Also the refugee crisis has provided some examples of distorted coverage…
In the summer and autumn of 2015, we had a media mainstream that reflected a “Refugees Welcome” atmosphere. In the ARD TV news we saw a film where celebrities appealed to the kind-heartedness of the Germans, with sentimental piano music in the background – more advertising than journalism. While about 70 percent of the refugees were young men, we very often saw families with little children on the television screen. When Hungarian police and refugees clashed at the border, Britain’s BBC in the UK and worldwide showed refugees throwing stones and kicking gates – the ARD Tagesschau didn’t show these pictures but showed how women and children fled from the police teargas. I think the intention of the journalists was good and humane – and in the 1990s we had a completely different, anti-refugee mainstream. But now many people saw this coverage as an attempt at moral blackmail: If you don’t want open borders and don’t support the government’s policy, you are a right-wing extremist, you belong to “Dark Germany” and not to “Bright Germany”.
After the sexual assaults on German women by immigrants in Cologne at New Year’s Eve the attitude of many German newspapers and TV stations towards refugees seemed to change. And the right wing groups who campaign and demonstrate against immigration shouted even louder the accusation of “Lügenpresse - lying press!”, the ultimate expression of a lack of trust. Please explain what is behind this “lying press” idea, and give your opinion on the media coverage.
The assaults in Cologne were indeed a “key event” which shifted the mainstream from a “Refugees Welcome” message into the direction of an “excessive-demand” discussion. So the media mainstream does not always flow into the same direction, it is dynamic and there is a connection to the range of opinions within the political elite.
Regarding “Lügenpresse (lying press)”: In my opinion, this accusation does not mean that the people think there are massive amounts of wrong facts in the coverage. These people, who are mostly conservative or right wing petty bourgeois, have the suspicion that the media select and weigh the news. They believe that the media do not act in their interest, do not ask their questions, do not interpret events from their perspective. The suspicion is that there are serious blind spots in the media coverage, which is made by mostly green- or left-oriented, “politically correct” journalists. Americans would call it “liberal bias”. To what extent this suspicion is justified is hard to say.
In your book you write about “media elites” and “the establishment”. What does your research tell you about how these elites work together to form the “mainstream”?
Well, there are tight social networks between high-ranking journalists and politics and business elites. There is confidential communication between them, there are a lot of informal “background circles” in Berlin and Brussels. There is common involvement of journalists and elites in associations, think tanks, foundations, policy discussion groups and private international relations councils. I think this might be part of the answer: this is why many people have the feeling of alienation from the media. On many issues there is a gap between the views of elites and the mass of ordinary people. Elites govern against the opinion of significant parts of the population. This might be justified or not – but when journalists follow the elite discourse like a shadow and cover, explain and rationalise the political decisions, then many people see politicians and journalists as a common caste that rules against their interests.