After the botched elections in September and the slightly chaotic negotiations leading to the formation of a grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD, there was general agreement that the CSU and especially its leader, Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, were in a bad shape: Stoiber had insulted the East German electorate and failed to mobilise his own electoral base during the electoral campaign.
To round things off, Stoiber first stalled on the question if he would be joining a new government, then promised to take up the post as Minister of Trade and Commerce and finally decided to stay in (or return to) his present office.
In November, German media described Stoiber as damaged goods. The question was not if, but when he would be ousted.
But now it is January and the Bavarian snow may have covered a lot of unpleasant memories, so how does German media report the situation of the CSU just after New Year’s Day?
Answer: It depends.
If you watched the coverage in the HeuteJournal of the ZDF network on Tuesday, the CSU had performed the greatest comeback since Lazarus. Stoiber asserted his position as the unchallenged leader of the party and the leading politicians had closed the ranks. The CSU leaders also revelled in one of their favourite sports: Annoying the SPD by calling for a delay of the phasing-out of nuclear power plants.
If you then watched the reportage in ARD’s Tagesthemen, you might be forgiven if you were under the impression that the two networks weren’t covering the same event. In the Tagesthemen, the CSU was still a weakened party with a shaky leadership unsure of its place in national politics.
The lovely panoramas of Kreuth were nearly identical and unless German scientists have succeeded in performing a secret breakthrough in human cloning over the holidays, the politicians appearing on the two networks must have been the same. They also uttered the same statements in both networks.
What, then, is going on here?
It may help to know that German Public Service media are heavily politicised. The ARD is traditionally seen as more left-leaning while the ZDF is linked to the Christian Democrat parties. It is perhaps less surprising, then, that the ARD tries to report weaknesses and internal conflicts in the Christian Democratic parties and the ZDF the resolve and cohesiveness of the same parties.
The national radio network Deutschlandfunk had a third take on the proceedings: Yes, the CSU is experiencing internal conflicts, and yes, the politicians in Kreuth were happy. The thing is: The politicians participating in the meeting are with one or two exceptions national politicians who enjoy greater political opportunities when the party leader is busy governing in Munich. Edmund Stoiber as minister in the federal government would be a much more troubling presence in Berlin.