Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet is facing calls to cut loose a former spy chief and Bundestag hopeful who has demanded background checks for public television journalists.
Three years after Hans-Georg Maassen was dismissed by chancellor Angela Merkel as head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV), he has secured a mandate from her CDU party to run for parliament in the eastern state of Thuringia.
The 58-year-old has hard-right conservative views – in particular on immigration – and local CDU officials hope he will win back conservative voters from the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Polls put the far-right party in second place in the state with 23 per cent support, ahead of the CDU in third place on 19 per cent.
In a series of recent interviews, however, Mr Maassen has suggested that ARD public television, in particular its influential Tagesschau news broadcasts, demonstrate clear bias against conservatives like him.
He suggested a parliamentary inquiry into Tagesschau news coverage. Some of its journalists have a clear left-wing bias, he claimed, and links to the far-left scene. He suggested examining the biographies of some ARD journalists to see “if these people have the characteristics [required]... to work for the Tagesschau”.
Mr Maassen’s attacks on public television mirror those of the AfD in recent years, prompting senior CDU figures to call for his dismissal from the party.
“I consider such remarks unacceptable, they are not the position of the CDU,” said Christoph Ploss, party head in Hamburg. Lower Saxony head Bernd Althusmann said the remarks were not helpful three months before election day.
“If the basic values of the party mean nothing to Mr Maassen,” said Mr Althusmann, “he should go elsewhere. For us, press freedom is and remains inviolable.”
On Monday party chairman Mr Laschet reportedly told the CDU front bench, without referring to Mr Maassen by name, that “such debates damage us”.
CDU secretary general Paul Ziemiak said afterward that the party supported all its candidates and that “there was no discussion of a party expulsion” at Monday’s meeting.
After pushback from all sides, Mr Maassen has appeared to relativise his position on Twitter. He wrote that he viewed independent journalism and politically independent public broadcasters as “indispensable for a democracy”.
“What I’m criticising are tendentious reports,” he said. “What’s clear is that there can be no checks of journalistic political dispositions by politicians.”