The shocking newspeak of German state media revealed
Secret documents from German state media broadcaster ARD reveal how state television frames the narrative, in a style that East German spin doctors couldn't have done better.
The German website netzpolitik.org has leaked an internal document of the German public broadcaster ARD to the press. The station had commissioned a report by linguistic scientist Elisabeth Wehling, in an attempt to give themselves a more favourable image. ARD is continuously under fire for being funded through a compulsory media fee which all German residents have to pay, for a service that is less attractive than private streaming services or the regular private TV channels. In Switzerland, activists had managed to organised a public vote on the question of media royalties. They attempt to rid Swiss residents of this expensive fee had failed, but a third of the electorate supported them. This growing movement could expand to Germany as well.
The recommendations compiled by Wehling are embarrassing for a number of reasons, that become particularly apparent for German-speakers, but which are equally terrifying for English-speakers alike. The linguist uses the an Orwellian newspeak, and lays out an East Germany-style playbook to demonise political opponents.
Let’s take a few examples to illustrate this.
The framing document recommends to not refer to the media tax as a mandatory fee, but to call it « the broadcasting capital of the citizens » or « common and free broadcasting ». In fact, Wehling often refers to the importance of the collective over the individual. She says that « ARD is this society : we are you ! » She opposes this to « commercial media » that isn’t at the service of citizens.
But it gets worse.
Those who do not want to pay the fee aren’t simply opponents to the media royalties, they are « questioning the authority of democratic decisions ». Wehling recommends that ARD portrays those opponents as acting « contrary to democracy », « untrustworthy » or « disloyal ». Rejecting the media fee should be seen as « asking for less democracy ».
Wehling also suggests new slogans for ARD. « Others want profits, we want cultural profits », « TV without censorship for profits », « excellence instead of profits ». The idea is to demonise both opponents of the licensing fee and private media companies that could easily replace the functions of public broadcasting. Well, « could » is very much redundant here, since Netflix and other streaming services are already offering a better service for a lower price, and private TV channels are perfectly able to assure news coverage. In fact, public broadcasters are stuck in old habits that were able to develop because there was no competition and therefore no incentive to innovate. These public broadcasters aren’t there to make sure that public debate is free and transparent : their goal is to subjugate listeners to their Orwellian framing, and make them obedient to state-controlled narratives.
That this happens in Germany is particularly problematic. Propaganda has a world-wide history, but never has it been so devastating than in Germany. This collectivist newspeak isn’t far off from the state propaganda of the Soviet-controlled East German dictatorship, and should be deeply embarrassing to the broadcaster. ARD needs to immediately make it clear that it was never their intention to implement any of the suggested changes, and give equal air time to the proponents and the opponents of the licensing fee.
But for that they’d need a sense of righteousness, and I’m not sure that word was in Wehling’s document.