By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance writer living in Berlin, and cross-posted from Naked Capitalism
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…