By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Shortly before the end of 2014 a strange phenomenon emerged in Germany: in Dresden and subsequently in other German cities (Düsseldorf, Cologne, Berlin) demonstrations with tens of thousands of citizens were held fairly regularly. The demonstrations are organized by the initiative “Pegida” (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West). It is a right-wing populist current, in which one can find hooligans and -especially with regards to some leaders of Pegida –people who are close to the ideas of the extreme right. Due to their racist and xenophobic statements they have been sharply criticized by the Churches and political parties. The hype around Pegida in the media and politics at present has turned Pegida into one of the main subject in Germany’s public debate. All over Germany not least in response to the terrorist attacks in France two weeks ago, calls have been launched for Anti- Pegida demonstrations.
What is behind the phenomenon Pegida? In a study compiled by the TU (Technical University) from Dresden under the direction of Professor Hans Vorländer- as FAZ correspondent Stefan Locke reported on January 14- interviews have been conducted with 400 Pegida participants. The evaluation sheds light on the social and cultural background of the participants. Despite the fact that the number of participants questioned is not yet sufficient for making a general statement, first approximations can be made about this phenomenon. The majority of the participants explained that the main reason for participating in the demonstrations was above all their deep dissatisfaction with politics, as well as massive criticism of the media. The protests were not carried by pensioners and unemployed, but for 70% by professionals. The majority is men, about 48 years old, most of them professionally well trained, without any religious affiliation and with a good average net income.
The interviews reveal a deep chasm between politics and the media on the one hand, and on the other side the problems of the citizens and the “will of the people”. For more than three quarters of the participants the topic of Islam or Islamization did not play a prominent role. 54% of the Pegida demonstrators stated that the main reason why they go out and regularly demonstrate on Mondays in Dresden is “a general dissatisfaction with politics”. The second important motive for many participants was and is the massive criticism of media and the distorting way in which media reports are made and public opinion shaped, as result of which the perception about social problems is distorted in the public. 46% of the demonstrators accuse the media for a “one-sided” and “trend oriented” reporting. 15% stated they were dissatisfied with politics in general and with immigration and integration policy. 23% of the Pegida participants stated as reason for their participation in the demonstrations the “Islamization of the West.”
Dissatisfaction with the media
The Dresden University of Technology study and its observations indicate a new tendency in the mood of the German population which should not be underestimated and which has become manifest in a cute form since the outbreak of the Russia / Ukraine crisis. Many well-informed and educated citizens, as well as representatives from the economy have in recent times expressed their growing discontent over the way in which German politics has been handling this “extremely dangerous” crisis in the midst of Europe. Instead of a sober assessment concerning Russia and Ukraine, the leading German media are engaged in a one-sided reporting where important facts and observations –also including Russian sources- are left out. As result of a press which is increasingly perceived as “propagandistic”, the alienation between the citizens and the media has grown.
An exercise in behaviourism
Mid-November 2014 the author of this article had the occasion to participate in a meeting which was organized by the KAS (Konrad Adenauer Foundation) in Mainz “The bear is broken loose. Russia – a challenge for Europe”. It was a panel discussion between Claudia Crawford (KAS Moscow), Konrad Schuller (FAZ Eastern Europe correspondent) and the late Dr. Andreas Schockenhoff (Deputy- Chairman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary Group, responsible for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy).The event illustrated quite well the growing alienation between citizens and the media. The audience was told to participate in two digital voting procedures. One was taken at the beginning of the event. It consisted of 3 questions which were repeated to the audience at the end of the event. The questions were:
1.Who is responsible for Ukraine-Russia crisis *Russia, the *EU or *I do not know.
2. Is the West victims of Russian propaganda *yes *no or *I do not know.
3. Does Europe expect further expansion efforts on the part of Russia? *yes *no *or do not know.
In the first round of digital voting at least 25.2% of the audience voted to the surprise of the speakers, that the EU was responsible while 18% answered that they did not know. When those same questions were asked again at the end the result had slightly changed. Instead of 25,2% only 20,2% had voted that the EU was responsible. The head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the FAZ, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, who at the end of the event was drawing the conclusions, underlined in his final statement, that he was a bit “puzzled” by the digital vote result, especially the answer on who is responsible for the crisis. In light of the greatest geopolitical confrontation since the end of the Cold War, he said, a change in public opinion -and helplessness- can be observed. He further pointed out that the majority of the German population thinks that more confrontation was to be expected from Russia. He further spoke about Russian nationalism and the country’s big inferiority complex, and stressed that “it was a pious desire to integrate Russia into European structures.” “We must defend our values and see what comes after Putin”, Frankenberger said.
In this context, one should point to some aspects of a book, which the former FAZ journalist Udo Ulfkotte published in 2014 in the Kopp publishing house under the title “Purchased journalists. How politicians, intelligence and high finance steer Germany’s mass media.” Ulfkotte, who reportedly has spoken during Pegida demonstrations, is known for his critical attitude towards Islam and his euro scepticism. In his book he puts many things together – much of which, as FAZ journalist Niggemeier wrote in a sober replica, is “bloated” and does not stand up to the truthfulness.
Nonetheless – Niggemeier conceded that some of the facts presented by Ulfkotte should be taken into account. What is interesting about the book is those parts where the author personally confesses how he as a journalist who worked for 17 years in the service of the FAZ, was “prone to corruption” and made efforts to produce “courtesy articles”.
Case study: FAZ
The thesis of the author is that journalists from renowned media are the main objective of “spin doctors” who want to determine how the news must be interpreted. Ulfkotte speaks in this context about the particular influence of “transatlantic friendship organizations” whose job it is to keep German elites in politics and the media away from “forming a mental front with Russia and keep them on a pro- American course.”
Ulfkotte describes how he worked for many years for the FAZ, used press discounts, free invitations in 5 star hotels or made buddy-like traveling with political leaders, occupied posts in foundations or gave lectures in special intelligence-related organizations: “I was, in my current view, sometimes bought as employee of the FAZ to just do positive coverage.”
Ulfkotte identifies himself as a former “lobbyist”, who tried to influence public opinion through certain interest groups. As an example he refers to an exposé “European companies help Libya build a second poison gas factory” dated March 16 1993, which was written by him as a report “that as many of my intelligence reports attracted worldwide attention.” Two employees of the BND (German CIA) had formulated this report in his presence in a visiting room of the FAZ in the Hellerhofstrasse 2 in Frankfurt. “ In the FAZ editorial room they basically dictated to me paragraph by paragraph of the article which later was published in the FAZ.” Many of Ulfkottes reports were provided with the formula “according to information from the intelligence community.”
At another point he said: “When I was encouraged by my employer- to work for the secret service linked ‘Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik’(Federal Academy for Security Policy) and was getting freed from my work in the late summer of 1993 for a six-week invitation issued by the transatlantic lobbying organization, German Marshall Fund of the United States, then this certainly had an impact on my reporting.” At the instigation of the German Marshall Fund Ulfkotte was named an honorary citizen of Oklahoma in 1993. The tactic used was to hug him so much, that he would report automatically in a pro-American way.
Hence he wrote a lot of “courtesy articles” and this all because of his personal willingness to be corrupted. “I don’t remember in retrospect exactly how many luxurious travels one of the richest men in the world, the fairy-tale like Sultan Qabus of Oman, has financed for FAZ journalists.” Ulfkotte speaks of his stay at a 5 star luxury hotel and visits in posh restaurants etc. “Of course I was corrupt” and “of course there are human rights violations in that dictatorial country whose reality was so much ‘embellished’ by me and many other journalists.”
Among those who according to Ulfkotte belonged to the beneficiaries who reported favourably about Oman was also once the present head of the department of Foreign Policy of the FAZ Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger. Ulkotte notes that in the 90s he wrote article with titles such as “Oman on the way, to be an Arab jewel” or “the improbable success story of Oman” or “Oman voice of balance and reason.” This claim by Ulfkotte was however firmly rejected by Frankenberger.
Another form of indirect influence on “courtesy journalism” is the “award” given to certain journalists. An example given by Ulfkotte is the tobacco company “Reemtsma cigarettenfabriken” which since 2007 is giving the Reemtsma- “Liberty Award”. It’s a 15,000 Euros award granted to German journalists who “lend a voice to the daily struggle for freedom.” He quotes the former Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist Leyendecker, who upon commenting this Liberty Award had once said: “A journalist cannot be bought; a journalist doesn’t go to such events.” Other journalists, however, had no problems to accept the price of the Reemtsma tobacco industry, such as the German journalist Thomas Roth (2009) and the FAZ journalist Konrad Schuller responsible for Eastern Europe reporting (2012).
The author was present at many battlefields around the world. From the battlefields of Afghanistan to Angola and the Congo States to Iraq and Iran-the author reports how certain “war events” were stylized in such a way that the audience was satisfied. “Again and again I came across television teams that led the hunt for filming petrol cans, far from any combat action, who put again military vehicles that had been burnt down to flames and were performing in front of this scenario a strange spectacle. Seasoned correspondents ducked, they made the impression of being hectic and were twitching with arms and legs. From a few meters distance this all looked quite ridiculous and only became plausible if one looked at the ready- cut report. On the soundtrack they mixed some blasts from submachine guns, in more blatant cases even mortar impacts.”
In his book Ulfkottes makes a lot of emphasis on using the all too simplistic „connecto” scheme, “guilty by association” method. He presents a list of the various transatlantic organizations, including Atlantic Bridge, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Aspen Institute, etc. and with the help of charts he draws a direct connection between the various members of these organizations from German politics, business and the media and presents this as proof how these members influence the German public opinion.
Why at all comment about this book which often relies on the simplistic “connection-method”? The book is today on the Spiegel “bestseller” list and that is symptomatic. It is written in a way which corresponds to the sentiment of many contemporaries who perceive the media reality too often in total contrast with the day to day experienced world and it is a warning for the younger journalists to fight for a media world where diverse opinions based on well-researched facts must have a place.