(By Ray D.)
Medien Tenor: Proportion of anti-American reports rise dramatically in European media
Davids Medienkritik has delivered examples of German media bias on a daily basis for nearly three years. But some readers still wonder whether there really is a larger pattern of anti-Americanism or whether we are we just "cherry picking" the negative. Well, the international media research institute "Medien Tenor" has just released (another) study that reaffirms what we've suspected for quite some time. In the summary of a newsletter entitled, "Bush has a difficult standing among Europe's journalists," the institute reports (translated):
"International Media Tenor Analysis: ARD and ZDF see the USA most Critically
Bonn. In January 2006 the proportion of "anti-American" reporting rose noticeably in the most influential European media. The reason was, above all, increased media attention on the Iraq conflict as well as the relations of the USA with Syria, Iran and Palestine. This is the result of an international analysis of the Bonn-based media research institute Media Tenor. Also in Asian media, that otherwise report in a balanced manner, journalists evaluated the USA more negatively than usual. Important topics there were, among other things, the US air bases in Japan and Google's involvement in China. The media analysis for the Middle East provided results that indicated the Arab language television broadcaster Al Jazeera showed small improvement in its evaluation of the USA. Print media, on the other hand, maintained their negative position in light of the Iraq conflict.
Along with President Bush, the international media viewed the US military especially critically in January 2006. That was also the case for all of 2005, as the Media Tenor analysis showed. During the entire past year, conflicts dominated the news, with primary focus on Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and Syria. The reporting in Europe was especially critical of the US in 2005 at the "ARD Tagesthemen" and the "ZDF heute/journal," followed by the British media "The Times" and "6 O'Clock News" on BBC1. In the French media, on the other hand, the image of the US improved somewhat. While the critical position of the journalists towards Bush was an important cause of the overall negative value of the USA in 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was primarily presented either positively or neutrally. Only in the Arab language media in January 2006 showed a somewhat more negative tone in reporting on Rice.
For the analysis Media Tenor examined print and television reporting in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Japan, China, South Korea and in Arab language media from 01.01.2005 to 31.01.2006. The following 38 media were evaluated: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Handelsblatt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Welt, ARD Tagesthemen, ZDF Heute Journal, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Times, Newsnight (BBC2), 6 O‘Clock News (BBC1), 9 O‘Clock News (BBC2), Corriere della Sera, Il Sore 24 Ore, La Repubblica, El País, TVE1, El Mundo, Le Monde, Le Journal (TF1), Liberation, Metropolis, People‘s Daily, Asahi shimbun, Yomiun Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, Korea Economic Daily, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Al-Hayat, Al Saharq Al-Awsat, Al-Ikhbariya, Al-Alam, Al-Manar, Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiyah, LBC T.V"
Note that, of those media analyzed, the most US critical media in all Europe were Germany's two largest, state-sponsored television news broadcasts. Unfortunately, many Germans view these same state media as impartial and unbiased because they are (supposedly) independent of commercial interests. But they are necessarily dependent on the German government via the German taxpayer. And that means our German public television friends rely mightily on politicians who support continued and increasing levels of taxation (through the GEZ* fee and other taxes) to support, protect and expand their budgets, personnel and influence.
Not surprisingly, there is a deadly aversion against those who would so much as suggest cutting or even eliminating the taxes flowing through the umbilical cord. America, with its diverse, rough-and-tumble, private-sector media and emaciated public broadcasting, is seen as an anathema. There is great favoritism in Germany towards (and willingness to forgive/circle-the-wagons around) those who staunchly support taxation for public broadcasting. They tend to find themselves left of center: The SPD, the Greens, the PDS/WASG and sometimes the CDU**. These parties are populated with, and led by, the same 68ers who shared formative experiences with those sitting behind the editors' desks of so many German newsrooms today. There is a clear but unspoken symbiotic relationship at work. The result is political bias. The lack of influential alternative media only exacerbates the problem, especially when it comes to foreign reporting.
An NTV correspondent recently remarked that German media displayed a diversity of opinion. After all there are those who favor the SPD (Social Democrats) and those who favor the more conservative Union parties and so on. Absolutely right: There is an ample supply of commentary across the German political spectrum when it comes to internal, domestic politics, (although we would contend that there is still a bias towards the SPD and Greens.) But the picture is very different when it comes to reporting on the United States and other foreign countries: Here a shrill, extreme monotone dominates the media landscape. And the loudest, shrillest voices radiate from the usual suspects, some of them well-respected news sources within Germany. Sadly, these extremists are also influential opinion-shapers. Add to that a palpable German cultural skepticism towards foreigners. The result? Many Germans' views of the US consist of a regurgitated amalgamation of negative media reports, Hollywood flicks and fast-food legends. (Yuck!) Those who have lived in the US or actually know Americans tend to be most immune.
So what can we do to counteract the anti-American bias in German media and society? Here are a few suggestions.
- Increase the influence, reach, and number of German-language blogs, particularly those with a media critical attitude. That includes blogs of all political persuasions. Additionally, increase other media alternatives with a more balanced view of the United States and other foreign nations within Germany, possibly via talk radio, television or printed material.
- Increase funding (public and private on both sides of the Atlantic) for exchange programs so that more Germans can visit the United States and see the nation and its people for themselves. There is no better way to circumvent and short-circuit the stereotypes and biased reporting. The same goes for Americans. More Americans ought to learn German and participate in exchanges to Germany.
- The US government should stop spending public affairs money on art exhibits and ballet excursions and start spending it on building a staff of professionals dedicated to countering and responding to bias in the German media. That means hiring people fluent in German (preferably German citizens) who can go on all the German talk shows and news programs and counter the anti-American bias on a regular basis. You can reach 1,000 people with an art exhibit; you can reach millions with a television appearance. It also wouldn't hurt if the US Ambassador to Germany actually spoke German!
- Provide increased access to US government officials for relatively unbiased German media such as Die Welt and Focus. Also continue to engage biased media including SPIEGEL, ARD and ZDF, but do so very carefully and respond aggressively and proactively should they pull a stunt such as the recent Karen Hughes interview debacle. That could include formally complaining to German diplomats and politicians. (Just to be clear: We are not blaming Undersecretary Hughes for what happened, it was clearly SPIEGEL's fault.)
This is by no means intended as a complete list. Please feel free to add ideas in the comments section. We may also add further points as they occur to us. For a German-language take on the Media Tenor report, click here.
(*For those of you who have never owned a television or radio in Germany, the GEZ fee is a mandatory fixed tax on everyone who owns a television or radio used to fund public broadcasting. Government bureaucrats are actually sent door to door to enforce its payment.)
(** The SPD are the Social Democrats (Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party); the PDS/WASG is Germany's new far-left party; the CDU is the Christian Democrat party (Chancellor Angela Merkel's party) which is viewed as "conservative" by German standards but still favors big social-welfare spending.)
Update from David: How timely: today (Sunday, March 19, 2006) on WELTSPIEGEL (one of German public tv's most venomous anti-American programmes): a report on a phony solidarity action of WELTSPIEGEL for "poor Americans". Quote: "In the USA in winter time and again old folks freeze to death in their beds.". WELTSPIEGEL was preceeded on ARD by a heart wrenching report "Tookie and the Terminator" about the execution of a saint: Mr. Tookie Williams. Was the report biased? Well, somewhat... I would guess that it was 100 percent in favor of Tookie Williams and 0 percent in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And of course - capital punishment in the U.S. was criticized with the usual fervor. Your typical anti-American Sunday menu on Germany's public tv...
Update #2: Read our latest post: Prominent German Politician: "Americans Are Terrorists"