Lazy, cowardly journalists -- German study of a bad old story

22 Dec, 2022 09:58
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Selling a war: Report exposes how German media stirs up militancy in society and works to prevent negotiations with Russia

A shock study exposes how the press is pushing for confrontation with Moscow in the EU's most powerful state
Selling a war: Report exposes how German media stirs up militancy in society and works to prevent negotiations with Russia
©  Getty Images / Jacobs Stock Photography
Last week, the University of Mainz published a study of German news coverage of events in Ukraine, and Berlin’s official response to the crisis. The conclusions confirm that since February 24, the media has played a major role in keeping the conflict going, and making a negotiated settlement less likely, due to almost universally biased, pro-war, anti-Russia content being published at all stages.

Researchers at the university analyzed German-language reporting on the Ukraine conflict between February 24 and May 31, assessing the content of around 4,300 separate articles published by the country’s eight leading newspapers and TV stations: FAZ, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Bild, Spiegel, Zeit, ARD Tagesschau, ZDF Today, and RTL Aktuell.

During this time, Ukraine was portrayed positively in 64% of all coverage, and President Vladimir Zelensky in 67%. By contrast, Russia was portrayed “almost exclusively negatively” 88% of the time, and President Vladimir Putin in 96% of cases. Almost all reports – 93% in total – attributed sole blame for the war to Putin and/or Russia. The West was named as “jointly responsible” in only 4% of instances, Ukraine even less so at 2%.

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The perspectives of Russia on the conflict were only considered or mentioned in 10% of news reports, less than the viewpoint of any other country, including Moscow’s neighbors. Alternative for Germany and the Left Party, which both oppose arming Ukraine and prolonging the fighting, “had practically no media presence in reporting on the war.” Government messaging and statements from ministers were completely dominant, being the focus in 80% of news coverage, more than four times above the figure for opposition parties.

In media discussions of “measures most likely to end the war,” economic sanctions against Russia were “by far the most frequently reported,” and approved of in 66% of cases. Diplomatic measures were mentioned “much less frequently,” while “humanitarian measures” were even less regularly featured.

In all, 74% of the reports surveyed portrayed military support to Ukraine “extremely positively.” Delivery of heavy weapons was endorsed “a little less clearly, but still considered to be largely sensible,” with 66% “overwhelmingly in favor.” Less than half – 43% – gave the impression that diplomatic negotiations would be useful, and this was largely due to Der Spiegel’s reporting that clearly marked diplomacy as the most sensible option for Berlin “by far.” 

“Der Spiegel was the only media examined to rate diplomatic negotiations more positively than the delivery of heavy weapons,” the academics conclude.

The report did identify one area where media coverage was “certainly not pro-government.” On certain rare occasions, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his coalition were strongly criticized “for hesitating to flood Ukraine with heavy weapons” by all outlets apart from Der Spiegel.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 16, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. ©  Jesco Denzel / Bundesregierung via Getty Images
The report adds that “not all members of the government were equally affected by the criticism.” While those who escaped censure aren’t listed, it’s a fair bet they are representatives of government coalition parties such as the Greens, who have been demanding that Berlin flood Kiev with arms from day one.

Overall, though, the study offers a disturbing view into how Germany’s entire media lined up behind the cause of war and a dangerous escalation against Russia. Meanwhile, consideration of alternative policies, such as supporting a diplomatic settlement or urging Ukraine to engage in productive negotiations to end the fighting as early as possible was almost completely absent – or indeed completely withheld – from any news reporting or analysis.  

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It also shows how journalists are among the most aggressive and effective lobbyists for war. Germany is just one country, and a similar investigation of media coverage of the conflict in any Western state would inevitably reach similar conclusions. In many cases, the findings could possibly be even more drastic, in terms of the one-sided, pro-war picture presented to average citizens by the press, and the lack of opposing, pro-diplomacy viewpoints. 

This would surely be the case in the UK and US, the two countries most eagerly pushing proxy war with Russia. It has been confirmed that Kiev and Moscow reached a negotiated interim settlement in early April, whereby Russia would withdraw to its pre-February 24 position, and Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership in return for security guarantees from a number of countries. 

However, at the very last minute, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly flew to Kiev and demanded that Zelensky step away from talks. This shocking fact has barely been mentioned in English-language news, but this should not surprise us. 

These organizations and the journalists who work for them seem to have a forever war to sell. For that to happen, the Western public apparently cannot be allowed to know it’s possible to achieve peace by alternative means to death and destruction. It is also necessary, it appears, to mislead Europeans about the consequences of the conflict for their own economies and personal lives, as the University of Mainz study proves.

Between February 24 and May 31, the proportion of reports that mentioned or were about the “influence of the war on Germany,” such as energy shortages and price inflation, never rose above 15% in total per week. It is only lately the country’s media has begun to recognize this damage, and explored what it means for the average citizen. A majority of the public may not see the huge recession coming, or have any idea that it is self-inflicted.

By Felix Livshitz