different from ours. Any blog might become real added value so long as it writes about stuff that the mainstream isn’t allowed to report. Zola with his Nailhouse coverage is one example. At the same time, commercial newspapers in China are probably having much better business than Western ones. With all the hype about China now being the biggest internet country, it’s easy to forget that most Chinese people do not have access to the internet, and that of those who have, not everyone will climb the firewall. And Zola is also one example that a citizen journalist’s scope in mainland China is limited after all.

What would it take to increase the relevance of the mass media? What would it take to help the public perform better? Independent, trustworthy research, and much more investigative journalism. It’s hard to tell where commercial papers should get the funding from, especially as they will only be trustworthy when their editors are sufficiently independent from the financers.

But in the end, journalism that moves away from self-referential coverage will pay off. Newspapers may become a great investment once again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Voice of Germany turns from German to Foreign Listeners

Traditionally, the Voice of Germany has, above all, seen itself as a source of information for Germans living abroad. Erik Bettermann, its director, says that this is going to change: “The Voice of Germany wants to reach people who influence opinion making and democratic processes.” Just by speaking German, this goal would not be reached, said Bettermann. He refers to foreign radio and television broadcasters such as BBC World, Al-Dschasira [Oumph. Should have been Al-Jazeera.] oder France 24 and points out that the BBC has a budget of six million Euros [update: 24 mn Euros], while the Voice of Germany has to work with only six million Euros.

Germany’s international broadcaster would only be successful in competing with its global competitors if provided with the necessary financial means. Quality journalism was needed, as the debate about the Chinese department had shown, Bettermann said, according to the Kölner Stadtanzeiger. This required internal debate, too, but this in turn required sufficient human resources.

Voice of Germany will boost its television programs in English and Spanish, while a German program will be broadcast on a second channel. Audio programs will be increased online, with live stream and audio on demand. Listening and watching habits had changed, said Bettermann.

By the end of this year, the station will have decided on its future course to steer. The current total budget is 275 million Euros – the station is funded by the federal government. For 2013, Bettermann expects a need of additional 78 million Euros.

The Voice already played an important role in the promotion of democracy, said Bettermann. With its Global Media Forum, scheduled in Bonn in June this year, the broadcaster offered a platform for the global media community.

Unharmonious Days at the Voice of Germany’s Chinese Service »
Chinese Department in Translation »
Will CCTV and Xinhua shape China’s Global Image? »

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Voice of Germany Chinese Department in Translation

After Zhang Danhong had lost her position as the Voice of Germany (Deutsche Welle) Chinese Department’s deputy manager earlier, Matthias von Hein, head of the department, was removed in December, according to the German Journalists’ Association (a labor union’s) website. More information on the case of Zhang Danhong is here.

From Germany with Love

Net Nanny: From Germany with Love

She remained a member of the department, but has got into another controversy since after interviewing herself on the Voice of Germany’s website, reports the Frankfurter Rundschau. That’s to say, an intern took the role of asking the questions previously written by Ms Zhang herself, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The Frankfurter Rundschau quotes the Deutschlandfunk, one of Germany’s two nationwide radio stations, as saying that original reports in German had been sugarcoated in Beijing’s favor when translated into Chinese. Allegedly, Tibetan protests became violent riots, and protesters became separatists in Chinese.

The Voice of Germany’s general manager, Erik Bettermann, dismissed blanket condemnations, but said that some reflection on the journalistic quality of the Chinese Department’s work was certainly worth some thought.

Matthias von Hein, who had worked in Beijing during the 1990s before becoming head of the Chinese Department, will be moved to the central editorial department.

Within the cultural committee of Germany’s parliament, social democrats tended to be more supportive of the Voice of Germany, while Christian Democrats and Liberals wanted more time and more information to evaluate the work of the station.

Ulrich Wickert, son of a former German ambassador to Beijing, and Erik Bettermann will review several thousands of old news articles, translated back into German from their Chinese translations. As far as news about the torch relay, last years protests (or riots, make your own choice) in Tibet and the earthquake in Sichuan are concerned, interim results suggest no misconduct – according to supervisors of the station itself, anyway.

Zhang Danhong may not have shown the qualities she should – I think it’s too early for a final verdict -, but given that interview with herself, she probably knows how to sob on both sides of the microphone. The last woman who could do that was Patsy Cline.

Related: Unharmonious days, Nov. 14 »

Related: Unharmonious, update »

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