“Stern TV”: Interesting question in “Live Experiment” – with some shortcomings

Child kidnapping – probably one of the worst crimes imaginable. But how far can you go to save the child? Steffen Hallaschka wants to get a picture of the mood of the viewers in his RTL show “stern TV: The Live Experiment”. An interesting experiment – with some shortcomings.

We have to make decisions. Every day. Most decisions are banal. Rolls or muesli, shirt or T-shirt, bus or bike? Other decisions are far more far-reaching: Rent or own property, quit or keep working or marry or not? And then there are decisions that you never want to be faced with, because you can only choose between plague and cholera.

And that’s exactly the decision on Wednesday evening on “stern TV: The Live Experiment – How do you decide?” Why is? “A show that we don’t just make for you, but with you,” moderator Seffen Hallaschka explains the basic concept of the interaction. To put it a little less pathetically, it just means that viewers can vote on one question, and that is: guilty or not guilty?

Who is supposed to be guilty or not guilty here is the fictitious police commissioner Fabian Feller, who is investigating an equally fictitious case. In this, a child is kidnapped. Feller and his colleagues spot a suspect and are able to arrest him. Time is of the essence during the interrogation because the child urgently needs insulin, otherwise death is imminent. In order for the suspect to reveal the whereabouts of the child, Feller first threatens him with violence and then actually uses it. The suspect suddenly collapses, then falls into a coma. Before that, however, he can communicate the whereabouts so that the child can be rescued in good time.

Threats and violence during an interrogation?

Viewers in the studio and at home experience the case as a film that jumps back and forth between the court case and the detective’s investigation. In the end, the public prosecutor and the defense make pleas, after which the viewers are supposed to vote on whether the commissioner is guilty or innocent. Hallaschka uses the time between the different sections of the film to form an opinion by asking experts and those affected on the subject and getting their opinions.

For example Elisa Hoven. The professor of criminal law at the University of Leipzig first defines the general conditions and explains to Hallaschka’s question that Commissioner Feller, but also real police officers, are not allowed to use violence or threaten violence in such cases – even if it involves the life of a child goes. “Our Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that certain methods are not permitted during interrogation. This includes, for example, the abuse of a person. (…) You can’t use it as a threat,” explains Hoven.

Hallaschka digs deeper, asking about “equality of arms”, after all, the perpetrator is endangering the life of a child, and where does a threat begin at all. Hoven explains the limits and also why the regulations serve to protect citizens: “We could all get into the situation of being accused, possibly wrongly.”

Uwe Rise: “Human dignity is not one-sided”

It’s good that an expert like Elisa Hoven is a guest, because the show is always strongest when Hallaschka gets the expertise of his guests. Also Dirk Peglow’s. The national chairman of the Association of German Criminal Investigators classifies the situation of an interrogation from the point of view of the police officers and explains: “We have to deal with these people professionally.” Attorney Lutz Simon describes his experience when he represented the investigator in the kidnapping case Jakob von Metzler, who had to answer to the court for threatening the kidnapper Magnus Gäfgen.

It becomes emotional to oppressive when Hallaschka does not interview experts, but two people affected. On the one hand, Natalie Schöffmann, who was kidnapped and tortured during bicycle training, but released a short time later. Uwe Riss’s daughter Anneli-Marie was also kidnapped, but killed by the perpetrators. Nevertheless, Risse wants to take a differentiated look at the question of whether the fictitious investigator should be allowed to use threats and violence.

The obligation to help to save the child, i.e. “to act humanely”, cannot be turned into an order for the police officers that also provides for threats or violence. Nevertheless, the respective investigator should act and “do what his heart tells him”. One should also put oneself in the situation of the victim, because “human dignity is not one-sided,” said Rise.

Also read: “Stern TV Spezial – how does Germany live?”: The view of the big picture is missing

Why “stern TV: The Live Experiment” goes wrong

Many voices from experts and those affected – actually a good starting point for a “live experiment” that Steffen Hallaska and his “stern TV” team have created. In fact. As always, the devil is in the details, but sometimes it is immediately apparent. “Tonight you decide the fate of a detective, a police commissioner who has to answer in court because he wanted to save the life of a kidnapped child,” explains Hallaschka at the beginning and this sentence is the first mistake the moderator made should do something like this often this evening.

Hallaschka obviously wants to use his “live experiment” to find out what viewers think about the dilemma of using violence to save a child. And so that such an experiment can have any form of meaningfulness, it is necessary that the participants are informed as well as possible, but above all not influenced one-sidedly. But that’s exactly what happened several times that evening and Hallaschka played a not inconsiderable part in it.

For example with his opening statement. Not only does Hallaschka formulate it with a tone of bewilderment, it is also simply wrong. Because the fictitious police officer does not have to answer in court because he wanted to save the life of a child – that would indeed be absurd. He has to answer for threatening and hitting someone. An important difference that Hallaschka’s statement does not make. He “decided for morality and against the law,” explains Hallaschka elsewhere, but he’s wrong here, too. After all, what are laws if not moral concepts cast in a universally valid form?

“stern TV: The Live Experiment”: forming opinions, but also influencing opinions

With his statement, Hallaschka is already pushing in one direction and he does the same with the selection of his guests. Those who are there do indeed help to get an idea. But the problem is the guests who are not there. Because if you want to get a comprehensive picture – and that’s what the show suggests – then Hallaschka should have given an unfair accusation or a victim of police violence a chance to speak.

Interestingly, Hallaschka does the same when he shows the case of the kidnapping of Peggy, in which one of the accused was unjustly in prison after he was pressured into a confession by the investigators. Hallaschka is just doing it first to the voting of the viewers.

It is such gross mistakes in objective opinion-forming that destroy the actually exciting experimental character of the show, but also smaller ones. For example, when Dirk Peglow explains from practice that a police officer must first instruct the suspect during the interrogation that he does not have to say anything that incriminates him. Hallaschka only replies: “It’s getting more and more complicated, but I have to push a little at this point” and then gives up on the news.

Hallaschka would not have needed this partisanship, because his guests and also the actors in the film provide enough arguments for one and for the other point of view. And so, in the end, the result, in which the vast majority (87 percent) of the viewers judged “not guilty”, has a taste. Because if Hallaschka wants to do an experiment, then on the one hand do it correctly and on the other hand trusting that his viewers are already able to form their own opinion. “I think this is an experiment that we should definitely repeat,” explains Hallaschka at the end. If you can do it better, you’re welcome.

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Updated on 05/11/2022 at 08:33

The weather broadcasts were canceled in several ARD TV programs. The responsible public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk (HR) announced late on Tuesday evening at the request of the German Press Agency that there had been a technical fault. Photo credit: ARD