Germany: Lack of trust and new sources of financing

Threats and insults against journalists and editors have been on the rise for the past two years. The expression “Lügenpresse” [lying press] is gaining currency, particularly at events organized by Pegida and other far-right groups.

The Pegida Movement called the German media "Lying press" (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The Pegida Movement called the German media "Lying press" (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The term “Lügenpresse” reflects an aggressive anti-media sentiment which began appearing in online commentaries and letters to the editor during the Ukraine conflict. Many readers at the time accused German journalists of spreading either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian propaganda. It revealed a deep-seated crisis of confidence in the media that experts had been observing for some time.

Fifteen years after the first media crisis, publishing houses and journalists are still looking for new ways to finance journalism in view of the widespread belief that online content should be free. Discussions continue about paywalls and linking print with online editions.

Publishers and journalists are getting more creative in their response to dwindling revenues: they use crowdfunding, network more assertively and different media outlets collaborate with one another and conduct joint research. For example, the investigative research association of the public broadcasters NDR and WDR worked together with the Süddeutsche Zeitung to produce reports on Salafist groups in Germany and on the VW scandal.

Publishers are also pooling resources, in some cases to such an extent that in certain regions there is no longer any competition on the print market. Jobs have been slashed, editorial departments merged and attempts made to sell the same story in several different media.

The Internet has influenced German journalistic content for many years now: new reporting formats are being tried out, users and readers are becoming involved in production in various ways, and new modes of publication are being sought. At the same time journalists are facing a growing number of Internet users who launch their own websites and blogs and use them to criticise the work of the established media, as was the case during the Ukraine crisis in 2014.

According to Reporters Without Borders, blanket Internet surveillance by intelligence agencies means journalists can no longer offer their sources full protection. In July 2015 the Federal German Public Prosecutor's Office launched investigations against two journalists from netzpolitik.org who had published confidential documents. The investigations in the “Landesverrat” [treason] affair were discontinued due to nationwide protests.
Germany has more than 300 national and regional dailies and twenty weeklies, most of them privately owned. The leading media companies include: Gruner + Jahr, Axel Springer AG, Verlag Georg von Holtzbrinck, Bauer Media Group, Hubert Burda Media Group, Medien Union, Funke Mediengruppe, M. DuMont Schauberg, Madsack Mediengruppe and Ippen.

Germany has both public and commercial radio and television stations, whereby the licensing fee-financed and advisory board-controlled public broadcasters have a mandate to provide a basic information and entertainment service. The combined annual budget of Germany’s public broadcasting institutions is around nine billion euros.

Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 16th place (2017)
Freedom House: 25th place – status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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