Wednesday, January 20, 2016

German public broadcaster SWR bans populist AfD from pre-election debate

Debates between top candidates for political office are held in Germany, too. And, just as in other countries, there is jostling and fighting, sniping and upset when it comes to which parties get a seat.

In the run-up to the British 2015 elections, for example, the BBC made headlines in October 2014 when it announced the Green Party would not appear in the TV debate, though UKIP would.

The situation was resolved and in April 2015 everybody was happy: They each said they were "looking forward" to the TV clash which also features UKIP, the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru leaders for the first time.

Not so in the two German states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and neighboring Rheinland-Pfalz in 2016.

The regional "public broadcaster" SWR was going to hold debates of candidates and found itself at the center of a controversy because they wanted to invite the young AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland), a populist startup polling at between five to eight and six to ten percent in the two states, making entry into the new state legislature highly likely.

The AfD, strongly anti-Euro, heavily opposed to the government on refugee and asylum matters, was looking forward to the debates, when the social democrats (SPD) and the Greens in both states made it clear they would not share a debate stage with the AfD.

The conservative Christian democrats (CDU) said they did not oppose inclusion of the AfD, although the blogster could not determine with certainty whether this was before or after the SPD and Greens leaders issued their ultimatum.

German public broadcasters are supposed to operate in a manner independent from government, although politicians are on the boards of directors, ultimately control the purse strings, and tend to put their buddies into the CEO jobs when they can - or as critics would say: always.

The head of SWR had to make a choice.

Insist on including AfD and thus render the debates useless because the SPD and Greens would not be there.

Give in to the demands and play into the hands of the many critics who have been decrying too much political influence on the broadcasters anyway.

Himself being up for reelection soon, the broadcast chief caved: only parties that are already in the current state legislatures will participate in the debates.

To give at least some voice to the others, including the right wing AfD, the left wing DieLinke, and the FDP in Rheinland-Pfalz (where it is not in the legislature, as opposed to Baden-Wuerttemberg), the broadcaster chose a format Americans know well from the presidental State of the Union addresses.

Interviews taped in advance with the candidates of the excluded parties will be aired after the respective debates.

[Update 1/21/2016] Der Spiegel just reports that the CDU candidate of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, Ms. Kloeckner, has decided to pull out of the SWR TV debate for her state.

[Update 1/31/2016] Politicians of the Green party and the Social Democrats in both Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate changed their minds and agreed to have AfD and FDP in the debates. The CDU candidate of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, Ms. Kloeckner, also reversed her last decision and will participate.

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