In Norddeutscher Rundfunk, things are not like RBB, which is dealing with nepotism on a grand scale, which has brought the broadcaster to the brink of ruin. But there is also reason for critical inquiries on NDR – as far as journalistic independence is concerned.
The reason for this is a case from the end of April 2020 that has only now become known. At that time, Schleswig-Holstein Interior Minister Hans-Joachim Grote (CDU) resigned after a discussion with Prime Minister Daniel Günther. Günther accused Grote of having misinformed him about contacting a journalist. The contact was related to investigations into a former police union official for allegedly betraying secrets. Grote denied the allegation. It was word for word.
An NDR journalist from the Landesfunkhaus Schleswig-Holstein wanted to deal with this case and – when the allegations went back and forth – conduct an interview with Grote. This was rejected by the editorial board, since they did not see sufficient suspicion that Prime Minister Günther had lied or thought that one should also listen to him. The journalist, whom colleagues describe as an “excellent”, highly motivated researcher, was not satisfied with that.
He pursued, but was unsuccessful. He took this as an opportunity to present the case to the NDR editorial committee. The committee investigated the allegation that reporting might be suppressed for political reasons. In a thirty-page report, he came to the conclusion that the editorial board had acted incorrectly. According to a second report from December 2021, which is available to the FAZ and to which the web portal “Business Insider” initially referred, the interview with former Interior Minister Grote should have been conducted.
The mood is poisoned
The report by the editorial committee goes beyond the one case that started it all: A total of eight colleagues from the Schleswig-Holstein state radio station spoke confidentially “of major concerns and problems”. Colleagues reported “a ‘climate of fear'” and great pressure. “A targeted attempt is made to find out who contacted the editorial board”. Everyone has “the right to contact the editorial board”, and no one should be disadvantaged from this. According to the committee, “if superiors exert pressure, it is a violation of the editorial statute”.
Colleagues from the Landesfunkhaus reported that “the mood was poisoned because conflicts smouldered for so long”. As a result, several employees left the affected “Politics and Research” department. From the point of view of the employees, it is not “an isolated case. They tell us that they have the impression that there is a ‘political filter’ in the editorial office, ‘a kind of spokesman for the ministries’ who, in the case of critical topics, ‘tryes to prevent a topic from becoming relevant at an early stage’. Reporting is partially prevented and critical information is downplayed.”
The NDR has now commented on the allegations. From the station’s point of view, this is “a different journalistic assessment of a daily editorial decision”. This is considered “a normal, normal process in day-to-day editorial business”. The editorial committee and the management of the Landesfunkhaus agreed that there was no “political motivation” behind the cancellation of the interview. The suspicion was not confirmed. therefore “there was no need for action from this either”. The process has been worked up and completed, but there is not consensus on all points.
And what about the topic that there is a “climate of fear” in the state radio station? According to the NDR, those responsible at the state broadcasting center “continue to take this accusation seriously” and “the exchange about it continues to this day”. The overall assessment of the working atmosphere was “not confirmed from the point of view of the Landesfunkhaus Schleswig-Holstein after personal discussions with numerous employees”. However, the editor-in-chief and the editorial committee continued to hold talks with the employees.
Seen from the outside, this should be very necessary. Otherwise the events at the NDR in Kiel would not be known now. This should not be to the detriment of those who – confidentially – raise their voice with criticism. Otherwise the ARD would have the next problem after the scandal in the RBB.