“I Cannot Do It Anymore I Can No Longer Remain Silent” – Open Letter From German Public Broadcaster Employee

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from Great Game India:

In an open letter, an employee of German public broadcaster ARD is critical of one and a half years of Corona coverage: Ole Skambraks has worked as an editorial assistant and editor at the public broadcaster for 12 years.

No true discourse

I can no longer remain silent. I can no longer silently watch what has been going on for a year and a half now within my organization, a public service broadcaster. Things like “balance”, “social cohesion” and “diversity” in reporting are principles embedded in the statutes and media state contracts. Today, the exact opposite is happening. There is no true discourse and exchange in which all parts of society can come together and find common ground.

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From the beginning, I felt that public service broadcasting should fill precisely this space: promote dialogue between advocates of measures and critics, between people who are afraid of the virus and people who are afraid of losing their basic rights, between vaccination supporters and vaccination sceptics. For the past year and a half, however, the space for discussion has narrowed considerably.

Scientists and experts who were respected and esteemed before Covid, who were given space in public discourse, are suddenly labelled cranks, tinfoil hat wearers or Covidiots. As an oft-cited example, consider Wolfgang Wodarg, a medical specialist in several fields, an epidemiologist and a long-time health politician. Until the Covid crisis, he was also on the board of Transparency International. In 2010, as Chair of the Council of Europe Health Committee, he exposed the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in the swine flu pandemic. At that time, he was granted the opportunity to express his opinion on public service broadcasting, but in times of Covid this is no longer possible. His voice has been replaced by that of so-called fact-checkers, who seek to discredit him.

Paralysing consensus

Instead of an open exchange of opinions, a “scientific consensus” was proclaimed, that must be defended. Anyone who doubts this and demands a multidimensional perspective on the pandemic, will reap indignation and scorn.

The same pattern is at work in the newsrooms. For the last one and a half years, I have no longer been working in the daily news business, which I am pleased about. In my current position, I am not involved in decisions about which topics are treated and how. Here, I describe my impressions from editorial conferences and an analysis of the reporting. For a long time I did not dare to leave the role of observer, the supposed consensus seemed too absolute and unanimous.

For a few months, I have been venturing out onto the ice, making some critical remarks here and there in conferences. This is often followed by a shocked silence, sometimes a “thank you for pointing it out” and every so often a lecture on why it is not true. This has never resulted in any reporting.

The result of one and a half years of Covid-19 is an unparalleled division in society. Public service broadcasting has played a major role in this. It is increasingly failing in its responsibility to build bridges between the camps and to promote exchange.

It is often argued that the critics are a small, negligible minority, which, for reasons of proportionality, cannot be accommodated to any great extent. This argument should have been retired at least with the Swiss referendum on Covid-19 measures. Despite the lack of free exchange of opinions in mass media in that country too, the votes cast went only 60:40 in favour of the government. (1) With a proportion of 40%, can you talk about a small minority? It also turned out that the Swiss Government had tied Covid-related financial support to the vote, which might have influenced some to tick “Yes” on the ballot.

The developments of the Covid crisis are taking place on so many levels, affecting all parts of society, and thus we clearly need more space for a free debate – certainly not less.

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