Reporters Without Borders deplores the reported intention of the majority of the board of the German public television network ZDF – who are led by members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union – to reject the director-general’s request to renew editor-in-chief Nikolaus Brender’s contract for another five years.
The press freedom organisation believes the opposition to the extension of Brender’s contract is motivated by party politics and, as such, is a blatant violation of the principle of independence of public broadcasters, as formulated by the federal constitutional court. The case has already prompted criticism in other European countries and has the potential to damage Germany’s image abroad.
“The system of public broadcasting must maintain its status as a role model for countries where governments use TV channels as political tools,” said Michael Rediske, spokesman of the German section of Reporters Without Borders. “The principle of independence is already being weakened by political representatives on the boards of broadcasters.”
Rediske added: “Brender’s replacement against the director-general’s wishes would be a blatant breach of the principle of media freedom. ZDF’s manipulation by the ruling coalition would undermine not only the director-general, but also its journalists, who are bound by the principle of independence.”
At a time when European Union leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and, even more so, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are extending government influence over the media, independent public broadcasters of the kind that exist in Britain or Germany take on even greater importance.
The Brender case will determine whether the German system of broadcasting autonomy, as enshrined in the country’s constitution and legislation, is still capable of fulfilling its promise of journalistic independence.