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Germany: How ARD and ZDF explain their ban on AfD from their talk shows

They have millions of viewers and are often a topic of conversation on social networks and the media the next day: the political talk shows from ARD and ZDF are a force in the public debate. There is hardly a politician who doesn't drop everything else to take a seat in one of the coveted studio chairs at the public broadcaster.

According to research by Junge Freiheit, since last year's federal elections, politicians have been guests on 426 shows by Maybritt Illner, Markus Lanz, Sandra Maischberger, Anne Will or "Hart aber fair". Some of course more often. Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has made a whopping 21 appearances since September 2021.

The AfD has not been invited since the federal election
Politicians from the CDU and CSU spoke most frequently. They were invited 122 times. Their colleagues from the SPD made 119 appearances, Green politicians 86, and FDP politicians 72 times. And the AfD? Not once did representatives of the opposition party sit in the TV studios of ARD and ZDF. Even the Left Party, which narrowly won three direct seats in the Bundestag, was represented by 26 politicians.

It becomes interesting when the number of talk show appearances is related to the result of the last federal election:

Party Election results Talk show share
CDU/CSU 24.1% 28.7%
SPD 25.7% 28.0%
Green 14.8% 20.2%
FDP 11.5% 16.9%
AfD 10.3% 0.0%
Left Party 4.9% 6.1%

All parties - except for the AfD - are overrepresented in the talk shows compared to their election results. Can this be a coincidence or are ARD and ZDF actually waging a “media war” against the AfD, as some in the party claim?

ARD: Talk shows are not “substitute parliaments”
Junge Freiheit asked the two major broadcasters why the AfD was not invited and what criteria were actually used to select the guests. Talk shows are not “substitute parliaments”, the ARD justifies the AfD ban. The invitations are “subject-related” and according to “purely journalistic criteria”. And: "Members of different parties are neither preferred nor disadvantaged per se."

ZDF states that the guests should “have different positions and perspectives on the topic, come from politics, science and journalism or be committed, affected citizens”. Through "controversial debates" viewers could form or question an opinion. However, it is not always possible "to depict all conceivable positions in one program". The broadcaster points out that the news and current magazine programs report "in terms of content and with original tones about the parties represented in the Bundestag".

Can this be? 425 politicians from the opposition and government groups are invited and because of "journalistic criteria" none of the AfD is there, although the party undoubtedly has numerous unique selling points that perhaps make a desired "controversial debate" possible in the first place?

AfD boss is pissed off
AfD boss Tino Chrupalla does not believe in coincidence. "The obviously systematic exclusion of the AfD in invitations to the talk formats of ARD and ZDF is a clear violation of the program mandate and the duty of balance," he told Junge Freiheit. A political force with millions of voters is “denied to be present in important formats”.

Chrupalla accuses the public broadcasters of manipulation that damages political discourse and democracy. "For the most expensive public broadcaster in the world, this is an indictment. The entire system of broadcasting financed by compulsory fees has become obsolete and urgently needs to be reformed and trimmed down.”

Broadcasters must reflect diversity of opinion
The mission of the broadcasters, financed with billions of euros from broadcasting fees, is defined in the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty: "When fulfilling their mission, the public service broadcasters must take into account the principles of objectivity and impartiality in reporting, diversity of opinion and the balance of their offers." In a 2016 report, the scientific service of the Bundestag wrote that public service broadcasting is “obligated to balance and diversity” and must “at least give room to all tendencies”.

Such principles are not enforceable, however, since the broadcasters officially work autonomously. And since the "journalistic criteria" according to which the guests are selected have not been defined or published anywhere, ARD and ZDF can probably continue to invite in the manner of the squire.

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