Bavaria's ruling CSU party is struggling to contain damage caused by spokesman Michael Schrepp. He resigned over accusations he had tried to prevent a public broadcaster from reporting on an opposition party conference.
The public broadcaster ZDF claimed that Michael Strepp, a spokesman for Bavaria's Christian Social Union party (CSU), had called its news department on Sunday evening to stop them from airing a report on the main opposition party, SPD.
The SPD had held a regional party conference on Sunday, where it chose its top candidate, Munich mayor Christian Ude, as the challenger to CSU Premier Horst Seehofer for next year's regional election.
ZDF and all other German news programs reported on this.
Michael Strepp admitted to having made the phone call. But he claimed he was misunderstood and just intended to make an enquiry on the programming rather than try to influence reporting.
ZDF editor in chief Peter Frey, however, backed his journalists' version of the story.
The topic made it into the news across Germany on Wednesday and the SPD called a debate on the matter in the Bavarian regional parliament for Thursday.
The head of the Bavarian section of the opposition Green Party, Dieter Janecek, said the incident exposed the CSU's regrettable lack of respect for press freedom.
“Whoever wants to stifle the freedom of speech lacks an understanding for basic democratic principles,” he said.
CSU party chairman and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer accepted Strepp's resignation on the sidelines of the debate, refusing to give details on the case.
Ahead of the parliamentary session Seehofer had stressed that it was completely unacceptable for any politician to try to muzzle the press. Seehofer cancelled his appointments on Thursday to be in Munich as the situation developed.
The story has been reported widely across Germany with political analysts questioning the possible motive for the CSU spokesman's actions.
The CSU has been in power in Germany's biggest state for the last 60 years and according to opinion polls this is unlikely to change, as the latest figures predict an absolute majority for the CSU.
rg/kms (AFP, dpa)