Two current legislative proposals further threaten the diversity of opinion: While established media corporations are to be supported with taxpayers' money, the state treaty allows the state media institutions to censor alternative media.
Diversity of opinion has long been threatened in Germany: a broad consensus among numerous large media leads to very limited and monotonous communication – this development has been observed in many areas and for some time, including the topics of “liberal economic order”, “war and peace” or “values of the West”. Rarely, however, has the phenomenon of media self-censorship been as obvious as it is since the proclamation of the “pandemic” or in the run-up to the US election. With the decreasing relevance of the increasingly identical large media, the relevance of the alternative media, but also the “danger” posed by them, is growing.
This “danger” of the development of a broader spectrum of opinion is now to be countered by two bills. On the one hand, according to reports, the large private media should receive 220 million support for “digital innovation” from the taxpayer – including from the many taxpayers who, for good reasons, are highly sceptical of the large private media. On the other hand, the Media State Treaty, which has just been adopted by the state parliaments, also “expressly” enables the “regulation” of alternative media on the Internet, as media report.
“Bribery” for compliant reporting?
Subsidies for the established media must be criticised in principle and in detail on the one hand. So it is at least questionable in principle if the state “supports” private media – could this also be called a “bribe” for compliant reporting or an attempt to pupate a troubled ally? In detail, the specific project is to be criticized above all for the fact that the funding should be based on the requirement: So those who already have will be given additional lyre, as the media scientist Christopher Buschow emphasizes in the taz.
However, it is also difficult to establish appropriate criteria for the eligibility of private media – the money cannot be made dependent on the content, at least not officially. One might ask why the German publishers, some of whom are worth millions or even billions, need taxpayers' money at all, as Buschow asks in the taz, who complains in this context about the secrecy of the media publishers:
“Hard to say. We don’t know enough about how publishers are really doing. It is astonishing that companies that make money from journalism, i.e. exposure and transparency, are themselves so opaque. The Greens, the Left and verdi had called for the subsidies to be linked to publishers opening their books – that is not what is planned now.”
It is also tragic that neither Parliament nor the committees have debated funding: “The money appeared overnight in the supplementary budget – without prior set targets for funding, without scientific advice being sought.” A small request from the Left Party made it clear that “predominantly lobbyists and associations” had been heard.
Media “spreading untruths on the Web”
In addition to this questionable strengthening of private media corporations by the public authorities, there is currently another worrying development: media that would “spread untruths on the net” can soon be “prosecuted for this,” writes the medium “netzpolitik.org” in a critical article. By mid-November at the latest, the alternative media should therefore be under the supervision of the state media institutions. This is provided for in the Media State Treaty, which has just been approved by the state parliaments. The new rules replaced the Broadcasting State Treaty, which has been in force since 1991 – and would now explicitly allow for the “regulation” of Internet media.
Whether the coverage on the Internet takes place on a website or on other channels does not matter: the State Treaty therefore refers to telemedia with journalistic-editorial offers in general. The threshold is likely to be low enough “that Facebook pages and Telegram channels are already subject to the supervision of the media institutions,” “network policy” exults, and continues:
“The State Treaty could therefore prove to be a powerful means of curbing the spread of disinformation on these platforms.”
In a questionable lack of criticism, however, the article does not scandalize the censorship plans themselves, but that the state media institutions are “not sufficiently equipped” to take up this fight against the diversity of opinion.
In order to avoid this censorship, the Internet media would be left with the opportunity to join a voluntary self-control institution – that is, “a kind of press council specifically for offers on the Net”. This would then regulate the offer instead of the media outlet. However, such an institution must first be recognized by a media outlet. And even if a medium was actually regulated by a voluntary self-regulation institution, the responsible media institution could still intervene according to the state treaty, according to “network politics”.
With warm words for problematic goals
It is not a new phenomenon that questionable targets are touted in warm words: this approach hides the true (long-term) goals. Therefore, if the long-term objective is, for example, the general retention of data, then it can be introduced with the warm words of the fight against child pornography (initially with restrictions). These restrictions can later be quietly removed in order to extend surveillance to all citizens. Similarly, press subsidisation could be the case: touted as a temporary “transformation aid,” it could become enduring and trigger dangerous tendencies for diversity of opinion. With regard to the Media State Treaty, the warm words consist of proclaimed “fight against the law” or against “hatred” – once introduced, censorship can, in the long run, potentially affect all critical statements.
The fake news of the media corporations
By condemning the alternative media, the big media should shine brighter in comparison, even though some of the major media have participated in monstrous fake news campaigns, such as the “Maidan” or the war against Syria. The alternative media would not be able to run such large-scale campaigns. Taking this as a starting point, some large media companies are much more involved in disinformation than all alternative media and RT German put together.
By this statement, “the alternative media” is of course not generally denied any wrongdoing or attempts at manipulation. The finding, however, illustrates the falsehood of the narrative that “the Internet” is the first source of large-scale manipulation. Even if one does not close one’s eyes to problematic and threatening developments “on the net” one: the source of the elaborate political manipulations still bubbles mainly in the editorial offices of large media.