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AfD may sue to get on TV talk shows

Jefferson Chase
July 14, 2017

The co-spokesman for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) says that the party may take public broadcasters to the courts to get more air time. It's the latest salvo in the AfD's war of words against the mainstream media.

AfD Parteitag in Rendsburg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Scholz

The right-wing populists are mad as hell about the frequency with which its representatives get invited to appear on Germany's most popular political talk shows. And in an interview with the weekly news magazine Focus, party co-spokesman Jörg Meuthen said that AfD may not be willing to take it any more.

"It's difficult to get issues across if they're not communicated in the publicly financed media," Meuthen said. "We're considering right now whether or not to sue to appear on the talk shows. A lawsuit is possible."

The anti-EU, anti-immigrant AfD didn't respond to Deutsche Welle's email and Twitter requests for information about whether a lawsuit would actually be filed, and phone calls to the party's headquarters went unanswered.

"No quotas involved"

Germans go to the polls on September 24 to elect a new national parliament. Meuthen said that in the first quarter of 2017 only four AfD representatives had been invited to appear on Germany's four biggest political talk shows on the public broadcasters ARD and ZDF. He said a total of 162 politicians had been booked as guests in that period. "That's only 2.5 percent," Meuthen complained.

The broadcasters reject the idea of political proportionality should be an iron-clad criterion for deciding who gets in front of the cameras.

"The editorial staffs of the shows themselves decide which guests they want to invite to which shows," ARD editor-in-chief told Focus. "There are no quotas involved in the selection."

Could the broadcasters be forced legally to institute such quotas? Media law experts are skeptical.

Talk show host Anne Will
Anne Will hosts a popular German political talk showImage: picture alliance / dpa

No right to talk on TV

Germany's two national and nine regional public broadcasters, which attract some 44 percent of the country's TV viewership, are mainly financed by mandatory monthly contributions of 17.50 euros ($20) from every German household. By law, broadcasters by law must be politically neutral, and major political parties have a right to an "appropriate broadcast time" to publicize their ideas during elections.

But experts say that doesn't mean that parties have a right to appear in any particular political talk shows, whose guests as a rule are a mixture of politicians and other experts and opinion makers.

"Lawsuits are always possible - the question is: do they make sense?" media attorney Tim Hoesmann told Deutsche Welle. "And from my perspective I don't think this lawsuit would have much of a chance of success because there's no right to participate in the talk-show format."

Hoesmann said that the programs are free to decide who they wanted to invite as guests. Other legal experts agree with that assessment.

Meuthen and Petry
Meuthen (left) wants more TV time, but its biggest star is PetryImage: Reuters/W. Rattay

A new elephant in the round?

Hoesmann added that for programs specifically about political parties, broadcasters had a responsibility to see that criteria for inclusion or exclusion were applied fairly.

"If for example you have a talk show where you say 'We're inviting all the parties that are represented in the local parliament,' and the AfD are in that parliament, then the AfD have to be invited," Hoesmann explained.

At present, the AfD are attracting between seven and nine percent in national polls, which would put them in the next national German parliament. The right-wing populists could therefore expect to be invited to the "elephant round," the traditional election-night TV debate between the heavyweight political parties organized by ARD and ZDF.

To do that, the AfD has to clear the five-percent hurdle for parliamentary representation. Meuthen's statements to Focus may be less a serious strategy than an attempt to reverse the party's declining fortunes of late.

June 23 opinion polls
As things stand, the AfD would enter the German parliament and could expect more media coverage

In 2016, when the right-wing populists took over twenty percent of the vote in two regional elections, AfD members were regular participants on Germany's political talk shows, with co-spokesperson Frauke Petry making four appearances in just two months.

But the party has been unable to replicate those electoral results in 2017, and the recognizable Petry has been marginalized by rivals within the party, which may account for why TV planners no longer book AfD guests as frequently.

General hostility toward public media

The right-wing populists' dissatisfaction with the public media in Germany goes well beyond the political talk-show circle. The AfD consistently complains about bias in what it derogatorily refers as the Lügenpresse (lying press).

In its official party platform, the AfD calls for mandatory contributions to public broadcasters to be abolished in favor of a pay-as-you go system that would apply only to those who actually watch the broadcasters' programming. It also wants to see the members of the supervising committees that oversee the broadcaster directly elected by voters.

If they were to become reality, such suggestions would transform Germany's media landscape beyond recognition. And it remains to be seen whether the AfD will gain more influence on supervisory boards, now that the party is represented in most regional parliaments.

In any case, right-wing populists did get to celebrate one legal victory this week. On Thursday, the government signed off on a court order prohibiting it from referring to the AfD as an extremist party.

Clarification: Deutsche Welle is a public broadcaster but is not funded by the mandatory household broadcaster contributions.

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