Sascha Hölig and Uwe Hasebrink
Leibniz Institute for Media Research / Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg
More Germans have been adopting the internet for news, even if television remains the most widely used source of news. Historic laws to stamp out so-called ‘fake news’ and hate speech on social media are widely viewed as a success by German politicians.
The German Network Enforcement Act, known as NetzDG, controversially demanded that social platforms like Facebook and YouTube remove hateful and illegal content within 24 hours or face huge fines. Despite fears that ‘overblocking’ could limit freedom of speech, at a political level the law that was introduced at the start of 2018 is widely seen as a success.1 Faster take down of illegal content has led many other countries to consider similar measures.
Two reports published by Facebook show that social media users are getting better at identifying offensive and illegal material. In the second half year of 2018, 1,048 violating pieces were reported, of which 369 were removed. This represents a significant increase in the proportion of posts removed, compared with the first half of the year. In the run-up to European Elections, Facebook has partnered with the investigative non-profit newsroom, Correctiv, as a fact-checking partner but also with the German Press Agency (dpa).
Despite these initiatives, low trust in the news found in social media has fallen to 16%, a decrease of 2 percentage points compared to 2018. Overall trust in the news has also decreased slightly to 47%, possibly influenced by revelations that a top reporter for Der Spiegel magazine had falsified news stories for many years. Claas Relotius, a journalist with numerous awards, made up stories and fabricated quotes for a range of media outlets that also included Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonnntagszeitung, Die Welt, and SZ Magazin. For Der Spiegel, in particular, this process may have lasting consequences on the proposed merger of the print and online teams, since one of the supporters of Relotius, Ulrich Fichtner, will not now take up the role of editor-in-chief, as was originally planned.
Meanwhile the economic outlook for news organisations in Germany remains difficult, particularly those from a print background. Falling circulation and declining print advertising have not been replaced by digital revenue as only a small minority (8%) of Germans are currently paying for any online news.
Partly as a result, growing concentration can be observed (Röper 2018) with newspapers merging (Verlagsgruppe Rhein-Main) and newsrooms combining (Madsack Media Group and DuMont). A number of publishers have announced significant job cuts, and some are considering pulling out of print altogether (Funke Mediengruppe). Others are putting parts of their print portfolio up for sale (DuMont). The digital-born sector is also in trouble, with HuffPost Germany, operated by the Burda media group, closing down at the end of March.
In sharp contrast, Axel Springer SE reported the most successful year in the company’s history in 2018, with its digital business accounting for 84% of its operating profit of €737m. The bulk of the company’s profits now come from advertising (classifieds) after it sold off most of its print titles. Axel Springer still operates Bild and Die Welt along with the digital-born Business Insider and the news aggregator Upday. Bild remains Germany’s largest selling newspaper and has more than 400,000 digital subscribers. It has recently experimented with a new printed political magazine BILD Politics in northern Germany, built on stories around the themes of anger, curiosity, and joy.
Greatest trust within the news media in Germany is still attributed to the two main public service news brands (ARD and ZDF). While populist attacks on the so-called ‘lying press’ seem to be ebbing off somewhat (Ziegele et al. 2018), a new discussion has flared up about content and funding for public service broadcasting in Germany.
A number of federal states are looking at providing an indexed level of contribution fee to public broadcasters (PSBs), rather than setting the level every four years. While this would involve some cost cutting, PSBs would get more planning certainty and better control over their own budget.
Public broadcasters have also come to an out-of-court agreement with newspaper publishers over the extent of their internet activities. PSBs will scale back internet text output that competes with newspapers and magazines. In return they have been given the go-ahead to keep television programmes online for an extended period of time and even to launch them before transmission (online first).
Television is still the most widely used source of news in Germany but its reach has been steadily declining in recent years. The internet has gained in popularity including the use of social media and messaging applications, though Facebook was used less for news than in 2018.
A fraud scandal shattered the German press in the end of 2018 as it was revealed that a Spiegel reporter had manipulated reports in various media outlets. This year’s brand figures show declining trust across a number of major titles from Der Spiegel to major public broadcasters to the tabloid newspaper/website Bild.
- www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/netzdg-koalitionspolitiker-sehen-gesetz-gegen-hass-als-erfolg-opposition-bekraeftigt-kritik/23815526.html ↩