Germany: Media all lined up behind the Chancellor
12 July 2012
Since the outset of the eurozone crisis, the German media has been guilty of promulgating stereotypes and clichés about other countries. This has shaped Angela Merkel's divisive European polices, argues Austrian author Robert Misik.
“Europe's Most Dangerous Leader” headlined the British magazine New Statesman in a recent profile of Angela Merkel. In the inside pages, it promoted the German chancellor at the same time to the "most dangerous person in the world.”
The conclusion of the well-researched story reads like this: “In denial and bent on austerity über alles, Merkel is destroying the European project, pauperising Germany’s neighbours and risking a new global depression. She must be stopped.”
For sure, there’s something of the typical journalistic penchant for superlatives here. Ultimately, however, the author crams into a nutshell what almost everyone in Europe thinks about the German Chancellor and her “fiscal self-flagellation”, as well as about the German refusal to finally take some bold steps to escape the flames of the crisis.
In one country, however, people think fundamentally differently: in Germany. Normally in EU politics, if the talk is about the “German position” or the “French position”, it’s always the attitude of the respective government that’s meant. In the current euro crisis, though, there is an alliance between the government, the German public and virtually all the media that is so wide-ranging that the opposition no longer dare oppose it.
The media can be “harmonised”
And if, as we saw at the recent EU summit, the German Chancellor is forced to step back a few millimetres from her fundamentalist position, then she gets a beating for it at home too. Then she's “toppled", and the mainstream press asks frantically: “Who is going to pay for all this?”
And, yes, this involves not just the loudmouths from the Bild, shouting in ten-centimetre letters: “More money for the bankrupt Greeks? BILD says No.” Even normal, supposedly objective and serious journalism has been chiming the same tune for months now.
Often it is the seemingly innocuous phrases that express most ostentatiously this national opinion that has closed ranks, this chauvinism that sets Europe a crucial test of how far it can go before it breaks. With words such as “debtor-country” or “unsound” – coined, obviously, for the southern European countries in the euro-zone like “debtor-country Spain." But wait – what’s the government debt ratio in Spain? Earlier this year it was 68 percent of GDP. In comparison, Germany’s government debt ratio is 81 percent. Who is the “debtor country” here?
Or the “Heute-journal” of the public broadcaster, ZDF. The first report is on the Greek elections. Right in the middle comes the sentence: “The worst has just been averted.” The worst? That, obviously, would have been a victory for the leftist Syriza, which was staved off by the election victory of the conservatives – the band of thieves that rode the country into the mess it’s in in the first place. Two minutes later, the next report, the next reporter. This time it's on the G-20 summit. Right in the middle, almost lapidary, comes the sentence: “The others want to get at Germany’s money.”
Zapping to other channels brings no relief: everywhere one hears similar sentences, which are the product of a climate of opinion and that at the same time stabilise that climate. It’s the clearest demonstration of how the media can be “harmonised” without the need for anyone to harmonise it. Because the journalists no longer even notice that they’re dishing out propaganda: after all, they’re “only” using phrases that have long been common sense.
Not even Die Zeit finds something amiss in cluttering the news with rubbish, most recently with the lurid headline and the huge letters on its front page: “The whole world wants our money.” Perhaps the most dreary journalism is that which holds itself to be objective, yet does nothing but bleat out the prejudices of its environment.
Of course, there are other voices that repeatedly point out, with great patience, that Germany has done well so far out of the suffering of others and is also not innocent of the economic imbalances, and that we will only be able to deal with the eurozone crisis if we correct the faulty design of the eurozone, and that it is pointless to bluster on about imaginary “limits of German strength" when in reality the costs of the crisis are only driven up and the breaking point thus reached much faster. Sure, such reasonable voices are out there. They form flecks of colour in the grey cloud of opinion.
One can analyze it all and so understand it. But one is also left standing slack-jawed before it all. And in this climate of opinion is it not cheap as well to criticise Angela Merkel for stubbornly staying her course on austerity? Or the Socialists for not coming up with any trenchant political opposition? Given this drunken national us-versus-those -who-want-our-money climate of opinion it is hardly surprising when politicians who want to be elected – or re-elected – do not stray far from common sense.
From parroting simple prejudices. From spouting, without any economic expertise, the most rousing propagandistic phrases. From positioning themselves, in all their professional arrogance, as clearheaded and farsighted. Or simply from just playing it safe by running with the pack. That's what the vast majority of German journalists are up to in the euro crisis.
Translated from the German by Anton Baer