Critics of public broadcasting have published a “manifesto.” Political and personal reasons are mixed.

Cabaret artist Lisa Fitz gesturing on stage.

One of the first signatories: Liza Fitz Photo: imago

Around 100 artists, journalists and scientists are affected. This is clear from the “Manifesto for a new public broadcaster in Germany”, published on Wednesday on the meinungsvariety.jetz website created for this purpose. The signatories would value “public broadcasting (ÖRR) as a pillar of democracy.” But it is currently in danger.

The signatories complain that opinion formation and information are becoming confusing, in a way “that contradicts the principles of serious journalism.” There is also a growing discrepancy between the program's mandate and its implementation. The document also lists a number of reform proposals, including an open archive of all publications and greater citizen participation.

Public broadcasting in Germany has long been criticized, and not only from the circles of the original signatories. Some themes in the manifesto, such as the proximity and influence of politics, the increasing time pressure for research and the need for economic efficiency, concern many journalists.

The federal president of the German Association of Journalists (DJV), Mika Beuster, highlighted in a first statement that he also shares some criticisms, such as the deterioration of working conditions at the ÖRR and the situation of self-employed workers.

Fuel for the right

To address justified criticism, a committee, the Council for the Future Development of Public Broadcasting, met in early 2023 and published its recommendations in January 2024. The Future Council criticized coordination difficulties between the various bodies broadcasting and called for reforms.

It is surprising that some of these sensible suggestions are circulating in New Right circles alongside the manifesto. The platform for hate speech and false claims Tichy's vision was the first to discuss the manifesto in detail on Wednesday. The first signatory and rbb journalist, Annekathrin Mücke, explained the demands in a long interview.

A look at the list of other signatories also makes the partly legitimate demands look dubious. Because among them there are also people close to the new right-wing scene. Also present is Michael Meyen, the newspaper's former editor. Democratic resistance, an organ of the radical scene made up of lateral thinkers and corona deniers. Cabaret artist Lisa Fitz is also the first signatory. During the Covid-19 pandemic she repeatedly spread disinformation, for example about the alleged figure of 5,000 deaths due to vaccines.

The signatories criticize that “voices that question a social consensus – claimed in the media – are ignored, ridiculed or even excluded.” They also criticize the supposed inflationary use of terms such as “blasphemer, climate denier or Putin connoisseur.” Minority opinions would be silenced.

Contradiction of ARD and ZDF

The demand document “is wrong on key points,” the Working Group of the Committees of Public Editors (AGRA) contradicted on Thursday. The AGRA statement continues: “We have everywhere a lively culture of debate in which all opinions are expressed. The reporting is generally done in accordance with journalistic principles.”

The manifesto website highlights that the creators are employees of public institutions. However, among the approximately 100 initial signatories named by name, there are only six active journalists, noted Hendrik Zörner in a comment on the DJV blog.

In addition to the initial signatories, the manifesto names 33 other public employees who have deposited their signatures with a lawyer and are therefore not publicly visible.

Anonymous statements

In addition to the manifesto, the website also contains statements that represent the signatories' personal experiences in the world of public media. Most of them are anonymous because there is great concern about professional consequences, according to the website's contributors.

In them the Corona report is an important point, it has its own tab. “I thought the same 'experts' were still deceiving us with half-truths,” an SWR employee writes on the subject.

In recent days, some media outlets have adopted part or all of the manifesto as a sign of their approval. These include Telepolis, a Heise Online magazine and the Berlin newspaper.

However, other media criticize the manifesto. René Martens, for example, calls the formulations in the MDR column “Das Altpapier” a “storm of AI-sounding formulation blocks” and suspects that the manifesto is “the revenge of a well-connected sound designer.”

Because Ole Skambraks, head of press law at meinungsmultiplicity.jetzt, was fired from SWR in 2022 because he “continued to discredit SWR and thus his colleagues working here by making false statements in public.” With his behavior, Skambraks also “seriously disturbed” the peace in the company. The background was Skambrak's criticism of the station's Corona reporting. He has come full circle.