Why the moderators did not shine in the TV debate

Oliver Koehr, Maybritt Illner

Important topics were not dealt with by the team of moderators at the “Triell”.

(Photo: dpa)

Munich Maybrit Illner, 56, had many great moments in her career. She has hosted her ZDF talk show since October 1999, and it goes without saying that she was at the forefront of all television duels that have taken place on the occasion of the federal elections since 2002. She practically embodied the format – but at “Triell” on Sunday on ARD and ZDF with the candidates for chancellor Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz and Armin Laschet, there was little evidence of earlier brilliant achievements.

That was almost certainly due to the fact that the ARD had put Oliver Köhr, 45, a colleague who was still quite inexperienced in talk shows at her side. The journalist had a premium appearance for the first time. It was not until May 1 that Köhr was promoted to editor-in-chief of ARD, a career leap that was supposed to be supported by being appointed to the moderation of “Triells”.

Previously, he had become known as deputy head of the ARD capital city office rather involuntarily through a breakdown. In March 2020, a “Tagesschau” presenter switched him on and asked about Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had been quarantined during the pandemic. After his contribution, Köhr stayed on the air unplanned, before he said goodbye to the picture with a “Yo, see you!”

The mishaps increased at the “Triell”. Again and again, the overly motivated ARD editor-in-chief interrupted both the politicians to be interviewed and the co-presenter Illner. Sometimes the questions got so cumbersome and complicated that CDU boss Armin Laschet once smugly asked: “What was the question?”

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For earlier TV chancellor duels, the ARD had always put tried and tested talk masters in the program, for example Frank Plasberg or Sandra Maischberger. This time, however, a hierarchy was deployed who had made his career in East Germany.

After studying journalism and political science at the University of Leipzig, the media man, who was born in Halle, Westphalia, advanced to the public service MDR. There he was active as a reporter, moderator, planner and chief on duty at many locations.

What the two moderators have in common

In 2012 he went to the capital city studio, initially as a television correspondent. In his current role, he coordinates and is responsible in the ARD program management, for example, “Tagesschau”, special programs, documentaries, reports and consumer programs.

Maybrit Illner has in common with Köhr that she also studied in Leipzig. In the former GDR she was active from 1984 to 1988 in the journalism section of the then Karl Marx University, the “Red Monastery”. Afterwards she worked as a sports journalist for the television of the GDR and in 1989 she joined the foreign editorial office of the German television broadcaster.

She joined ZDF in 1992 as a political editor and immediately belonged to the ranks of the presenters of the ZDF morning magazine. In the Mainz broadcaster she is considered to be very well networked, so that her order for the “Triell” was never in question. With her experience she was “first choice”, says a spokesman.

The editorial team and the moderators “made a conscious decision to address current disputes in the election campaign and to allow discussion and arguments among the candidates,” he continues: “That made this triad lively and interesting. As a result, other prepared topics were neglected later. “

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An ARD spokesman commented that the two broadcasters had each made use of their right to propose the position of moderator. Here too: “The debate was controversial and confrontational, it made the differences in the positions of the opponents clear. That is the most important thing, because a triell should provide the audience with guidance for their voting decision. ”Not all topics could be dealt with in 95 minutes, especially since discussions developed a momentum of their own.

None of the station representatives wants to talk about the obvious qualitative deficiencies. One of the peculiarities was that the SPD candidate’s clock once continued to run even though he was no longer speaking. “We have a technical problem,” said Illner. “There is another way.” Against the nervous moderation style of her colleague, she tried more or less in vain to play out her routine in longer statements. She looked as if she had felt most comfortable alone.

In the end, at least the quota was reasonably right. Almost eleven million watched the play on ARD and ZDF. As expected, the first benefited more, as most viewers programmed the station on button one of the remote control. In the first, 7.36 million tuned in (24.2 percent market share), in the second 3.51 million (11.5 percent).

More: Comment: ARD and ZDF embarrass themselves in the triumph of the chancellor candidates