Outgoing press spokesman Bela Anda was the voice of the German federal government -- and its firefighter. The outgoing government spokesman, Bela Anda was Gerhard Schröder's man to the public to the very end.
Bela Anda: the government's Hermes
The job of lead government spokesman requires great skill and verbal talent, assertiveness and dexterity -- and, of course, sensibility.
For his boss, Bela Anda wasn't just a press advisor charged with representing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's statements or decisions. Above all, he was charged with putting out fires, often started by government officials making rash statements.
Sometimes it was more of a war than an information machine, said Anda. "There are always moments where you just have to play along, and others when you just have to endure the heat."
The job doesn't appear to have left scars. After all, Anda is skilled in verbal defense, clearly and deliberately articulating each word as he answers media questions at the government's regular press conferences. Charged with doing the talking without giving anything away, some journalists call Anda the "say nothing" press spokesman.
Answering the media deftly
But he knows all the tricks, since Anda is a pressman through and through. Previously a journalist for mass-circulation Bild Zeitung, he changed sides a few years after co-writing a biography of Schröder in 1996. In 1999, he became a spokesman in the government's public affairs bureau. Three years later, he was named the lead spokesman and put in charge of the government's press office.
"It was so tough," he recalled. "It was completely different working on the other side. For example, I would hear something and think, 'that could be a great story.' But later, I would have to bite my tongue because it would be something I could not give away. One learns a lot in seven years on the inside."
Hermes in action
Anda has two main areas of responsibilities. On the one hand, he keeps the chancellor informed about what the media is saying. On the other, he relays the government's decisions to the public. And this he does with the help of the 580 employees of the government's Press and Information Office from its locations in Berlin and Bonn.
In the thick of things
They create the communications strategy for the government and liaison with more than 100 foreign and domestic newspapers and 80 radio and TV programs. But the most important role he plays, Anda said, is to report to the chancellor personally and advise him on communication. As a result, he sees his role partly as that of Hermes, the herald of the Greek gods.
"The most important thing about my job is to recognize that there is a border between information and indiscretion and that one has to redefine that border every day," he said.
Ambassador from the heart of power
And he is not only around for the decision-making process but is actually part of making decisions, sitting in cabinet meetings and in strategy planning sessions at the chancellery. Anda said it's important to him to know how the decisions are made so he can relay them more effectively to the public. And yet, he stills spends many hours qualifying or denying various statements from government officials.
During his tenure as press spokesman, there was nothing he ever had to relate to the public that he personally believed was false, Anda said. That's not to say that just avoided saying things he disagreed with. On the contrary, Anda is known for his strong loyalty to Schröder. And, he said that overall, he was satisfied with the flow of information from the top.
Critics in the opposition have called him a liar, and he was under tremendous pressure when Agenda 2010, the chancellor's package of labor market reforms was revealed. But his job was to be the administration's salesman and hock its programs, he said. And that includes responding effectively to critics.
"I believe in the philosophy that each attack should be answered quickly and with force," Anda said.