Because the broadcaster changed his debate opponent, CSV lead candidate Wilmes refused to participate in a TV election debate on RTL
Photo: Maison Moderne
Who should debate whom?
The CSV lead candidate for local elections in the capital, Serge Wilmes, cancelled his participation in an election debate after RTL switched his opponent.
Wilmes was initially told he would face incumbent mayor Lydie Polfer, from the DP party, but was told two days before that he would pitch against Sam Tanson, the deputy mayor from Déi Gréng. RTL, a private channel, has organised several TV “duels” between the current mayor and the main opposition candidate in different communes as part of its coverage ahead of the local elections, to be held to 8 October.
It had initially planned to have a debate betewen Wilmes and Polfer and another debate between Tanson and city LSAP lead candidate Marc Angel.
According to a press release on Thursday 5 October, Wilmes had been preparing the debate with the journalists, but was informed two days before the recording that he would instead face Sam Tanson (Déi Gréng). Wilmes explained that:
“the decision was communicated without giving a reason. Accepting or not was no question. We tried to find out why it came to this decision. We did not get a concrete reply and notice that the recording was done without me.”
He added that:
“I find it a shame that, contrary to the towns of Esch-Alzette and Differdange, there will be no debate between the main candidates at RTL. This was planned and agreed on, but did not take place.”
The CSV lead candidate said that journalistic freedom was important, and must be “absolutely” respected and defended. However, he also said that “at least as important for me is the respect and fairness in and of politics”.
Déi Gréng on the other hand says they are surprised by Wilmes’ no show at the recording. They released a press statement on Wednesday 4 October stating that their lead candidate, Sam Tanson, along with the other candidates, had been informed on Monday that the editorial department had decided to change the configuration of the debates. Tanson was to debate local issues and policies with Serge Wilmes and Roy Reding of the ADR.
“For Sam Tanson, it was self-evident that the RTL editorial team is free to decide who should face whom. In our opinion, the election campaign is about giving voters the opportunity to hear about the ideas and arguments of all the political parties in a lively debate.”
The press statement continues:
“The more surprised were the Greens today when we found out via a press statement, that the CSV lead candidate wanted to hold on to the debate with Lydie Polfer. In the end, he did not even turn up to the recording of the debate, despite his agreement on Monday evening.”
The Greens says they “deplore” that a controversial discussion on CSV and Green election manifestos is being withheld from the voters. They are “surprised” by the CSV’s understanding of press freedom, and have “trouble understanding why the CSV lead candidate, who has the same number of seats in the local council as the Greens, thinks that he is above debating with the Green lead candidate Sam Tanson.”
RTL press release
On Thursday 4 October, RTL also issued a statement, in which it specifies that this programme was not part of the official debates on the elections, which are organised by the government, but that it was on its own initiative.
The statement reads:
“for these programmes, RTL Luxembourg is guided by journalistic criteria in line with its editorial policy, but also by guaranteeing equal and pluralist access to all the parties, while having the added value for the viewers in mind as well.”
RTL argued that the configuration of having the mayor face the biggest opposition candidate was “in no way a fixed rule,” and that “following journalistic considerations, especially on opening the debate and confronting a broader spectrum of political ideas in the City of Luxembourg, the editorial team of RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg decided, in all independence and freedom, on Monday 2 October to suggest swapping the two planned debates.” While it concedes that the decision was taken at the last minute, RTL notes that at the time it was accepted by everyone.
RTL was therefore very “surprised that the CSV Stad announced its decision to cancel its participation only a few hours before the recording”, and that its decisions “are exclusively based on journalistic considerations and have no influence whatsoever on the balance between majority and opposition, nor on the pluralism of the programmes of RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg and have not been dictated or motivated by any other considerations.”