CENSORSHIP has rapidly become a political sledgehammer over the last few months in America, and, alas, it is beginning to move to the UK. Since the temporary ban on the broadcasting network TalkRadio, the fear of censorship has, quite reasonably, started to trouble many people. A recent example from Germany which has escaped scrutiny in the UK highlights an imminent and distressing threat.
The case involves one Michael Wendler who is, apparently, a low-grade pop singer who had the privilege of being nominated as a judge for the ground-breaking show Deutschland Sucht den Superstar (Germany is looking for the Superstar). Recently he was removed from DSDS after he made comments about new restrictions imposed by the German government which, among other things, include that anyone who lives in an area with more than 200 cases – which the majority of Germans do – cannot travel outside a 15-kilometre perimeter, as well as the usual complete closure of bars, restaurants and shops.
Wendler’s comments were ‘KZ Deutschland???’ – an abbreviation of Konzentrationslager Deutschland or Concentration Camp Germany – accompanied by ‘It is simply brazen what this government allows itself to do. Imprisoning free and innocent people is against all human dignity.’
Public uproar ensued. Wendler was accused of anti-Semitism and downplaying the Holocaust as well as, by a former co-judge on DSDS, being ‘Bekloppt’, meaning crazy. Hyperbolic? Yes. Worthy of being, to use the Orwellian term, unpersoned and erased from society? Surely not.
Nevertheless, being unpersoned and erased from society was the determined method of punishment. RTL, the German equivalent of ITV and responsible for DSDS, stated: ‘We strongly condemn any form of anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination’. It declared that Wendler’s statement ‘crossed the red line’ and decided to cut him from the programme. That didn’t just mean terminating his contract for future episodes; instead, completely editing him out of it. The broadcasting network announced this action ‘even if this creates visible, dramaturgical gaps for the viewers’. All previous episodes of DSDS that feature Wendler have been taken down.
The action is even more sinister than one might think. It is a demonstration of the past being rewritten before our very eyes: not only was Wendler wrong and dangerous as a result of his comments, but he always was, and any association with him must be removed and vanish as though it never was. And all this has been undertaken under the guise of RTL being anti-racist and anti-discriminatory.
Moreover, it serves as a warning of the power at the disposal to a select few to remove people from public knowledge. The Wendler story dominated German headlines for few days, but the attention will dwindle. The edited programmes will re-emerge for public consumption without Wendler in them, and within a few months he will cease to be part of the public’s memory: it is a genuinely terrifying prospect and to rule it out happening in Britain is folly.
Further down this worrying path is the opportunity that broadcasters possess in terms of secrecy. Why bother publicising your intentions of altering comments, characters or themes from previous episodes when one could do it without public knowledge? We already know that in programmes such as Fawlty Towers certain scenes have been removed and disclaimers have been introduced before the broadcasting of Dad’s Army. What is to suggest that these are not exceptions? Why shouldn’t editing out undesirables on TV programmes be the next step? It certainly would satisfy those who call for the total cancellation and removal of those who diverge from accepted principles in the public sphere.
The case of Michael Wendler is a major unpersoning in its original Orwellian meaning. It ensured his removal using racism and anti-Semitism as the excuse, when what it truly symbolised was hatred and viciousness regarding his views on Germany’s lockdown policies.
The idea of someone being erased is not only happening, but it is supported in a country as advanced and free as Germany. We should genuinely fear the adoption of this method in the UK. The possibility of Britain having its first official unpersoning is all too real and distressing. When it does arrive, we shouldn’t be surprised.