Merkel defends media over Pegida rally

Merkel defends media over Pegida rally

Anger over police who blocked a television crew at a far-right Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) rally in Dresden has led to German Chancellor Angela Merkel defending media freedom.

She defended the actions of reporters amid a heated debate over the actions of police at a far-right rally in the eastern city.

During a trip to Georgia, Merkel said the right to free assembly was important, confirming her “strong commitment to press freedom”.

Merkel said people who chose to attend political rallies in Germany “must accept that they will be filmed and observed by the media”.

“I want to express my explicit commitment to the freedom of the press,” she told a news conference in Tbilisi.

The anti-immigrant Pegida movement was demonstrating against Merkel’s visit to Dresden last week.

A team from public broadcaster ZDF was recording the demonstrators when a protester confronted the reporters.

Video showed a well-built man in sunglasses and a hat in the colours of the German flag (pictured) confronting the crew, waving his hands at the camera, telling them not to film him and reporting them to the authorities.

He said the camera had illegally focused on him without asking permission. A charitable interpretation might be that he had not attended many protests in the past.

The ZDF crew was held and questioned for 45 minutes during the rally but was not found to have broken the law.

It emerged the protester was also a state police employee, prompting concerns about members of far-right groups working in law enforcement.

If the protesters’ aim was to remain unnoticed, his actions rather backfired.

Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer, a senior member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), appeared to defend the police in an odd tweet: “The only people who come across seriously in this video are policemen.”

The row prompted criticism both from ZDF and other German media groups, and led several politicians to demand an inquiry.

The event has raised concern about entrenched right-wing sympathies within the police.

A deputy leader of the Social Democrats, who share power with the CDU in the national government, accused the centre-right party of complacency. “The CDU in Saxony has for decades denied or trivialised right-wing radical movements and violence,” Ralf Stegner told Handelsblatt. The CDU had “allowed right-wing thinking in Saxony not only to go unchallenged but also to be acceptable”, he added.

The camera-shy protester argues with the ZDF crew, in a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to stay unnoticed. Picture credit: YouTube

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