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Journalist who exposed German government bias in media coverage faces backlash

German-Dutch freelance reporter Claudia Zimmermann faced innumerable hardships after exposing her employer, German public broadcaster WDR, for Soviet-style censorship of the migrant crisis. Zimmermann faced rejected contributions, calls to boycott her and even a public letter refuting her reporting which she says had been strictly factual.

Published: August 11, 2017, 12:11 pm

    Zimmermann described how she had been an eyewitness of abuse by migrants “but my colleagues said ‘we do absolutely not do that because it’s feed for Pegida'”.

    In a interview with RT Deutsch, Zimmermann explained how she had become unpopular with her WRD employees – part of the ARD group of Germany’s regional public-service broadcasters – after she revealed the pressure on reporters not to cast German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel abysmal “open door” policy towards migrants in a negative light.

    As a reporter who had worked for the German Public Broadcaster WDR in Aachen for 24 years, and living in Maastricht, The Netherlands, Zimmermann is not new to the media scene.

    The German judicial system and law enforcement are currently straining to cope with the self-inflicted migrant crisis which the chancellor portrays as her personal “moral” choice about “refugees”.

    The entire structure of the German Public Broadcasting system is aimed at keeping out unwanted news about this crisis; they simply don’t order or don’t broadcast information that does not fit their pro-migration narrative, Zimmermann’s interview revealed.

    In mid-January 2016, Zimmermann was invited by L1 Limburg as a guest. The interview went on air right after the New Year’s Eve mass sexual assaults in Cologne, blamed on migrants from North African and the Middle East. The violent attacks on white women sparked outrage Germany, exposing Merkel’s “welcoming” approach as a sham.

    Zimmermann told the Dutch radio station that it was expected from WRD to cover Merkel’s migrant policy “in a more positive way”. She explained: “We are a public broadcaster, we are paid with tax money and that means we interpret the government’s view and not that of the opposition.” “

    She added: “There are various committees that determine the program policies, which instructed the editors to support the Merkel government policy.”

    Manufactured consent, Merkel on WRD

    Her employer WDR reacted in a press release as “shocked” and indignant and denied Zimmermann’s “false messages” about the mass rapes in Cologne.

    Zimmermann was called to the editorial office and forced to acknowledge her “mistake” in writing, because, according to the WDR, journalists would “work according to the highest journalistic standards, be independent and balanced”. Zimmermann told ThePostOnline: “I was so stupid not to bring a lawyer.” She told RT Deutsch that her repentance refers only to her failure to clarify the functions of Germany’s Broadcasting Council during the interview and in no way did it reflect the veracity of her reporting.

    After the publication of the highly critical study by the Otto Brenner Foundation on media bias, Zimmermann sought the public eye again, giving an interview in which she declared:

    “My journalistic career in Germany with the news stations and publishers came to an end after this statement. (…) The large television stations like ARD and ZDF have long since been criticised as ‘State television’, and in my opinion this is true. The government is not reported on critically enough. That’s not because the journalists are bad. The system works from top to bottom. Chief editors or the studio managment make sure, that critical views are not even broadcast.“

    In Zimmermann’s description of how German journalists function within German media, it is clear that fear and underhandedness prevail.

    WDR had basically stopped working with her since the Dutch radio broadcast. “In April 2016 I made another two -30 second movies – one about art, one over a tree – and the rest they did not want. I just knew it was over.” WDR recently denied it to the German media portal MEEDIA however.

    “It was a giant theater, I had to go to WDR’s office, back and forth. They were in a mess. I then made a lot of mistakes because I was not familiar with the situation. So I had not brought a lawyer and I did not contradict the statement [from the press release, red.] They forced me to state that I had spoken bullshit and had a tendency to report it,” Zimmermann said.

    “I was just put under pressure, it was very intimidating,” she said. “I studied journalism in Munich, and my first job was then a press officer at Lufthansa, until my son’s birth and later my daughter, from a German father – after that I spent fifteen years with a Moroccan man.”

    According to a recent study by media researcher Michael Haller on the German media’s role during the migrant crisis – from September 2015 to April 2016 – his main conclusion was that the media were always reporting from the perspective of the Merkel government. Haller had partnered with the University of Leipzig and the Hamburg Media School and had evaluated thousands of newspaper articles.

    “I know Michael Haller by chance. I emailed him after I heard about the publication and I told him that this was hundred percent correct as I have always experienced it in my work – and why I also opened my mouth when on the radio,” Zimmermann said.

    “For example, about young migrants who harassed girls in Aachen, I myself had been eyewitness. A few girls were harassed by boys in a shopping street, one was pulled by her long blonde hair. When they said something about it, they were called out as ‘Hitler’. Then I said to one of those girls: report it to the police because that is not allowed. ‘I won’t do that,’ said that girl, ‘there they do nothing, because this happens almost every day.’ I then offered it as a theme at WDR but my colleagues turned it down, ‘because it’s feed for Pegida’. That was from an editor of WDR.”

    She described how editors would go to closed seminars for ideological instruction. “For example, the editors go to seminars in closed groups, certain reporters are sent to Cologne, who work closely with key editors. Therefore, you have so few critical messages. And journalism, I have also discussed this with Michael Haller … comments are being exchanged with news. I see that too with Trump now. Even if you’re not a Trump fan, a journalist should report, as neutrally as possible, and the people themselves will form an image. And the AFD is being swept under the carpet. It’s just a ‘Meinungsmache’ [manufactured consent].”

    “Since 2016 it’s only gotten worse. In Dutch talkshows, it is much more liberal. A German friend of mine was most surprised when she was visiting and saw that [Dutch talkshow host Eva] Jinek is still openly talking about everything. Dutch journalism is far removed from German journalism, in a positive sense.”

    As Zimmermann’s revelations about the WRD’s reporting bias leaked into the international media, she was contacted by the broadcaster which sought to “minimize the damage” to its reputation. “I haven’t apologized for my actual words. I have never disavowed them and I don’t disavow them now,” she said.

    Zimmermann says other journalists too tried to offer more critical topics, “but they weren’t approved”. The broadcaster even recommended that her colleagues avoid her and sign a public letter praising the company’s integrity by denouncing her remarks. “I know that they, in WRD, asked that employees don’t have any contact with me, don’t talk to me. I was told so,” she said.

    “The funniest part in this story was that the half of all employees did not sign this letter. There was a heated internal discussion among the employees,” Zimmerman revealed. Despite the majority refusing to sign, some media outlets portrayed it as a “unanimous condemnation”.

    Zimmermann said she believes the German media bias extended to coverage of Russia and the reunification with Crimea, in particular. “I would like the coverage of this issue to be far more substantial and balanced,” she said.

    Similarly, the German media showed an unhealthy bias in reporting on the Syrian conflict, Zimmermann said, after a colleague had proposed to tell a story about the other side of Syria’s life, not scarred by the war. “She wanted to tell about a beautiful Syria. About its beauty, about the way they celebrate holidays and that the war is not everywhere,” but it had been rejected. “I believe it is also a kind of a one-sided coverage,” she said.

    Wolfgang Herles

    Wolfgang Herles, a grandee of German broadcasting and former head of the Bonn division of ZDF [Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen], commented that publicly-funded broadcasters in Germany, including ZDF, routinely took orders from the Federal government in line with an ideologized vision of “multicultural harmony and a pan-European, pro-immigration agenda”.

    Herles noted: “We have the problem that we are too close to the government. The topics we cover are determined by the government. But many of the topics the government wants to stop us from reporting are more important than the topics they want us to cover. We must, we are told, report in such a way that serves Europe and the common good. Today we are not allowed to say anything negative about the refugees. This is government-led journalism, and this leads to a situation in which the public loses their trust in us. This is scandalous.”

    A former German Federal Minister of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich, also said that the publicly-owned media in Germany is now a “cartel of silence” which refuses to report the full extent of the migrant problem.

    Catholic-conservative writer Matthias Matussek, who had speculated on his Facebook page that jihadist massacres in France might cause the Germans to question their country’s open-borders immigration policy, cost him his job at Die Welt.

    Der Spiegel, meanwhile, has heavily restricted or closed altogether all online comments threads about Islam and immigration. According to Focus, Spiegel’s far-left editor Jakob Augstein who when asked whether there had ever been such “instructions from above”, said: “No, I deny vehemently there has ever been commands from the top”.

    As Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, once remarked:”The most puzzling development in politics during the last decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in Western Europe.”

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