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Germany

Schröder's Best "PR Campaign"

The German chancellor's decision to adopt a young child has unleashed massive media coverage. Schröder's been fighting revelations about his private life but the current attention could help rather than harm his career.

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Proud new parents

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his wife Doris earlier this week revealed that they had adopted a three-year-old child from an orphanage in St. Petersburg in Russia. Schröder who’s fought the odd legal battle against the media over revelations about his private life is now being confronted with a new wave of coverage on his family life particularly in the tabloid press.

But the tight-lipped German chancellor will surely have noticed this time around that the current coverage is largely improving his image in the population – an image which has been tainted in recent months by his harsh social reform drive.

Strict privacy laws

Germany has some of the world’s strictest privacy laws which also largely affect the way the media are allowed to deal with details from the lives of prominent public figures.

Gerhard Schröder

It's not dyed, Schröder insists

In the middle of the 2002 general election campaign in Germany, Schröder took a news agency to court over their allegations that he’d dyed his hair, and he won the case. The agency concerned described the ruling as a gagging order and an attack on media freedom.

Currently, Germany’s mass circulation Bild tabloid is bending over backwards to inform its readers about the Schröders’ move to adopt a little girl from Russia. The chancellor himself regards the matter as his private business and has said only so much.

“I can certainly confirm that we’ve adopted a child," Schröder said. "But you’ll have to accept that I’m not at all willing to join a debate about the whys and what fors.”

Popularity ratings up

While not being on speaking terms with Bild, Schröder will have no intentions this time around to seek legal action: The side-effects of his child adoption are in fact very pleasant for him.

Bild Titelseite 7. April 2004

For his 60th birthday earlier this year, Bild published a mock front page on the back of the paper with good news stories about the chancellor

He’s getting the best press coverage in months as attention is being distracted away from his unpopular agenda 2010 – a reform package geared to overhauling the country’s overburdened welfare system, but one accompanied by harsh social cuts.

The rare media focus on the human side of the government leader is yielding first results. Schröder’s popularity ratings are rising from their historic lows, and with them those of his Social Democrats.

Little public interest?

Unlike people in the Anglo-Saxon world, Germans by tradition are relatively uninterested in gossip about politicians. They did take notice of the child adoption, but most aren’t interested in any further details and believe that matter is the Schröders’ own, and only the Schröders’ business.

"I'm not so much interested," said one man. "I congratulate the Schröders to the child."

Another woman said it was the Schröder's private matter.

"Otherwise I think he's a little bit old for a three-years old child," she said.

Einwanderung Symbolbild Menschen auf der Straße Miniquiz Mai 2004

Most people here are giving no currency to some media people’s inkling that the Schröders’ move to adopt a child was a carefully timed measure to polish up the chancellor's media image.

"I hope that his decision to adopt a child has nothing to do with his political image," said one woman. Recent polls indicate that only a minority of Germans see a link between politicians’ private behavior and their public actions. Kiss-and-tell revelations hardly ever surface in the German media, not least because of the legal implications they may have.

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