The head of Germany's CDU is facing a backlash after suggesting there should be "rules" for influential online bloggers during election campaigns. Thousands signed a petition calling for an end to attacks on free speech.
A screenshot of the petition, headlined: 'No censorship of our freedom of opinion, Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer.'
Almost 50,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the head of Germany's ruling conservatives, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, "stop censorship."
The appeal was launched by two YouTube stars after Kramp-Karrenbauer called for a debate about whether online political "propaganda" should be regulated in the lead-up to elections. The German word Kramp-Karrenbauer used, Meinungsmache, is ambiguous and can also mean political "spin," but certainly implies a degree of factual inaccuracy.
The Christian Democrat (CDU) leader made the comments in response to a video by German YouTuber Rezo which was released just days before the party suffered major losses in the European elections. The viral clip urged voters to shun the ruling parties over their failure to act on climate change. Dozens of influential YouTubers also added their support to the pre-election message.
"What would happen in this country if, say, 70 of newspapers decided two days before the election to make a joint appeal: 'Please don't vote CDU or SPD'?" Kramp-Karrenbauer asked Monday, saying it would be seen as a clear attempt to manipulate opinion ahead of the polls.
Her call for more discussion about whether political opinions in the digital sphere should be regulated around election time sparked an outcry. Opposition politicians, free speech advocates and social media users accused her of embracing censorship.
The German Federation of Journalists (DJV) said the idea was "not just nonsense but also a violation of the constitution."
On Tuesday, YouTubers Marmeladenoma, 87, and Herr Newstime, 29, launched their online petition calling for an end to "censorship and attacks on freedom of expression." As of Wednesday morning it had more than 48,500 signatures.
The appeal also urges Kramp-Karrenbauer to "bury her ideas for election campaign rules" before upcoming regional elections in the states of Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony.
The response prompted Kramp-Karrenbauer to later backpedal, stating that the CDU "will always defend freedom of opinion and diversity of opinion."
"Particularly in controversial times such as an election, we all bare responsibility for how we discuss with one another and how political opinion is formed," she said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, often referred to as AKK, replaced Chancellor Angela Merkel as head of the CDU in December. She is expected to run for chancellor when Merkel's term ends in 2021.
nm/msh (AFP, dpa)