Populist AfD slammed in Bundestag debate on Deutsche Welle′s future | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.04.2018
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Populist AfD slammed in Bundestag debate on Deutsche Welle's future

At the request of the right-wing AfD, the German parliament discussed DW's future. There was praise from all other parliamentary groups, and the amendments proposed by the AfD were met with fierce opposition.

The far-right AfD, the largest opposition party in the German parliament, the Bundestag, wants to change the statutory basis of Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW). It has presented the proposed legislation to parliament.

The bill provides for a change in the composition of DW's supervisory bodies. It proposes that the federal government should no longer be represented on the broadcasting council, where it currently has three out of 17 representatives. The number of parliamentary representatives, who could be from the opposition, should be raised from two to three.

Read more: The far-right AfD in the Bundestag - what you need to know

AfD spokesperson, Thomas Ehrhorn, described "misguided developments and erroneous appointments" in the choice of directors and on the supervisory board. He warned of "propaganda media in the hands of a ruling political class," which are often used as "an instrument of power" against the people.

Thomas Ehrhorn, AfD MP (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm)

Thomas Ehrhorn from the AfD presented the bill in parliament

According to Ehrhorn, every administration has "attempted to gain the most comprehensive control possible." Ehrhorn said he was critical of the fact that DW's director, Peter Limbourg, had said that, in terms of the values that should be conveyed by the broadcaster, "tolerance" should be of upmost importance. Ehrhorn complained that that would mean "tolerating everything, from medieval religious beliefs to gender madness" or "sentimental multicultural stories."

Deutsche Welle 'more important than ever'

Politicians involved with cultural policy from all other parliamentary groups roundly rejected these suggestions. They stressed that, especially in politically turbulent times, in which politics is being increasingly influenced by fake news - also internationally - Deutsche Welle is particularly important.

Elisabeth Motschmann, from the Christian Democrats (CDU) called it a "peculiar irony" that the AfD "would consider themselves to be the guardian of freedom of expression and journalistic independence." She thanked the German international broadcaster for its "really important work," saying it transports the "values of a liberal democracy" and is "more important than ever in a world that has become more troubled."

Read more: How the far-right AfD taps into Germany's East-West divide

Motschmann was referring to worldwide restrictions on press freedom; only 13 percent of the world's people "have the benefit of free media," she said. Authoritarian states such as China, Russia and Iran have upgraded their foreign broadcasters. In view of this, the Bundestag has "good reason to further strengthen Deutsche Welle" and to increase its budget.

Deutsche Welle building in Berlin (picture-alliance / ZB)

Deutsche Welle is based in Berlin (pictured) and Bonn

The Christian Democrat politician described the past five years of DW as a "success story on a very good course." DW's audience has risen from 101 million to 157 million per week. In 27 of the 30 languages in which DW reports, it is "one of the top three foreign broadcasters."

‘Strengthen tolerance'

Thomas Hacker, of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), also emphasized DW's commitment to "freedom, democracy and the rule of law." He mentioned the Arabic-language discussion program"Shabab Talk," which promotes diversity of opinion and, for example, has brought the #MeToo debate to the Arab region.

"These programs reinforce tolerance for other ways of living." According to Hacker, the FDP also supports plans for a DW Turkish-language TV program, since "under President Erdogan the press and freedom of opinion have been trampled underfoot."

According to Martin Rabanus from the Social Democrats (SPD), "DW's focus is on facts instead of fake news." He said that 96 percent of DW's audience said it has extremely high credibility. His party is also urging for DW to be further strengthened to get it on an equal footing with France's and the UK's foreign broadcasters.

Read more: 2017 - grim year for free speech and media freedom

"We want Germany to have a global media house. And this media company is broadcasting facts instead of fake news, independent, innovative, tied to values and with a heart."

DW Director General Peter Limbourg (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm)

DW Director General Peter Limbourg listened to the debate in the Bundestag

‘Strong voice of a democratic Germany'

Green Party member, Margit Stumpp, also emphasized that the station is living up to its aim of "being a strong voice for democratic and liberal Germany." She said that AfD's reservations are a "compliment to Deutsche Welle." In view of the growing dissemination of "propaganda and fake news, rabble-rousing, it is important to strengthen Deutsche Welle as a strong voice of a democratic Germany."

The plenary session of the Bundestag referred the AfD's bill to the committees for further discussion. The Committee on Culture is responsible.

DW's director, Peter Limbourg, together with program director Gerda Meuer, had listened to the 50-minute debate in the Bundestag's visitors' gallery.

"We are pleased with the great support by almost all parliamentary groups," he said afterwards. The debate had repeatedly highlighted the worldwide importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in today's world, he said. And he continued by saying that this is one of the key aspects of the broadcaster's work.

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