Does media in Germany discriminate against conservative views and the political right?

_ Yuri Kofner, economist, MIWI Institute for Market Integration and Economic Policy. Munich, 6 June 2022.

Introduction

Does the media in Germany discriminate against conservative views, right-wing political ideas and especially the Alternative for Germany party? Supporters of the liberal-patriotic party are certain that systematic unfair treatment, so-called “AfD ignoring” and “AfD bashing”, by public and private media in Germany is one of the main reasons why the AfD is currently not having the expected success.

A survey by infratest dimap from 2020 shows that only a quarter of AfD supporters have trust in national public broadcasting, while the figure is almost 90 percent for the Greens and the  SPD and 63 percent for the Left party. [1]

Using the definition of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, discrimination by the media on the basis of political opinions can be defined as “an unequal treatment based on [political or any other opinion] without an objective reason justifying the unequal treatment”.[2]

Such unequal treatment is clearly forbidden in Germany. According to Article 5 of the Basic Law, “freedom of the press and freedom of reporting through radio and film must be guaranteed. There is no censorship.” [3] And Article 26, paragraph 2 of the Interstate Media Treaty stipulates that “in fulfilling their mandate, public service broadcasters must take into account the principles of objectivity and impartiality in reporting, diversity of opinion and the balance of their offerings.” “In private broadcasting”, according to Article 59, paragraphs 1 and 2, “the diversity of opinions is essentially to be expressed in terms of content. The important political, ideological and social forces and groups must have their say in the full programmes. Minority views must be taken into account. A single program must not have a highly unbalanced influence on the formation of public opinion.”[4]

But do the private and public media in Germany indeed discriminate against the AfD? Or is that just an “unfounded right-wing conspiracy theory”, as journalists and media houses counter?

Methodology

In order to provide an empirically sound answer to this question, this scientific analysis examines two aspects of possible unequal treatment of political parties by the German media.

First – unequal treatment in the sense of an unequal frequency of mentions or appearances of the party and its representatives in the media in relation to the opinion of the general population, which is expressed in the last election results. This means that if a party received 10 percent of the votes in the last election, but the media gives this party significantly less than 10 percent of the total attention that it gives to all parties as a whole, then there is unequal treatment (AfD ignoring).

Second – excessively negative reporting about the party and its representatives (AfD bashing), although this is certainly a subjective indicator.

The analytical processing is divided into an examination of public, private and general media at the federal and Bavarian level.

Public media

Federal level

According to an analysis by Rene Springer, member, Bundestag, AfD, who counted the participation of politicians in the major ARD and ZDF talk shows between January and May 2022, the Greens were 42.2 percent over-represented in relation to their 2021 federal election results, the Left by 71.7 percent, the FDP by 42.2 percent, the CDU/CSU by 12.5 percent and the SPD by 5.5 percent. The AfD was 100 percent underrepresented because it wasn’t invited once. [5]

Counts by the industry service Meedia on politician participation in the most important public talk shows in 2021 and 2020 show the following results: in 2021 the Greens were 102.7 percent overrepresented, the SPD 41.7 percent, the Union 24.4 percent, the FDP 25.8 percent. The Left was underrepresented by 56.8 percent and the AfD by 83 percent. In 2020, the SPD was overrepresented by 53.8 percent, the Greens by 38.3 percent, the Union by 33.5 percent, and the FDP by 0.6 percent. The Left was underrepresented by 20.6 percent, the AfD by 81.7 percent.[6]

According to the news monitor of the GöfaK Medienforschung commissioned by ZDF for the years 2019 and 2020 (unfortunately not continued), party representation through quotes from political actors in the main evening news of the public TV channels was as follows in 2020: the CDU/CSU was overrepresented by 60 percent, the Greens by 11.2 percent, the SPD by 8.9 percent. The Left was underrepresented by 21.5 percent, the FDP by 24.1 percent and the AfD by 48.2 percent.[7]

In 2019, the CDU/CSU was overrepresented by 42.9 percent, the Greens by 26.1 percent, and the SPD by 25.1 percent. The Left was underrepresented by 14.7 percent, the FDP by 36.4 percent and the AfD by 39.9 percent.[8]

According to a survey of ARD volunteers conducted in October 2020, 57.1 percent of those surveyed would vote for the Greens, 23.4 percent for the Left, and 11.7 percent for the SPD. In other words: 92 percent of ARD volunteers sympathize with left-wing parties. Only 2.6 percent would vote for the CDU/CSU and 1.3 percent for the FDP. Nobody of the volunteers would vote for the AfD.[9]

Bavaria

An evaluation of the appearances of politicians in the most important talk show formats of public Bayerischer Rundfunk the previous and current year came to the following conclusion.

In the talk show “jetzt red i” in the period from April 2021 to May 2022 compared to the state election results of 2018, the SPD was overrepresented by 76 percent, the left by 52.4 percent, the Freie Wähler party by 47.2 percent, the Greens by 25.4 percent. The CSU was underrepresented by 14.8 percent and the AfD by 100 percent – it was not invited once. [10]

In the “Münchner Runde” from February 2021 to June 2022, the FDP was overrepresented with 151.4 percent, the Left with 60.3 percent, the Greens with 31.9 percent, and the SPD with 5.7 percent. The CSU was underrepresented with 3.5 percent, the FW with 33.7 percent and the AfD with 49.2 percent. [11]

At the “Sonntags-Stammtisch” in the period from October 2021 to June 2022, the FDP was overrepresented by 226.8 percent, the SPD by 71.8 percent, the Left by 30.2 percent, the Greens by 19 percent and the CSU by 0.8 Percent. The Frei Wähler were underrepresented at 64.1 percent and the AfD again at 100 percent, since no AfD politician was ever invited. [12]

Private media

Federal level

The news monitor mentioned above shows that in 2020 and 2019 in the evening news of RTL, Germany’s largest private television station, the party representatives had their say as follows: In 2020, the Union was overrepresented by 108.6 percent, the SPD by 18 percent. The Greens were underrepresented by 33.7 percent, the FDP by 46 percent, the Left by 75 percent and the AfD by 84.1 percent. In 2019, the CDU/CSU was overrepresented by 71.6 percent, the Greens by 30.3 percent, and the SPD by 35.1 percent. The FDP was underrepresented by 37.4 percent, the Left by 64.1 percent, and the AfD by 69.0 percent.

In the evening news of SAT1, the second largest private television station, the Union was overrepresented by 100.7 percent, the SPD by 22.4 percent. The Greens were underrepresented by 18 percent, the FDP by 41.1 percent, the Left by 64.1 percent, and the AfD by 86.5 percent. In 2019, the CDU/CSU was overrepresented by 73.5 percent, the Greens by 36 percent, and the SPD by 25.9 percent. The FDP was underrepresented by 40.2 percent, the Left by 51.1 percent, and the AfD by 75.4 percent.[13]

In 2020, Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of the Bild Zeitung, the largest daily newspaper in Germany and belonging to the media group Axel Springer SE, announced the official policy of the medium of not offering the AfD “any space and nor reach, not enabling [it] to stage itself”, and never “conducting a classic interview” with the party representatives.[14]

Unfortunately, there are still no studies into possible biases on the major US social media platforms in relation to parties and political views in Germany in particular. However, there is evidence of discrimination against conservative political views in general and in the US in particular, which allows conclusions to be drawn for Germany.

A 2022 Pew Research Center poll shows that 95 percent of conservative US Republicans believe social media censors their political views, compared to just 21 percent of left-wing Democrats who feel the same way. 44 percent of US adults believe the big tech companies favour left-liberal over conservative views, while only 15 percent believe it’s the other way around.[15]

In May 2022, a senior Twitter engineer (7.8 mln active users in Germany) confirmed that the social media platform’s staff had “a strong left-leaning anticonservative bias” (“commie as f…”), the company “does not believe in freedom of speech” and “actively censors the political right but not the left”.[16]

In 2016, two former Facebook employees confirmed that the social media platform “regularly suppresses conservative news” in the “trending news” section and that the company does not act as a neutral platform but rather as a classic editorial team with a clear anti-conservative orientation.[17]

But censorship is not only practiced by US Internet companies. In May 2022, the Chinese video app Tik-Tok deleted the official Alternative for Germany channel with over 60,000 followers without any reason or justification.[18]

Bavaria

Between July 2021 and June 2022, representatives of the CSU were 87 percent overrepresented on the “Bayern Agenda” of the private local broadcaster “München TV”. All other state parliament parties were underrepresented: the SPD with 10.4 percent, the FW and the Greens each with 25 percent. At no time was a politician from the FDP or AfD invited.[19]

German media landscape as a whole

An empirical study on the quality of journalistic reporting, carried out between January 2020 and April 2021 by the Rudolf Augstein Foundation, shows that in the most important German television programs and news, as well as online and print media, the parties with their views on the corona restrictions were over- / under-mentioned as follows: The then governing parties CDU/CSU and SPD were over-represented by 136.7 and 9.2 percent respectively. The opposition parties at the time were undermentioned: the Left by 59.4 percent, the FDP by 65.1 percent, the Greens by 66.5 percent, the AfD by 70.4 percent. Also so-called Corona measures sceptics hardly got a word in the media (1.6 percent of the quotes).[20]

In June 2021, researchers from the University of Trier analysed the evaluative tweet mentions (@mentions) of party representatives by around 500 journalists of the Federal Press Conference. The study was conducted in 2016 and 2020. In 2016, the Greens were over-mentioned in relation to the 2017 federal election result with 93.3 percent and received by far the most positive ratings from journalists of all parties: 62.5 percent of the mentions were positive. The SPD was over-mentioned by 46.8 percent (71.4 of these entries were negative), the Union by 32.5 percent (69.7 percent of the tweets were negative). The left was undermentioned by 65.2 percent, with 66.7 of those mentions being negative. Although the FDP was undermentioned by 79.4 percent, half of the mentions were positive. The AfD was undermentioned by BPK journalists by 65.9 percent, with all (100 percent) mentions being negative.

In 2020, journalists did not publish any judgmental tweets about the Greens at all. The FDP was over-mentioned by 42.1 percent, with 3/4 of the mentions being negative. The Union was mentioned by 22.8 percent (with 69.2 percent of the mentions negative), the SPD by 11.2 percent (66.7 percent negative). The Left was undermentioned by 3.3 percent with 85.7 percent negative mentions. Although the AfD was mentioned quite proportionally to its election results (0.8 percent more mentions), this time too all mentions were negative.[21]

In addition, the researchers found out: “In a comparison of all tweeted judgements, journalists rate AfD MPs most frequently in a targeted manner. This applies in particular to negative reviews. Journalists, on the other hand, aim least at politicians from the Greens. As targeted addressees, green politicians also have the lowest proportion of negative ratings.”

So-called “influencers” are a new form of media actors who often have an enormous reach in social networks and can therefore exert decisive political influence. A current study by the University of Vienna from September 1 to 26, 2021, i.e., shortly before the 2021 federal election, examined over 7,000 party mentions by influencers on the most important social media platforms. Accordingly, the Greens were over-mentioned by 103.5 (explicit) to 166.9 (implicit) percent, with only 55.1 percent of the mentions being negative. The Left was over-mentioned by 9.6 to 78 percent, with only 42.2 of the mentions being negative. The SPD was over-mentioned between 3.5 and 26.1 percent, with 69.4 of the mentions being negative. The Union was over-mentioned by 11.2 percent in direct posts but under-mentioned by 31.7 percent in indirect posts. Overall, the assessment of the CSU/CSU was negative at 74.1 percent. The FDP was undermentioned between 0.1 and 19 percent, but 55.5 percent of all social media mentions by influencers about the FDP were positive. The AfD was undermentioned the most, i.e., by 20 to 43.9 percent, with 61.7 percent of the posts being negative. [22]

A group of PhD biologists and physicians headed by Prof. Steinhoff recently published an analytical dossier in which they examined more than 40 children’s, youth, educational and information programs on the most important public broadcasters. The researchers concluded that German public television clearly and intentionally propagates LGBTQ and transgender ideology, even under the use of false claims (disinformation). Conversely, public service broadcasting discriminates against conservative political views on family, sexual behaviour and behaviour in society. The call for the study was signed by 120 scientists, including the gay and lesbian advocacy group LGB Alliance.[23]

A comprehensive econometric study by Kirkegaard et al. (2021) proves that the German media clearly have a predominantly left-wing political orientation. Compared to the total electorate, German journalists prefer by around 20 to 40 percent (depending on the evaluation method) parties more that generally represent more left-wing positions and are assigned to certain ideologies, namely climate protection, feminism, left-liberalism, socialism, and support for the European Union.[24]

Conclusion and policy recommendations

The extensive review of the frequency of appearances/citations and rating indicators carried out above shows that the public and private media in Germany are unbalanced and clearly discriminate against the AfD. Regarding their election results, the patriotic homeland party is between about 40 and 100 percent underrepresented on talk shows and news (AfD ignoring) and most if not all mentions by journalists are negative (AfD bashing).

There are both facts and strong indications that major social media platforms and the public broadcasting service discriminate against conservative political views and right-wing ideas, including with the use of censorship and false claims.

Surveys and empirical regression analyses attest that the German media in general and the public media in particular have a clear left-green orientation. The research shows that the Greens are over-mentioned by the media by up to 100 percent and are treated very favourably by journalists.

Which policy recommendations can be derived from this finding?

Well, firstly, the general public and decision-makers need to be continuously informed about media bias against the AfD and conservative political views. The publication of this empirical analysis as confirmation should be seen as a further contribution to this public enlightenment.

Secondly, in another planned reform of the media state treaty, balanced and objective reporting by the public media is to be made more binding.[25] In the state parliaments and in the Bundestag, the AfD now has the task of getting the other parties to push through this reform correctly. This could be achieved by arguing that not only is the AfD discriminated against, but as we saw above, the FDP, Freie Wahler and Linke, depending on the year and area, are sometimes also victims of unfair treatment by the media, albeit to a much lesser extent.

Which demands should this reform include?

  1. Public broadcasters must be obliged to clearly separate reporting and opinions and to clearly identify them at the beginning of each contribution or section. RLP Prime Minister Malu Dreyer recently admitted: “Many citizens have stated that they feel there is too much reporting, where it is no longer possible to distinguish whether it is objective reporting or an opinion or everything is mixed.”
  2. The funding of public service broadcasting or its various media formats must be proportionate to the balance of attention they give to political parties in relation to their latest election results. Otherwise, sanctions should be imposed. E.g., if in one year the under- or over-representation of a certain party on talk shows exceeds a certain level, e.g., 33 percent, then the funding of this program should be cut in the next year.
  3. Freedom of expression and the right to political agenda-setting by the private media is an important basis for democracy and freedom. The “market-making” (“Ordnungspolitik”) state restriction of this fundamental right should therefore be very limited. What can and should be done, however, is to oblige private media and their editors to indicate their potential political leanings by forcing them to disclose their ownership and the membership of their editors and writers in political parties and NGOs.

Last but not least, the AfD has to accept that the German media, above all the public broadcasting service, will work against the party for the time being and probably for a long time to come. Therefore, strategies must be developed to deal with this adverse condition. Among other things, the new federal executive board of the AfD should set up a “Public Relations and Media Work” working group, whose core task should be to invent ways for the Alternative to (again) reach a broad public. How this can be done in particular is a science in itself, but here are just a few ideas: PR stunts and soft power tactics (e.g., the campaigns “Freiheit for Future” and “Grüner Mist”, campaigns by party-affiliated organisations, like by the “Heimatkurrier”), organizing media schools for mainstream journalists on “How and why the right thinks what it thinks”, stronger institutional cooperation with alternative media (Junge Freiheit, GETTR, etc.), and so on.

Sources

[1] infratest dimap (2020). Glaubwürdigkeit der Medien 2020. WDR. URL: https://www.daserste.de/ard/die-ard/Glaubwuerdigkeit-der-Medien-WDR-Studie-100.pdf

[2] Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes (2022). Was ist Diskriminierung? URL: https://www.antidiskriminierungsstelle.de/DE/ueber-diskriminierung/was-ist-diskriminierung/was-ist-diskriminierung-node.html

[3] Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1949). URL: https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gg/BJNR000010949.html

[4] Medienstaatsvertrag (MStV) (2020). URL: https://www.die-medienanstalten.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Rechtsgrundlagen/Gesetze_Staatsvertraege/Medienstaatsvertrag_MStV.pdf

[5] Springer R. (2022). Compared to the results of the 2021 federal election. AfD-Fraktion im Deutschen Bundestag. URL: https://twitter.com/Rene_Springer/status/1531600395088560131

[6] Meedia (2021). Die Gästelisten-Auswertung der ARD- und ZDF-Talks. Compared to the results of the 2017 federal election. URL: https://meedia.de/2021/12/16/40-auftritte-bei-will-illner-lanz-co-karl-lauterbach-ist-der-talkshow-koenig-2021/

[7] Maurer T. et al. (2021). Ergebnisse des Nachrichtenmonitors 2020. GöFaK. Compared to the results of the 2017 federal election. Examined talk shows: Anne Will, maischberger. die woche, Hart aber fair, maybrit illner. URL: https://www.ard-media.de/fileadmin/user_upload/media-perspektiven/pdf/2021/2103_Maurer_Wagner_Weiss.pdf

[8] Maurer T. et al. (2020). Ergebnisse des Nachrichtenmonitors 2019. GöFaK. Compared to the results of the 2017 federal election. Examined talk shows: Anne Will, maischberger. die woche, Hart aber fair, maybrit illner. URL: https://www.ard-media.de/fileadmin/user_upload/media-perspektiven/pdf/2020/0220_Maurer_Wagner_Weiss.pdf

[9] Journalist (2020). Welche Partei würden Sie wählen, wenn am kommenden Sonntag Bundestagswahl wäre? URL: https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1184876/umfrage/sonntagsfrage-ard-volontaere/

[10] Author’s calculations based on: BR (2022). jetzt red i. Compared to the results of the Bavarian state election 2018. URL: https://www.br.de/br-fernsehen/sendungen/jetzt-red-i/index.html

[11] Author’s calculations based on: BR (2022). Münchner Runde. Compared to the results of the Bavarian state election 2018. URL: https://www.br.de/br-fernsehen/sendungen/muenchner-runde/index.html

[12] Author’s calculations based on: BR (2022). Sonntags-Stammtisch. Compared to the results of the Bavarian state election 2018. URL: https://www.br.de/br-fernsehen/sendungen/sonntags-stammtisch/index.html

[13] Maurer T. et al. (2021). | Maurer T. et al. (2020).

[14] JF (2020). „Bild“ verweigert AfD Interviews: „Es ist unfaßbar“. URL: https://jungefreiheit.de/kultur/medien/2020/bild-verweigert-afd-interviews-es-ist-unfassbar/

[15] Vogels E.A. (2022). Support for more regulation of tech companies has declined in U.S., especially among Republicans. Pew Research Center. URL: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/05/13/support-for-more-regulation-of-tech-companies-has-declined-in-u-s-especially-among-republicans/

[16] Harriet A. (2022). ‘Twitter does not believe in free speech’. Daily Mail. URL: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10823295/Twitter-does-not-believe-free-speech-Twitter-engineer-recorded-saying-censor-right.html

[17] Nunez M. (2016). Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News. Gizmodo. URL: https://gizmodo.com/former-facebook-workers-we-routinely-suppressed-conser-1775461006

[18] JF (2022). TikTok löscht AfD-Kanal. URL: https://jungefreiheit.de/politik/deutschland/2022/tiktok-loescht-afd-kanal/

[19] Berechnungen des Autors anhand von: München TV (2022). Bayern Agenda. Compared to the results of the Bavarian state election 2018. URL: https://www.muenchen.tv/sendung/bayern-agenda/

[20] Maurer M. et al. (2021). Einseitig, unkritisch, regierungsnah. Rudolf-Augstein-Stiftung. Compared to the results of the 2017 federal election. Examined media: FAZ, SZ, Welt, Bild, Spiegel, Focus, T-Online, Tagesschau (ARD), heute (ZDF) und RTL aktuell, ARD Extra Corona. URL: https://rudolf-augstein-stiftung.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Studie-einseitig-unkritisch-regierungsnah-reinemann-rudolf-augstein-stiftung.pdf

[21] Matthes J. et al. (2022). Political Influencing über Social Media im Bundestagswahlkampf 2021. Universität Wien. Examined media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, Telegram. URL: https://www.medienanstalt-nrw.de/fileadmin/user_upload/NeueWebsite_0120/Themen/Intermediaere/Bericht_Political_Influencing__06022022.pdf

[22] Schumacher N.F. et al. (2021). Towards New Standards? Interaction Patterns of German Political Journalists in the Twittersphere. Trier University. Compared to the results of the 2017 federal election. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352465196_Towards_New_Standards_Interaction_Patterns_of_German_Political_Journalists_in_the_Twittersphere

[23] Steinhoff U. et al. (2022). Ideologie statt Biologie im ÖRR. URL: https://www.evaengelken.de/dossier-ideologie-statt-biologie-im-oerr/

[24] Kirkegaard, E. O. W. et al. (2021). The Left-liberal Skew of Western Media. Ulster Institute for Social Research, Journal of Psychological Research. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353756955_The_Left-liberal_Skew_of_Western_Media

[25] At least in their promises, politics is going in the right direction here. See: Tieschky C. (2022). Politik macht Auflagen für Unterhaltung bei ARD und ZDF. SZ. URL: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/oeffentlich-rechtlicher-auftrag-ministerpraesidenten-unterhaltung-1.5596762

One comment

  1. Ein seriöser Artikel, wie man sie nur selten zu lesen bekommt. Vielen Dank dafür.

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