Special Thanks to the Crisis: EU Coverage in German Media

Posted on 12. October 2012

by Heidi Beha

heidi_beha-2012-2015-modifiedThe announcement of this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize turned German TV screens and websites into the European colours – again one has to say. But in contrast to the bad news on the financial and economical crisis, the Nobel Prize provoked supportive commentaries, solemn retrospection and well-intentioned reports. Only a day earlier, pictures of Angela Merkel’s special-police-protected visit in Athens framed with protestors were allover the German media.

In line with the speculation that it was only the ongoing crisis of the European Union which made it possible to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, you could also claim that it was this very same crisis, which has made the European Union THE topic in German media for a few years now. Even if the EU doesn’t make the cover, there are at least a couple of stories in the papers, on TV, radio and online every day. EU officials such as Barroso or Schulz have became well-known.

 With regards to quantity, the EU politicians can be quite satisfied with their representation in the fourth power. It remains the question if how they are represented is equally satisfying.

 A war in words and metaphors

German media seems to have entered an open ended competition of who will have the most provoking headline on the EU. The magazine ‘Focus’ tried its best already two years ago when they printed Aphrodite on their cover showing her middle finger. The title to this montage: ‘Cheaters in the Euro-family’. In return, the Greek press made up its own montage: Berlin’s statue of the God Victory holding a swastika in her hand. Media war is on.

Whenever Angela Merkel is off to a Brussels summit on the crisis, journalists interpret it as her struggle against the others. Once it is Mario Draghi who dis-empowers Merkel, next time it is a defeat for Merkel and Germany if Greece receives more money.

German journalists see all the steps of ‘Margaret Merkel’ and the negotiations as either a victory or a defeat. If Merkel ‘succeeds’ with her viewpoints, she’s praised for her assertiveness fighting for German interests, which are, by the way, perceived mainly as the best solution of the negotiations by the press. On the other hand, if Merkel “is forced” to make major concessions to other players, journalists will depict her as an outgunned loser that suffered defeat in a combat.

This polarizing language is typical for the German Media reporting about what is currently going on in the EU. The words chosen by journalists are aggressive especially in the headlines. They use military language and strong words: ‘The EU arms for a Euro-crash’ by Süddeutsche Zeitung/quality newspaper or ‘Athen’s fight against the Euro-death’ by Handelsblatt/quality newspaper. You wouldn’t expect an organization winning the Nobel Peace Prize behind these titles.

The biggest weekly newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ argued that the crisis was not about the solidarity of rich or poor countries but about the task for a state and people not to spend more than they earn. The newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ is seen as a quality paper addressing readers with an academic background. Usually I would expect the authors of such a paper to be much more self-critical and sensitive while pointing on other nations and political systems.

Of course, the yellow press is also participating in the battle: They often choose a way between humor, irony and affront. ‘Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks’ or ‘Bild gives the Greek their old Drachma back’ were made up by the leading tabloid paper “Bild”. It’s striking that Bild always addresses the Greek directly and creates a clear dichotomy: they and we, the ‘lazy’ and the ‘hard-working’. On the other hand, Bild authors also write in a compassionate way. Quite a number of Germans and Bild readers have a Greek background; Germans like Greek restaurants and spend their holidays there. In my opinion, the paper creates a feeling as if ‘we’ and the ‘Greeks’ are  really close besides these Euro quarrels. This might also correspond with the German interest in saving Greece as there are many economical connections.

In August, the German media called for the endgame of the Euro-crisis (‘Euro-Endspiel’, Die Zeit 9.8.12), expecting a show-down this autumn. Autumn has come and the battleground European Union, soon awarded with the Nobel Prize of Peace, might not have satisfied the creators of headlines. The recent visit of Merkel in Athens was in both, German and Greek media, interpreted as a gesture of good will and support. The war language has moved to the streets though, and now the former headlines and montages also fit the alarming pictures.

 Titelbild der polnischen Gazeta Wyborcza zu den Protesten beim Griechenland-Besuch Merkels 10.10.12