Schroeder, Merkel to hold just one TV debate

4th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

4 August 2005, BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his conservative challenger Angela Merkel are to clash September 4 in a single television debate that is likely to be the high point of campaigning for next month's general election.

4 August 2005

BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his conservative challenger Angela Merkel are to clash September 4 in a single television debate that is likely to be the high point of campaigning for next month's general election.

Television executives and senior party officials settled Wednesday the ground rules: a 90-minute, live telecast debate in evening prime time with four journalists posing questions about policy. Germany's four main networks will all air the programme.

Germany goes to the polls on September 18, with surveys indicating Schroeder's Social Democrats will lose by a huge margin.

Schroeder, a master of the podium, had called for two debates with the head of the CDU/CSU alliance, who is a less commanding speaker.

The chancellor and his aides have suggested she was scared, but Merkel's camp say she cannot invest an inordinate amount of her time in preparing for two debates during such a short campaign.

TV executives said the debate would be aired by ARD, ZDF, RTL and SAT.1 from studios in Adlershof, Berlin.

Two female presenters from public television, Sabine Christiansen and Maybrit Illner, and two male presenters from the commercial networks, Peter Kloeppel and Thomas Kausch, would form pairs to pose questions. Answer time will not be clocked.

At the 2002 general election, 15 million Germans watched two debates between Schroeder and Edmund Stoiber, the Christian Social Union leader and Bavarian premier who was standard-bearer for the CDU/CSU. Merkel is leader of the larger Christian Democratic Union.

The German debates are broadly similar to U.S. presidential debates, with the rivals standing and facing the panel of seated journalists rather than facing one another. There is normally no studio audience.

Schroeder's main spokesman, Bela Anda, had earlier told reporters: "If Merkel has neither the time nor the courage to offer two TV duels, then it will have to be just one."

Schroeder said just before the talks that the networks should have been self-confident enough to themselves lay down how the public was to be informed about the positions of the candidates.

The CDU general secretary, Volker Kauder, defended the insistence on one debate Wednesday.

"We have a short, sharp, compact campaign," he said. "One is enough to discuss all the issues."

Some officials in the CDU/CSU camp admitted that Merkel had been made to look bad.

Michael Spreng, chief campaign aide to Stoiber, said the alliance had been "manoeuvred into a position of weakness" on the issue.

Academics meanwhile unveiled a study suggesting that the media's assessment of who won a TV debate was more influential on the election outcome than the debate itself.

The joint study by the Allensbach Institute and universities in Dresden and Mainz questioned voters in 2002 straight after the debate and several days later. Asked who had won, 35 per cent changed their mind within a few days to fall in line with the media view.

Wolfgang Donsbach, a communication studies specialist, said this effect had worked in 2002 against Stoiber.

DPA

Subject: German news

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