by Astghik Gevorgyan
Public Media and Newspapers
Every household in Germany pays 17 Euros monthly for public TV and Radio. Public media reaches nearly 40% of TV market, which is a pretty big share. Every federal state in Germany has its public TV and radio, and each of the 16 regions regulates its own private and public broadcasting. For example, Berlin and Brandenburg together have one public TV channel and four public radio. Overall, there are 80 public radio stations across the country.
The two main public broadcast corporations are ARD and ZDF, with their public TV stations and Deutschlandradio (German Radio). Germany is home to some of the world’s largest media conglomerates, including Bertelsmann and the publisher Axel Springer. The top free-to-air commercial TV networks are operated by RTL Group and ProSiebenSat1 Media.
Public media has its board comprised of representatives of various groups of society. Out of 60 members of the board, 1/3 are Parliament, federal regions and cities representatives. The other 2/3 includes people from different layers of society: unions, churches, chamber of commerce, economic circles, LGBT community, etc.
According to journalist Richard Meng, who is also a Berlin representative in the board, this composition of the board ensures the independence of public media.
Мedia expert Clemens Schöll believes that information is still a classic public thing. “The first public TV and Radio have more than 50 correspondents worldwide. There is always fighting between public and private media because private publishers say it is unfair that they get taxpayers money.”
Richard Meng also thinks this could be one of the reasons people in Germany do not want to pay for news, sports or for other media products: “It is difficult to make much money with journalism. They are trying to have paid content, but people in Germany don’t want to pay for net, even for football.”
Both Mr. Meng and Mr. Schöll agree that there are two really big challenges facing the media in Germany. The first is the decrease in demand of newspapers, while the second is the quality and diversity of journalism and media content. The problem of newspapers is inherent to the German media field as German people read print newspapers a lot. Bild tabloid, for instance, has a daily circulation of close to 2.5 million, the highest in Germany.
However, print media goes down by 4% every year. Websites keep growing, and the gap gets smaller and smaller. Public newspapers are closing down, and big newspapers buy smaller ones. The market is changing. “Years ago we had a market containing newspapers and TV stations. Now we have a public marketplace with everyone in the Internet,” says Richard Meng.
“The number of journalists and correspondents is also going down. There is less and less diverse content. 15 years ago there were still lots of correspondents in Berlin working for different newspapers. There were 20 people representing 20 newspapers 15 years ago, but now there are 4 people representing 20. This is not news. They might make slight changes to the article, the headlines and publish it on different websites. This way they can gain money on advertisements,” explains Schöll. For him the fact that young people do not read news is a more serious problem than their reading fake news: “It’s getting more dangerous when you have young people that don’t read news because they don’t trust.”
Speaking about the trust towards journalists and media, Mr. Meng notes that we deal with quite a difficult situation if the audience does not trust anymore. “Many journalists, trying to follow the audience, do what they are expected to do, so they are accepted. It has become more difficult to make articles or TV spots against public expectations.”
Sophia Wellek believes that non-diverse content underlies the distrust of the media. As Project Manager at M100 Sanssouci Colloquium, which gathers young journalists from Europe and Eastern Partnership countries every year to discuss media challenges, she says: “In Germany we lack diversity in newsrooms, so media here fails to really meet the needs of the German society, because the perspective shown by them is one-sided. In the newsrooms you don’t find the society represented, and neither do they cover all the necessary topics.”
She finds it important that journalists write not only from the perspective of a big city, but also from that of the countryside, migrants, gender balance, transnationality. “In the countryside people read more populist or right-wing parties, in global cities we have very left-wing tendencies, so it’s a huge gap. In order to build trust, people in newsrooms need to be more diverse and represent the society instead of this big city perspective”, she adds.
Indirect Influence of the Politics: Media as an Appendix of the Process
As for the political influence on the media in Germany, it can be argued to be indirect. The question is what kind of indirect influence politics or government can have on the media.
“People don`t get true perspective any more, which can be more dangerous, than financial challenges,” says Clemens Schöll. He explains that the government has its own news service with their own journalists asking them questions. Then they show the best part of the interview or press conference, where they include a little bit of criticism, mainly presenting results or a positive perspective of the issue. “In this case journalists don’t have to be in the press conferences and take photos, because press offices of politicians make their own videos and photos and send them to media outlets. Thus, all media platforms have that picture, and newspapers don’t need photographers anymore.”
For Richard Meng another worrisome issue is that journalists have to define what is important and what is not, what is correct and what is not. From that perspective media becomes an instrument in the hands of those in power. “If you are government you know that whatever you do journalists are going to report it. We have always had a problem when politics produced rubbish all day, but journalists don’t have time to research what is important. This makes media an appendix of the process.”
Lack of Local Journalism: Threat to Local Democracy?
In Germany what does not work are private local television and newspapers. Meng speaks critically about the perspective of newspapers at a local level. “Every year the consumption of the newspapers is minus 10%. There is no reporting on local governance. There are no critical articles. We observe the dying of public discussions sometimes at local level.” He is convinced the tendency can harm local democracies. Although young people discuss the problems of the city, “in general there are no global discussions about the vision of a city.”
“Young people don’t want to go to their local parliament. People don’t want to be engaged in the public discussions in the parliament and listen to opinions they don’t share. Here we have a problem to have good people in parliaments,” he claims.
The Future of German Media: What are the expectations of the Youth?
“In the future there will be a news platform and we will pay for the content. And you could decide on the topic you are interested in. This is much more future-oriented, just like what we, as younger generations, are used to using,” says Sophia Wellek.
She argues that the youth is not ignorant to news. It is the news consumption that has generally changed: young people don’t buy newspapers, but rather go on social media to read what their friends share or directly the posts by politicians. “News is not only a written text, but also multimedia, documentaries, videos. People are much interested in visual multimedia projects. They do watch the content of the TV stations, maybe not on TV sets, but on public media’s social network pages, as they can choose what to watch. Public TVs are quite independent. They are not influenced by business or politicians. It is great for Germany to have good press freedom and public media.”
In her view, the young people need much more positive news than negative stuff. “We are the Instagram generation, who wants to see the beauties of the world, and not only be confronted with the bad things of life. I think news also needs to be changed, focusing not only what didn’t work out in the world, but what does work in the world.”
Astghik Gevorgyan works at Ampop Media data news website as a data journalist and media trainer. She writes mainly on socio-political and economic issues. Astghik also prepares multimedia articles using info-graphics and story-making websites. She conducts media training on the topics of data analysis and visualization, as well as mobile journalism.