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Culture

Accusations of Bias Surround Tour de Telekom

Now the Tour de France is over, German sports journalists are turning their attention to the coverage of the race and have expressed concerns about favoritism in some quarters towards Team T-Mobile.

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And there goes Jan Ullrich...and some other guys on bicycles

Now that Jan Ullrich and the rest of the German Tour de France competitors are back home, German sports journalists have moved away from reporting on the cyclists' performance and the team strategy and have turned the spotlight on media coverage of the two-week cycling event.

The overall coverage of the event and the reception in Bonn when the T-Mobile team arrived home have attracted some post-tour criticism with sports commentators being accused of showing bias towards the team, captained by Jan Ullrich who was the German hope to challenge the winner Lance Armstrong.

Germany's two public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, which are funded by a monthly broadcasting fee, shared the television coverage of the Tour. One of the ARD's main commentators, Hagen Boßdorf has been covering the tour for years now.

Ullrich biographer is ARD main commentator

In fact he's such a cycling and Tour de France expert that he was the ghostwriter for Jan Ullrich's autobiography. A fact that may influence the way he reports about Germany's favorite cycling star, says Christoph Bärthling, a Sport and Media lecturer at the German Sport University in Cologne.

Jan Ullrich weiter hinterher

Jan Ullrich is Germany's best known cyclist.

"It was really difficult for Boßdorf because he was talking about Ullrich and writing his biography, therefore people and many journalists said that it's not fair that he just points out T-Mobile," Bärthling told DW-Radio.

Lack of objectivity

What made the lack of objectivity even more evident, says Bärthling, was the fact that when the T-Mobile "boys and heroes" -- as ARD sports reporter Boßdorf referred to them -- returned home, Boßdorf not only hosted the reception in Bonn's city center, but he also reported on the event for the public broadcaster.

However Werner Zimmer, the head of the ARD's reporting team in France, says it's no secret that his colleague Hagen Boßdorf is also the ghost writer for Ullrich.

"I would prefer people to know that there is a relationship between A and B because then people can watch and listen more closely. I prefer this to not knowing at all where someone stands and what he's doing."

Great coverage or great advertising?

But to some critics the reporting of the Tour and the Bonn reception came across primarily as a public relations campaign for T-Mobile. Germany had two teams competing in the tour, T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner, and individual German cyclists also rode with other teams -- such as Jens Voigt who was a member of the Danish team CSC.

Tour de France 2004 Empfang T-Mobile-Team Ullrich Klöden Zabel

Team T-Mobile.

There have been claims that the ARD and ZDF commentators favored T-Mobile over the other German competitors. Local paper the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger even reported that T-Mobile funds ARD to the tune of €8 million a year -- something that the ARD's Werner Zimmer denies.

"That's not true. There are various things, there's the sponsorship of the ARD Sports program but I can't give you an exact figure," Zimmer said. "And then there's a working relationship between the subsidiary company of the ARD and Deutsche Telekom, that is T-Mobile, but this is normal and T-Mobile also advertises on ZDF who, may I point out, employs a colleague who conducted a lengthy interview with Jan Ullrich and is also working in the advertising industry for T-Mobile. "

Tour essential to German media market

Cycling has become an important market in terms of sports reporting in Germany and both ARD and ZDF broadcast more than 100 hours of this year's Tour, attracting some three to six million viewers each afternoon. According to the ARD's Werner Zimmer this equals a market rating of between 20 and 48 percent.

But as Sports Media analyst Christoph Bärthling points out, viewers who pay their €16 monthly fee for their radio and television reception expect unbiased reporting. While he says there's a growing trend of corporations sponsoring sporting events and advertising on public broadcasters, there's less evidence of direct pressure placed on journalists.

"I wouldn't say pressure in that way but if you just think you're a journalist and you're paid in an indirect way by their sponsors and you have to report about that team there are so many connections you have to think about, so it's really difficult to be objective," Bärthling admitted.

And we shouldn't forget, says Bärthling, that the Tour de France was first created over a hundred years ago by the French newspaper L’Auto to fill the dreaded summer season with some interesting content.

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