Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On some of the written and unwritten rules in German media and politics

There are many written rules in the German media, and more are being added all the time. For starters, there are the rules of the ethics code laid down by the German press council (Presserat). In addition, every large publication or media outlet has its own guidelines. Tabloid BILD, for example, together with the other media owned by the same parent company, has an explicit statement of support of transatlantic policies as well as support for Israel's right to exist. Another example: public broadcaster ZDF, makes a commitment to European  integration as well as furthering German unity part of its employees' job. Public broadcaster MDR, covering several states of former East Germany, wrote a voluminous tome to lay out election candidate debates and election coverage in deep detail. It was in this rule book that an astonished blogster found German political parties are grouped in categories, from 1 to 4. Category 1 has the big parties in a given race, with minor players further down the "inverse hurricane scale" to no. 4 with local also-rans.

Squabbling over rules happens, sometimes it is fun, sometimes they are interpreted to allow attacking people you don't like while maintaining a straight "but it's in compliance with the rules" face.

One of the founders of the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement has one or two felonies to his name, a fact mentioned regularly under the rule compliant "person of substantial public interest". The only problem with this is that the media talks about a former federal government secretary without mentioning his much more relevant felony. Calling the extensive mention of Mr. B.'s felony an attack on his person is not the brainchild of the blogster, but is clearly laid out in this weekly column of one of Germany's top judges.

The populist right party AfD has been getting the latter treatment regularly. While the blogster does not like many of its ideas, weaponizing questionable behavior is not always justified. When one AfD candidate stated in an interview that German borders should be protected against refugees to the maximum degree possible, adding "including use of weapons", this became the jumping off point for an escalation that went via a Facebook post supporting firing at children to the most recent use of deadly force in German history: guards firing at and killing East Germans at the Iron Curtain.   

To talk about securing German borders requires you avoid anything that your adversaries can spin towards a border like the Iron Curtain/Berlin Wall. Despite the fact that German border guards have weapons, you cannot mention weapons. In the refugee crisis, the word "fence" was only used by German politicians once Hungary built one and Austria debated about following suite.

In a previous life, the blogster overheard several "just shoot them" calls by members of the ever so democratic West German military but - unwritten rule - these conversations took place outside the reach of a camera or a microphone.
When a political reporter of Bavarian state broadcaster BR happily declared the German foreign minister a Russian spy, he did so in the confines of a group he could trust.

Speaking of Russia, conservative Bavarian prime minster Mr. Seehofer got into hot water for recently traveling to Russia. That is expected, but Frankfurter Allgemeine gleefully pointed out that he had violated an "unwritten rule of German politics", which apparently is that you do not criticize your government's policies on such a trip.
Expressing unhappiness with sanctions against Russia also got Mr. Seehofer a boycott of a state dinner by the US delegation at the 2016 Munich security conference.

In all of this, he made the mistake to say that the rule of law was not applied in Germany in matters of dealing with the extreme influx of refugees. He used the German word "Unrecht", which means illegality, or injustice, but is also used to refer to East Germany, which is typically called  "Unrechtsstaat", a state without the rule of law. Never mind that he did not use that term for the current government's handling of the refugee crisis, he was lambasted for "equating the current government with East Germany".

A rule most Germans have never heard of governs media interviews: pre-publication review. While Jane and Joe Mueller will be told that an interview is going to be published and may be asked to sign a release, they have no further say in the process.

Politicians, though, get the final version and can and will make changes.

The public is never informed of this.

Or is it?

Frankfurter Allgemeine recently felt the need to tell readers that the front lady of, yes, AfD had a statement removed regarding the use of weapons at the border.

Wouldn't you love to know what changes are made to interviews?

As to using "Unrecht" to describe Germany, we dug deep, looked around, and found a perfect solution should you want to be so cruel and xenophobic to label the country in this manner.

Plausible deniability is guaranteed by the German language itself and an inability to sing.

Here is the first line of the German national anthem:
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit

It's an easy, heart warming triplet of the Romantic times of 1841, "unity, and justice, and freedom".

For bad singers (96.7% of people)** and drunks, the "und" (and) poses a bit of a challenge, in that they have an unfortunate tendency to make the "d" silent, or drop it.

You will, there is ample proof out there, often hear the line sung like this at soccer matches and other brawls:
Einigkeit un' Recht un' Freiheit 
which then comes awfully close to "Unrecht" and "Unfreiheit", "un" being a common prefix in German to denote the absence of the main carrier of meaning.

Who said German Romantic poets didn't have a sense of humor?

** Yeah, we made that up.

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