German paedophile-hunting TV show comes under fire

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A German television show that attempts to unmask paedophiles using a young actress as bait came under attack Tuesday after a suspect vanished.

The programme called "Scene of the Crime: Internet -- Protecting Our Children" and hosted by a high-profile political wife is based on a similar US show, "To Catch A Predator", that went off air after the suicide of a suspected molester in Texas in 2007.

On the show, a young woman pretending to be a minor seeks out potential child abusers in Internet chat rooms. When a meeting is arranged, a girl playing a 13-year-old goes along, with the hidden cameras rolling.

The suspects, whose images are blurred and voices distorted when they are broadcast, are subsequently confronted by a journalist playing the mother of the young "victim". Then the case is handed over to the police.

An alleged abuser, a 61-year-old man who works with children, was identified by his employers after an episode shown eight days ago and has since disappeared without a trace.

One of the presenters of the programme on the RTL2 channel is the aristocratic Stephanie zu Guttenberg, wife of Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is one of the rising stars in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet.

She is president of the German chapter of Innocence in Danger, an association fighting child abuse, and has written a book on the subject.

But Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger issued a sharp warning Tuesday against television being used to promote frontier justice, as German media accused the programme's makers of engaging in "voyeurism" and "witchhunts".

"A state based on the rule of law does not need to pillory people," the minister told Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

© 2010 AFP

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