Lazy eyes listen
The University of Mainz released a report last week on German news coverage of events in Ukraine and Berlin’s official response to the crisis. The findings reveal that, since February 24, the media has played a significant role in prolonging the conflict and decreasing the likelihood of a negotiated settlement, owing to virtually universally biased, pro-war, anti-Russia content being produced at all stages.
Between February 24 and May 31, researchers at the university examined the content of approximately 4,300 different stories published by the country’s eight largest newspapers and TV stations: FAZ, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Bild, Spiegel, Zeit, ARD Tagesschau, ZDF Today, and RTL Aktuell.
During this time, Ukraine was portrayed positively in 64% of all news, and President Vladimir Zelensky was portrayed positively in 67% of all coverage. In comparison, Russia was portrayed “nearly exclusively unfavorably” 88% of the time, while President Vladimir Putin was portrayed 96% of the time. Almost all reports (93% in total) blamed Putin and/or Russia solely for the war. The West was named “jointly responsible” in only 4% of cases, with Ukraine coming in even lower at 2%.
Russia’s viewpoints on the crisis were only evaluated or referenced in 10% of news coverage, far fewer than any other country’s, including Moscow’s neighbors. Alternative for Germany and the Left Party, both of which oppose arming Ukraine and extending the war, “had virtually no media presence in reporting on the war.” Government message and ministerial comments were absolutely dominant, accounting for 80% of news coverage, more than four times that of opposition parties.
Economic penalties against Russia were “by far the most commonly mentioned” in media talks of “actions most likely to terminate the war,” and were supported in 66% of cases. Diplomatic measures were mentioned “far less frequently,” while “humanitarian measures” were mentioned much less frequently.
In total, 74% of the surveyed stories described military backing for Ukraine as “very positively.” With 66% “overwhelmingly in favor,” delivery of heavy weapons was backed “a bit less unambiguously, but still deemed to be mostly sensible.” Less than half – 43% – believed that diplomatic conversations would be beneficial, owing partly to Der Spiegel’s investigation, which clearly identified diplomacy as the most viable alternative for Berlin “by far.”
“Der Spiegel was the only media outlet assessed that rated diplomatic negotiations more favourably than heavy weapon delivery,” the academics conclude.
One area where media coverage was “clearly not pro-government,” according to the assessment, was identified. Except for Der Spiegel, all outlets harshly condemned Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his coalition “for hesitating to flood Ukraine with heavy weapons” on rare occasions.
According to the report, “the criticism did not effect all members of the government equally.” While those who avoided criticism aren’t named, it’s a safe guess they’re members of government coalition parties like the Greens, who have long demanded that Berlin flood Kiev with weaponry.
Overall, the analysis provides a worrying glimpse into how Germany’s whole media apparatus rallied behind the cause of war and a risky escalation against Russia. Meanwhile, consideration of alternative strategies, such as backing a diplomatic settlement or encouraging Ukraine to engage in productive negotiations to cease the violence as soon as possible, was almost entirely absent – or entirely hidden – from any news reporting or analysis.