Gerhard Schröder is no stranger to taking on the press when its coverage of him doesn't pass muster. But now that he's decided to give the nation's best-selling tabloid the cold shoulder, journalists are fighting back.
No room for reporters from the "Bild Zeitung."
Gerhard Schröder's latest tussle with the media bears an uncanny resemblance to a schoolyard brawl. Germany's biggest-selling daily, Bild Zeitung, prints some critical stories about Schröder's economic and social reforms.
The Chancellor, nose clearly out of joint, responds by saying he's no longer talking to Bild. His spokesman, Bela Anda -- a former Bild journalist himself -- criticizes the paper's reporting style, calling it "a mixture of malice, agitation and contempt for the politicians, garnished with half-truths."
Following the accusations, made last week, the tabloid remained cool, saying the decision only made Schröder's government look bad. Then, several Bild journalists accused the government of excluding them from accompanying the chancellor on trips. Anda denies any such boycott, and says if Bild reporters have to stay home, it's because of lack of space on Schröder's plane.
Reporters fight for their rights
Sensing that the weaker party is being bullied, the German journalists' union, DJV, stepped in on Monday to flex some muscle. Its head, Michael Konken, wrote a letter to Anda, accusing the government of being overly sensitive and high-handed. The exclusion of journalists, he says, is "a blatant transgression against the freedom of the press and their duty to report information."
"The only party responsible for the current critical nature of reports in the media is the government's unprofessional public relations department, which seems incapable of communicating the strategies of the politicians to the media and the people in this country," Konken wrote.
Schröder's decision to stop granting interviews to Bild
Schröder's government accuses "Bild" of bias.
didn't exactly come out of nowhere. The chancellor has been disgruntled with the paper's political coverage for weeks. Last month, he requested his Social Democrat parliamentarians to show more restraint when speaking with Bild reporters.
Nor is Schröder's move without precedence. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for example, refused to grant interviews to Der Spiegel, after accusing the news magazine of distorting its coverage of him.
But Schröder is Germany's self-proclaimed "media chancellor" -- the man who once said that all he needed to govern were the tabloids and television. As such, some would say he ought to know better. This isn't the first time Schröder has taken on the media for running unflattering stories about him. But despite winning past battles, there's a general sense that Schröder is a bad sport.
Last year, the chancellor won a court order to stop speculation in the press about whether or not he dyed his hair (he doesn't, by the way).
Schröder's lawyers also won an injunction against the British tabloid Mail on Sunday after it alleged that Schröder's fourth marriage was on the rocks. Depending on how far Schröder's tiff with Bild stretches, the tables could soon be turned. DJV head Michael Konken's advice to journalists who feel they've been excluded from accompanying the chancellor on trips because they're not "on message"? Take the matter to court.