Yves here. Germany appears to be a bit further along in same trajectory that America is on.
By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance writer living in Berlin
Germany’s two major parties, Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the coalition Social Democrats, are plumbing new lows in popularity and credibility So too are the nation’s media. The conflation is obvious: both are increasingly perceived as two sides of the same coin, acting in the interests of financial institutions and large corporations and their own economic advantage to the detriment of the public weal.
While the Christian Democrats, despite Ms Merkel’s purported popularity, is for the first time facing the possibility of winning less than 30 percent of the vote at the next Bundestag elections, the once powerful Social Democrats are already under 20 percent in some recent polls. At this rate they could well end up behind the populist, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD); something that occurred in two of three state elections last month.
In the past ten years the number of members of both major parties has sunk round 20 percent. In the same period the circulation of newspapers and news magazines has fallen a similar amount. Television, including state television, has allegedly lost just ten percent in the same decade. But even here the numbers are deceptive. The average age of viewers of state television is currently well over 60. When I first arrived in Germany thirty-five years ago state media (television and radio) had a monopoly. Today my children do not even know that it exists and use other media via the internet. I am surprised how many friends, colleagues and acquaintances have given up watching the evening news on state television, once an event that most Germans partook of, frustrated by its tendentious reporting.
German media’s loss of credibility was recently underscored by two recent studies. Although one was carried out by state television, which is still battling to justify a recent hike in rates, and was very favourable towards its own programme, there were a couple of rather surprising results. 60 percent of those asked were of the opinion that German news media – including state media – was not independent from political and business interests. Only ten percent saw the the media as neutral. The rest were uncertain.
The media coverage – better said propaganda campaigns – concerning austerity, the political upheaval in Ukraine and Greece bashing have become a watershed in the German public’s perception of its media. Even the advisory board of the state media group ARD heavily criticised the reporting around the events in Ukraine during and after the Maidan protests, describing it as biased, undifferentiated and fragmentary. This description would well cover the whole of reporting in German mainstream media, also in the case of Greece and austerity. Much of the coverage concerning Russia and Greece has been underlined by inveterate German racism. Many Germans, probably not most, have however moved on and are no longer receptive to this sort of manipulation.
Those who found their biases confirmed by the news media, many on the right of the German political spectrum, have been alienated by a further defamation campaign of mainstream media: against the anti-Islamic movement Pegida and the populist political party AfD. The reporting has not been critical; it has been visceral.
How odd it has been to see the second state television channel, ZDF, attacking Pegida and the AfD as neo-Nazis, but on the other hand in a moment of Eastern Front nostalgia presenting Ukrainian troops with Nazi symbols on their helmets and uniforms fighting the rebels in the east of the country. There is a great deal to criticise concerning Pegida and the AfD, but what has occurred has been counter-productive, much as the American elite discovered in its early portrayal of Donald Trump.
The second study was published by the NGO Transparency International entitled “Corruption in Journalism. In a survey three years ago 53 percent of Germans considered their journalists to be corrupt or very corrupt. In its report Transparency asked German journalists their opinion on the issue. 63 percent of those journalists queried if corruption was a problem in journalism thought this was true (from a “wholehearted yes” to a “more or less”). Then there is the difficulty in defining corruption in journalism. In Germany, in politics and the media, the term is very loosely interpreted. Even Transparency had difficulty with this aspect of their study.
One does not know where to begin, but here are a few examples of what is not considered corruption in Germany:
Many journalists work on the side as “consultants”. A recent example came to light when one of the principle political journalists at Springer’s broad sheet “Die Welt” offered to advise the AfD concerning media, of course at a very stiff fee. When the AfD declined the offer, the same journalist began writing vicious attacks against the party. He did lose his job.
Then there are the business journalists specialised in a certain corporate sectors, who are then asked by one of the companies they cover to moderate their presentation, receiving a fee, often well over their monthly salary for two hours work. One can guess what the next article looks like.
Many German political journalists’ dream is to become a generously paid press spokesperson for a federal or state minister. The best way to achieve this is by publishing obsequious reports about the minister concerned. One never knows when reading an article in a German newspaper or a report in German television or radio, if it is a news report or a job application.
German auto journalists are famous for their venality. A couple of years ago it came out that Mazda’s public relations head, who had worked previously for a number of automobile companies, had calculated a budget for bribes of at least 15,000 Euros a year per journalist. This did not disturb Mazda in the least. They first pressed charges against their PR manager when it came out that he was skimming immense sums off the top for himself and an accomplice. Mazda had apparently assumed the full amount was being used to bribe journalists. There was no investigation of the journalists involved.
There are the paid luxury travels, sumptuous gifts and meals. All of this is considered part of the job. Corruption of journalists might not be on the same financial scale as companies expend for politicians, but it is just as prevalent.
There are those German journalists who may be corruption free, but most identify themselves with the powers that be or know that their jobs are at stake should they report otherwise. They no longer see themselves as a critical authority, but as one academic explained, as pedagogues, instructing Germans what and how to think, which is simply a polite way to describe a propagandist.
The difficulties of mainstream media in Germany may solve themselves The circulation of most print media is plummeting and many will surely disappear in the next five years. It is just a question of time until someone raises the question if state media is truly worth the billions it receives. The traditional support that it enjoys at the moment is literally dying off.
With a discredited political class and press, both in the service of big money, the political foundation of Germany is crumbling. How can politicians, who for most German citizens are not credible, communicate with voters, when the media, which is supposed to disseminate their disinformation, equally lacks credibility? The political and moneyed class in Germany assume that the political system has always functioned for them and therefore will continue to do so. This may be true in the short term, but it certainly is having its problems.
The American journalist A. J. Liebling once claimed “”Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” In the case of Germany the political class owns state media and much of the rest belongs to a few conglomerates such as Springer and Bertelsmann. Their main concern is not a free press, but profit and forcing politicians to adopt policies in the interests of big business.
In Germany, the wealthy and the political class are losing control of the political discourse because they have perverted it. News media is no longer a democratic flow of ideas and opinion, but a propaganda instrument for their particular interests. Thus German media has managed to alienate a good portion of the population. It is no wonder that the nation’s post-war political system is in upheaval when the democratic consensus has been unilaterally terminated.