Schweiger, Springer, Sport – Why power is abused

The allegations weigh heavily: Til Schweiger should loud Mirror have spread a “climate of fear” on film sets and have even become violent. And at Springer, abuse of power is said to have been part of the corporate culture. The journalists Pia Stendera and Lena von Holt im report on this Boys Club-Podcast. After #Metoo, the entertainment and media industry is once again being accused of systematically trivializing abuse of power.

The current debate shows that there is great resentment about the prevailing conditions there and elsewhere. Which structures enable abuse of power – or even encourage it? Are certain sectors – increasingly also in the scientific community – more susceptible to this? Why isn’t anyone resisting it? And how should one deal with abuse of power in the workplace? An overview.

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What exactly is abuse of power?

As with #Metoo, one of the biggest difficulties with this topic is that it is so difficult to grasp. What exactly is abuse of power? Where does it start, where does it end? In some extreme examples, abuse of power is more obvious, but in most cases the lines are blurred.

Organizational psychologist Michael Knoll conducts research on the subject at the University of Leipzig Communication (and concealment) of critical issues in organizations. He says: “Abuse of power is basically the exploitation of a position of power in order to obtain an advantage (a service, position, favour, etc.) to which one is not entitled.” This can then be pocketed for oneself or – as with nepotism – on pass someone on. “It is also possible for someone with power to let another person do something that the other person would not have done of their own free will.”

But there, too, the difficulty lies in the detail: “One criterion could be that activities should be performed that were not agreed in the employment contract,” says Jan Jurczyk, press spokesman for Verdi. In the case of urgency, this can happen in exceptional cases, but if there are regular requests, it must be clarified what is behind it. “Is that abuse of power, bullying, bossing? It may not be easy to establish a clear connection. The biggest challenge is the provability,” says Jurczyk.

Which sectors are particularly at risk and why?

According to Knoll, entertainment, sports, the military, the police, medicine and science are the areas in which there are supportive structures for abuse of power. This is particularly due to the strong hierarchies, heroism, a lot of pressure, opaque allocation procedures for positions of power and isolated spaces (care, training camps, church facilities).

“In strong hierarchies, people find it difficult to challenge positions of power,” says Knoll. “And those higher in the hierarchy perceive unethical behavior as less unethical. So power makes you blind to a certain extent to mistakes.” In addition, abuse of power is encouraged where success largely depends on individuals. Then there is the one particularly talented doctor, the charitable entertainer or even the celebrity director who no one contradicts. “You’re kind of given a free pass as long as you’re important to the group’s success,” Knoll explains. “For some, this leads to what is known as entitlement – you think that you are entitled to more than others because of your great contribution and that rules and laws do not apply to you.”

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In sports, in the police or in film shooting, the pressure to be successful is also very high. “It builds strong communities where no one wants to be a nuisance, and those who abuse power get away with it,” says Knoll. “Under pressure, some behavior is tolerated that would not be acceptable under normal circumstances.”

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For the victims of abuse of power, the stakes are often high as well. There are usually only a few decisive competitions, with film only a certain time or certain special project opportunities. In science, you only have a few years to gain further qualifications. “When the stakes are so high, you tolerate a little more,” says Knoll. There is also often a so-called bottom-line mentality. This means that the performance targets are the measure of all things. “Other goals such as occupational safety and environmental protection, ethical behavior are taking a back seat.”

Why didn’t anyone complain before?

Whether #Metoo or the Til Schweiger cause: If there are initial allegations, a dam usually breaks. After decades of silence and endurance, there are suddenly numerous people who can report similarly bad experiences. Until then, however, these were endured or accepted. “What is being criticized now has long worked ‘well’ for certain groups,” says Knoll. “Participants in these productions have learned how to behave in order to be successful and through this behavior have kept the culture alive and alive.”

Why are victims silent for so long? According to Knoll, this is due to various factors. Particularly successful people would be given more freedom anyway. “Victims don’t want to mess with these people and sometimes you don’t even trust these people or they don’t want to admit it,” says Knoll. “The abuser feels entitled to behave in this way. The victim is dependent and may have invested a lot – just like the observers.”

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What can you do about it?

A first but crucial step is a very pragmatic one: set up works councils and train managers. That recommends Verdi press spokesman Jan Jurczyk. “Abuse of power happens less often when there is a works council,” he says. “This is also due to the fact that action is taken in the knowledge that misconduct will be sanctioned.” Smaller companies are therefore more at risk than large ones because there are fewer works councils.

“Some larger companies also try to artificially downsize companies through spin-offs or start-ups in order to circumvent company sizes that are important for operational codetermination or to break up existing codetermination structures,” says Jurczyk. “That alone could be considered an abuse of power because an attempt is made to withhold elementary rights.” It is also important that employees and managers are trained to make the abstract concept of abuse of power more tangible. Because if you recognize the structures, you can also take action against them – if he or she has a contact point.

The actor Til Schweiger comes to the presentation of the Jupiter Award 2023. The magazines awarded for the 45th time "TV feature film" and "Cinema" the audience award for outstanding film productions and brilliant acting performances.

Alcohol and harassment – is that part of the film set?

Misconduct by directors obsessed with power is not uncommon in cinema history. But now, in a “Spiegel” article, Germany’s successful filmmaker Til Schweiger, of all people, is accused of gaffes on the set. The industry is in a state of excitement and is asking itself: How serious are the allegations?

In his opinion, however, a code of conduct for the film industry demanded by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, among others, is not sufficient. “Such codes may be a nice attempt to be able to work on the subject in an appellate way. But they don’t change the fact that an effective instrument must be in place in order to be able to take effective action,” says Jurczyk. “For this you have to apply the Works Constitution Act and install a works council.”

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