Flood disaster in NRW: WDR justifies criticized crisis reporting

Critics accuse the largest ARD broadcaster of not having adequately informed the citizens of NRW about the heavy rain. The WDR admits deficits – and the news boss is now taking a position.

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When the tide comes, it will be too late. Masses of water pave their way, engulfing cars, houses and people. In the severely affected areas in North Rhine-Westphalia, such as the 350,000-inhabitant city of Wuppertal, sirens warned residents of the flood that overflowed its banks.

But the media are also essential for warning notices. Radio, television, Internet: the largest broadcaster in the region, WDR, is represented on all of these channels. Here t-online informs you about all ongoing developments of the flood disaster. But on Thursday the public broadcaster was heavily criticized for its sometimes low coverage in the night from Wednesday to Thursday. There was talk of “failure to provide assistance” and “total failure”, t-online summarized the voices – and already received a statement from the WDR.

Stefan Brandenburg, head of the WDR newsroom, has now also commented extensively on the criticism in an interview with the media magazine “DWDL”.

Stefan Brandenburg: The WDR newsroom boss is available to answer questions after the severely criticized storm reporting. (Source: WDR / Linda Meiers)

This is how the journalist formulates the remarkable sentence: “In hindsight, you are always smarter.” And especially with a view to the radio coverage in the dramatic hours, he admits: “Of course, considering the extent of the night, one should have decided that WDR 2 should withdraw from the ARD night service and make its own special.”

As early as Thursday, a WDR spokeswoman, when asked by t-online, admitted that the reporting from Wuppertal in particular was insufficient: “We share the assessment that WDR should have reported more extensively from Wuppertal”. According to the broadcaster, the flood itself was to blame, as “the WDR studio there itself was so badly affected by the storm” that it “could no longer broadcast itself” after 3:00 am.

Personnel capacities are reaching their limits

According to Brandenburg, certain failings were also due to the “capacities”. Although the situation was foreseeable worsening, the WDR was not adequately staffed to be able to cover all crisis regions with reporters.

This critical self-reflection is also noteworthy because allegations were made against the WDR as early as 2014. At that time, weather expert Jörg Kachelmann, among others, blamed the broadcaster for people losing their lives due to a lack of information. When asked about this, the newsroom boss of the WDR gives in and says: “Everything is still better. But we were with reporters all night: inside and updated and reported every 15 or 30 minutes”. The focus was on “prime time”, which is one of the reasons why little was reported at night. Brandenburg makes it clear: “In the past 48 hours, the WDR was on duty with over 100 reporters at 108 locations.”

The WDR is the largest broadcaster in the ARD community. Every day, a total of over 4,200 employees work at different locations in North Rhine-Westphalia for television, radio and internet offers – and that’s just the permanent employees. Freelance reporters are not yet included in this list.


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