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Schroeder’s chief spokesman under fire

23 February 2004

BERLIN – Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder grumbled he was having trouble “getting the message across” after his surprise resignation as leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party earlier this month.

Analysts, picking apart the Chancellor’s words, immediately said this barbed explanation for giving up a big chunk of power was aimed at Schroeder spokesman, Bela Anda.

“A quasi non-existent press chief,” said Klaus Harpprecht, the former media adviser of the late German Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor Willy Brandt.

Anda, who is 40 and has been compared with actor Tom Cruise for his boyish good looks, may be on his way out, according to the news magazine Stern.

Schroeder’s SPD has crashed in popularity since the Chancellor’s slim reelection in 2002 – after which Anda was named chief spokesman.

Although telegenic, Anda has become increasingly unpopular among reporters for the lack of information he provides and is virtually unknown among the German public.

“Either he doesn’t say anything … or he doesn’t know,” said the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Stern agreed, saying: “The mother of all questions is whether this is because he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to say anything.”

Anda’s low-key approach can partly be seen as a matter of national style. Compared to countries like Britain and the United States there is far less aggressive “spinning” of the news in Germany as a result of sensitivity due to media and propaganda abuses in the Third Reich.

But it is also increasingly clear that Anda simply has less to sell: he is not a member of Schroeder’s kitchen cabinet as was his predecessor, the unflappable Uwe-Karsten Heye.

Anda’s main stage are three weekly government news briefings where his gentle voice and good manners fool many observers into thinking he’s a pushover.

Far from it.

As state secretary of the Federal Press Agency, Anda is the boss of 620 people and been tough in dealing with those who cross him. He fired the deputy head of the agency after taking power and reportedly brought a senior staff member to tears with an angry critique.

Anda has also been tough with journalists. He banned reporters from many of the background briefings given by Schroeder at European Union summits – a break with decades of German media tradition and a curious move given Berlin’s constant emphasis on how the bloc’s member states are growing together.

A scandal with a photographer has also overshadowed Anda’s tenure.

Following a Schroeder visit to Washington, Anda was asked by a photographer to take a disk with 160 digital photos on the chancellor’s jet back to Germany.

The photos were never delivered and Anda has since variously claimed he was never given the disk; that he received the disk but that it “disappeared”; and finally that it was stolen from his briefcase at the heavily guarded Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Washington.

But photographer Klemens Beitlich is convinced the photos were disposed of due to their unflattering content. The pictures showed U.S. President George W. Bush brusquely turning his back to Schroeder, says Beitlich.

Anda, who is married with three children, was named deputy press spokesman by Schroeder after his election victory over chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1998.

Then a reporter at Germany’s top-selling Bild Zeitung tabloid, Anda was the co-author of a complimentary, semi-official biography of candidate Schroeder.

Anda also won the trust of Schroeder and the Chancellor’s future fourth wife, Doris Schroeder-Kopf, by agreeing at their request not to write about their election-year romance, said Stern.

But with Anda now seen as a problem even Frau Schroeder-Kopf seems to have withdrawn her protection for the government spokesman, media reports say.

Anda, said Stern, is likely to be tossed out as part of a widely expected reshuffle of Schroeder’s cabinet by this summer.

Government officials deny there any plans for personnel changes in the press office or cabinet.

Subject: German news