#MeToo moment hits Germany with TV director abuse scandal

BERLIN: A growing sexual assault and harassment scandal surrounding German TV director Dieter Wedel took on a political dimension Friday as accusations of a cover-up hit a public broadcaster. A cascade of allegations against Wedel mark the first in Germany since the global #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct gained momentum in the wake of the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's downfall in October. In two high-profile articles, respected weekly Die Zeit has reported accusations levelled by several women against Wedel, 75, ranging from pressure for sex from female staff to rape over more than four decades. This week state-funded television channel Saarlaendischer Rundfunk (SR) admitted that it was aware of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by Wedel in the 1980s and continued working with him. SR chief Thomas Kleist said he was "very upset" by the information about an attempted rape of a show's star he found in the broadcaster's files and pledged an internal investigation. "If the accusations against Wedel are true -- and based on the clarity and the sheer number of statements against him, we must assume so -- then Wedel is the personification of everything the 'Me Too' movement denounces," columnist Heribert Prantl wrote in the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung Friday. "Wedel may be the German Harvey Weinstein." Calling the documents discovered at SR "shocking", Prantl said it was now crucial to determine "by whom and why his abuse of power was silenced and covered up". Germany's regional public broadcasters receive billions of euros (dollars) in state funds collected via viewer fees and are subject to close oversight. In early January, Wedel firmly denied the first round of accusations, saying he had become the victim of a "witch-hunt". He has not yet responded to the second wave of women coming forward, published Thursday in Die Zeit. A spokeswoman for him said he was in hospital with a heart ailment. Most of the accusations against him, mainly from actresses he worked with, are covered by the statute of limitations, some of them dating back as far as the 1970s. However authorities in the southern city of Munich have opened a criminal probe over a rape he allegedly committed there in a hotel room in 1996. German media initially gave limited coverage to the cases, and the top-selling Bild ran front-page articles raising pointed questions about some of the accusers' credibility. However the tone has grown more critical of Wedel with the latest, more graphic testimony printed in Die Zeit. -AFP



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