What is a mainstream medium

Freedom of the press

Uwe Kruger

To person

is a research associate in the journalism department at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at the University of Leipzig. [email protected]

For media makers, the latest survey results on the credibility of journalism are worrying: "Lately the swear word 'lying press' has been heard from time to time. This means that the media allegedly do not report objectively, but twist facts or completely conceal certain facts. Find You, there is something wrong with the accusation of the 'lying press'? ", Asked the Allensbach Institute on behalf of the" Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung "in December 2015, and 39 percent of those questioned answered: Yes. "When you think about the media in Germany - has your trust increased, decreased or not changed so much in the last few years?" Asked Infratest dimap on behalf of WDR in October 2015, and 37 percent replied: is sunk. According to the same survey, 42 percent believed "that the German media is told by the state and government what to report on". [1] And according to a survey by TNS Emnid on behalf of the BR in March 2016, 60 percent of all Germans believe that the news media "block out legitimate opinions that they consider undesirable". More than half of Germans have doubts about the media as an independent critic and control body and an effective corrective for the other powers. When asked "Do the news media control or support the 'powerful' in the country with their reporting, i.e. the state, government, business, influential people and interest groups?", 55 percent said: They support them. [2] This expresses a skepticism towards the "fourth estate", which the Canadian press mogul Conrad Black once put in the cynical sentence: "If the small guy's guardian is the media, then the small guy is in bigger trouble than I thought." 3]

Mistrust of journalism is not only expressed in surveys; well-known intellectuals and politicians also express suspicion about the output of the editorial offices. "When I leaf through the press reviews of my house in the morning," said Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a gala in front of journalists and publishing managers in 2014, "I get the feeling that the corridor of opinion has been wider. There is an astonishing homogeneity in German editorial offices, when they weight and classify information. The pressure to conform in the minds of journalists seems to me to be quite high. " Franziska Augstein, editor of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", criticized in 2005 that there was a second, an "ideal press concentration", in addition to the "industrial press concentration" (i.e. the fact that press products are in the hands of fewer and fewer owners), a "self-alignment of the German press". And Manfred Bissinger, former editor-in-chief at "Stern" and "Woche", wrote in 2015 that journalism was "in the process of giving up its guardianship. (...) The media are - often not without good reason - being brought into line (yes, that is a terrible word ) felt. "

"Synchronization", "lying press", "system media", "mainstream media": With these slogans since around 2014 - the Ukraine crisis with the annexation of Crimea by Russia acted as a catalyst - many users have been alienating them from the established ones Media expresses itself, while journalists feel misunderstood and counter accusations such as "conspiracy theorists". If you want to establish understanding in this relationship crisis and get closer to the causes of the problem, you should say goodbye to some of these terms. The term "lying press" is not only historically discredited and conveys aggressiveness against journalists, but it does not hit the point: The accusation of the revolting public is ultimately not of lies in the sense of deliberately false statements of facts, but rather of one-sidedness in the selection and representation of Topics, information and opinions. Equally unsuitable is the word "Gleichschaltung", because it has the odor of totalitarianism, implies steering and pre-censorship by upstream and coordinating institutions.

The term "mainstream media" can best be stripped of polemics and degradation in order to get closer to the mechanisms that can lead to a high degree of conformity of the media in a fundamentally pluralistic, democratic society and journalists sometimes head in the same direction like a school of fish let swim. Even media makers use the term. The editor-in-chief of ARD-aktuell, Kai Gniffke, admitted in September 2014 on the "Tagesschau-Blog" omissions in the Ukraine reporting with the words: "We may have followed the news mainstream too easily." And the MDR director Karola Wille promised when she took office as chairwoman of ARD in January 2016 to work on the issue of credibility and to ensure that the reporting reflects the greatest possible variety of topics, actors and opinions "also outside of mainstream corridors" . [4] So what does mainstream mean? Where does the wind blow in its corridors? And what are the narrowing and breaking points that could have led to the alienation of large parts of the audience?

Objective the battle term

A rant against "the mainstream media" suggests that there are a number of (leading) media outlets that always write or broadcast the same thing - and that lead an official or at least semi-official discourse, the legitimacy or sole validity of the critics of the "mainstream" -Media "doubts. Now there are actually a number of leading media that, due to their range and importance, constitute a kind of "core" of the German media system and are also the pacesetter for other media: According to journalist surveys, these are the news programs from ARD and ZDF, the daily newspapers "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", "Die Welt", "Frankfurter Rundschau", "Die Tageszeitung" (taz) and "Bild", the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit", the news magazines "Der Spiegel" and "Focus", the illustrated magazine "Stern" "as well as the online offshoots of all of these media. So that would be the potential "mainstream media" - but to make a sweeping claim that they say the same thing everywhere does not do the matter justice. Who has not noticed a surprising, particularly critical contribution in one of these media that stood out from the mass of publications and deviated from the usual sound of the forest of leaves?

What there is, however, undoubtedly again and again, is a "media mainstream", a more or less extensive media consensus on certain questions, or also: a number of topics and opinions that dominate the media landscape in a certain period of time and thus a " Mainstream "or a" mainstream "forms. Sometimes one newspaper or the other program can deviate from the mainstream topic or opinion. "Media mainstream" is first and foremost, completely neutral, the phenomenon that at one point in time the majority of the leading media deal with a certain topic or represent a certain opinion. Communication scientists speak of a high degree of "focus" when there is a high degree of agreement in the agenda and of high "consonance" when there is a high degree of agreement in the opinions.

If "mainstream" is broken down into subject focus and consonance of opinion in this way, the question of whether the existence of a mainstream itself is a problem or a necessity can be answered in a more differentiated manner. A variety of topics and opinions is desirable in terms of democratic theory, on the one hand, but too much plurality can also be dysfunctional. A society can only address a limited number of problems at any one time; if public attention is too fragmented, problem solving becomes less likely because the pressure on the actors involved is not great enough. However, for every topic - at least in the initial phase of a debate - the greatest possible variety of opinions, positions and aspects should come to the table so that the best arguments can then prevail in an (ideally non-domineering) discourse. "It seems plausible", as the Erfurt communication scientist Patrick Rössler once wrote, "that in the interest of functioning social problem-solving mechanisms, a balancing takes place (...), thus a relative diversity arises with sufficient focus." [5] However, this is an optimistic assumption.

It could be countered with a pessimistic assumption: If there are major discrepancies in opinion between parts of the population and a largely consensual elite on certain issues, it is also possible that the major media have very narrow subject and opinion corridors in which certain problem areas and widespread opinions or values ​​are underrepresented. One does not even have to assume bad intent: it is conceivable that actors out of a sense of responsibility try to keep certain widespread but undesirable (as dangerous) opinions or attitudes - xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Americanism, Euroscepticism - out of the public debate. Should this be the case, it could explain why considerable parts of the population refuse to accept the quasi-official media models of reality and question the legitimacy of the institutions that create them - or, in terms of the sociology of knowledge, turn away from recognized "orthodox" worlds of meaning and interpretation patterns and " lead heretical "discourses with" heterodox "determinations of reality (for example: conspiracy theories). [6]