A ban on press coverage of a conference issued by a branch of the populist AfD party has dumbfounded many. Journalist groups and others in Stuttgart's assembly accuse the AfD of spurning a basic democratic practice.
The Baden-Württemberg branch of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party told the media Wednesday that its 12-member executive had decided that reporters could not attend next Sunday's conference session to pick candidates.
Germany's federal parliament is up for election next September. Candidate selection is underway in many political parties, including the center-left Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
Some 600 AfD members are expected from Saturday to pack into city hall at Kehl - on the Rhine River (pictured above) - opposite Strasbourg, France - while police oversee protests outside.
The regional AfD, whose 22 deputies make up the largest opposition bloc in Baden-Württemberg's (BW) assembly in Stuttgart, was told by its federal co-leader Jörg Meuthen on Wednesday that he would have "voted against" the AfD executive's ban on media coverage.
Meuthen is simultaneously the AfD faction leader in Stuttgart's assembly - though not a member of the AfD's state executive - while also being national party leader, alongside Frauke Petry.
AfD regional chairman Lothar Maier said his executive had reached its decision to exclude the press when it met on Tuesday.
Stuttgart probe into verbal outburst
That coincided with an inquiry launched by the Stuttgart assembly's administration against AfD's parliamentarian for Kehl, Stefan Räpple, who on the fringes of debate last Thursday described other deputies as "betrayers of the nation."
Manuel Hagel, the general secretary of the Christian Democrats (CDU), which in March was relegated to being junior partners in a Greens-led state government, described the AfD as hardly fit for "daylight" democracy.
Greens regional leader Thekla Walker accused AfD conference-goers of wanting to deny BW citizens of the opportunity to experience "what crude and frequent hate-filled speeches are held in its ranks."
A journalist network that has coordinated parliamentary media coverage in Stuttgart since 1954, the so-called Landespressekonferenz (LPK), said the AfP's media invitation cancellation had caused "great consternation."
"We see in it a massive intervention in free reporting," said LPK chairperson Barbel Schlegel, herself a Stuttgart-based radio correspondent.
"It [unhindered reporting] belongs, in our opinion, to the fundament of a democratic culture; that the public can be informed independently and without hindrance, how parties position themselves politically and how they prepare for elections."
"It is downright laughable that the Baden-Württemberg AfD wants to exclude journalists and present them with pre-filtered information at a press conference," said Frank Überall, the chairman of the German DJV journalist trade union.
Überall said the AfD continued to exhibit a poor understanding of the role of journalists in a democracy. Some months ago, the AfD in North-Rhine Westphalia branch had planned such an exclusion only to drop it at in the last minute.
For Sunday, the AfD has only scheduled its own press conference for 2 p.m., local time, telling media representatives they were "warmly invited" to attend that event.
Rancor behind closed doors
DJV regional chairperson Dagmar Lange said the AfD only wanted agreeable aspects to "come to light" and not the persistent rancor rumored within AfD circles.
In Stuttgart's assembly last July, the AfD split into two parliamentary factions in a row over anti-Semitic allusions made by one of its deputies, Wolfgang Gedeon.
The two AfD factions reunited in early October, with Meuthen as its chairman.
Kehl city authorities said Tuesday the precinct around city hall, including streets, parking lots, and bus routes, would be overseen by police. An anti-AfD demonstration was planned by the Social Democrats' (SPD) youth branch.
ipj/sms (dpa, AFP)