Germany seeks to put curbs on press

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The Independent Online
IT IS not just in Britain that the politicians wish they could force the press to be better behaved. In Germany, too, there is a new official enthusiasm for tighter press controls.

At a private meeting with leaders of the main political parties, Chancellor Helmut Kohl is said to have argued that if people were disillusioned with politicians, it was the fault of the media. New curbs should be introduced.

Otto Lambsdorff, leader of the Free Democrats - who has had his own problems with the press - was enthusiastic. He said this week he wanted to introduce a system of damages 'on the British model'. Bjorn Engholm, recently deposed leader of the Social Democrats - who has suffered a string of allegations about his personal life - was also at the meeting.

Most vociferous of all, however, was Chancellor Kohl himself. One immediate reason for his anger was Bunte, a popular women's magazine, which had described the Chancellor as living a 'life behind a mask', and said that his marriage was 'a partnership of convenience'. Mr Kohl's personal assistant was named; the Chancellor was furious.

Beate Wedekind, Bunte's editor, found herself out of a job - officially in connection with her health, but blamed for the ensuing row with the Chancellor's office.

Even now, Germany is much less obsessive than Britain, as regards politicians' sex lives. Bunte's naming of the Chancellor's alleged mistress passed almost without comment here. It would never occur to anybody that a politician's sex life might be a resigning matter.

On the broader question of respect, however, the politicians are isolated. Unlike in Britain, few see the politicians as victims of the press. Germans are disillusioned with politicians because of their behaviour, not because of the media. And, at a time when disillusion is widespread, the minor scandals continue to multiply. Occasionally, politicians are even forced to resign.

To add to the general sense of decay, the constitutional court announced last week that local elections in Hamburg, held two years ago, were invalid because of the undemocratic way in which the Christian Democrats selected their candidates.

According to Der Spiegel, Oskar Lafontaine, deputy leader of the Social Democrats and the subject of yet more mini-scandals, suggested at the meeting with Mr Kohl that German journalists should behave like the Japanese press, ready to 'support state and economy, and to strengthen Japan'.

Der Spiegel, which has long prided itself on being the chief trouble-maker for German politicians, asked in mock horror: 'Germany's journalists - a community of well-wishers?'