Exaggeration, inaccuracy, oversimplification and hate-mongering. No one wants to describe society’s “fourth pillar” like this. But the Eurocrisis has turned out to be a serious test for national media in Europe.

Call us media-evangelists or dreamers, but at E&M, we believe in the power of the media. The media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of society; it is supposed to bear the responsibility of informing the public as objectively as possible, and, at the very least, the media is supposed to be anything but fuel for hatred. Yet, in the past months during the eurocrisis, we have observed an increasing number of media outlets in Europe that have failed at all of the above and more.

Ugly stereotyping wins arguments?

My mother used to tell me that when you start stereotyping people in a fight, it means that you do not have a better argument to make, and to quote her: “you know darn well that you are wrong but your sky-sized ego is stopping you from admitting it.”

When I look at the vast number of headlines and front pages from Greek newspapers, that is the feeling I have: they can’t find a better angle than to put German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Finance Minster Wolfgang Schäuble in Nazi uniforms. No – I am not talking about caricatures. I can extend my tolerance to the freedom of arts, although caricaturists know that their pens have an opinion as much as they themselves do. These leaders were actually given a Nazi “facelift”, courtesy of Photoshop, and appeared on front pages dressed in SS uniforms. Since when is our media’s prime responsibility to spoon-feed stereotypes down our throats?

Media – a medium for derogatory language and revenge?

During my journalism training in the UK, colleagues and I always made a joke: when you talk about Germany in Europe, just throw in a few dirty statements about the war, a few facts, then you have a published article. Sadly, this joke turned out to be an actual article published by British newspaper The Daily Mail. In an article under the News section (take note: not Opinion) titled “Rise of the Fourth Reich, how Germany is using the financial crisis to conquer Europe,” the “warning” about the Fourth Reich was the main theme instead of what it was reporting: a crisis meeting between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. The journalist ended the article saying: “Where Hitler failed by military means to conquer Europe, modern Germans are succeeding through trade and financial discipline. Welcome to the Fourth Reich.” I highly doubt the meeting would come to such conclusion, but I was not there, the journalist was.

Photo: Laura Hempel |
Crumbling of the fourth pillar of society?

In fact, the German media was the first to use derogatory terms against the Greeks. After Focus Magazine published a front cover of the Greek goddess Aphrodite holding up her middle finger with the caption “Frauds in the Euro Family”, there was an outcry in the Greek society and more and more, this was reflected in the journalistic sphere.

When asked about the extensive use of Nazi references in their publication, Andreas Kapsabelis, the editor-in-chief of the Greek tabloid Dimokratia, said that he truly believed the Germans were trying to destroy the Greeks and that he was merely reflecting public opinion. His paper published a cover story entitled ‘Memorandum Macht Frei’, a reference to the notorious slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work sets you free), which was displayed at the entrance to concentration camps in the Nazi era.

Another Greek journalist, Georgios Delastik, said that using harsh terms that are connected to the remembrance of the dark Nazi time was a self-defence. He published an article about the “deployment of the Fourth Reich” in the left-liberal Greek newspaper Ethnos because he was trying to re-establish the wounded dignity of the Greek people by emphasising the German’s biggest vulnerability: their Nazi past. And many, many more examples can be found all over the other media outlets.

Regardless of whether these media makers truly believe they are representing the voiceless Greeks, the casual and mostly tongue-in-check reference to the Holocaust was revolting. Not only were these claims not supported by any evidence, they were injecting hateful sentiments into Greeks and others alike. But most importantly, they have used the painful experience and memories of the Holocaust in vain. Memories of concentration camps, the SS and killing were used to push for political agendas, which is a job that the media should be extremely careful about. We all remember what caused World War II: hatred, so what is the media doing now?

Incorrect quotes and provocative headlines

Catchy headlines can get the readers intrigued. But there is also a line which journalists should not cross: inaccuracy.

Photo: Stefano (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Many people have criticised the media for being racist and insensitive when it comes to the Greek crisis. In fact, the media was not the culprit; it was the work of many politicians. Yet, some media outlets are disappointing enough to give up their professionalism in exchange for drama. Take the example of many Greek readers mistakenly thinking that the German tabloid Bild Zeitung was the one suggesting that the Greeks sell their islands and their national pride – the Acropolis – to pay off their debt. This information is false. In fact, it was a few German MPs, such as Marco Wanderwitz and Frank Schaeffler, who made the (rather stupid) suggestion.  However, with the headline “Verkauft doch eure Inseln, ihr Pleite-Griechen …. Und die Akropolis gleich mit” (Sell your islands, you bankrupted Greeks… and the Acropolis too), the message and tone are completely different from what was actually said by the MPs.

Similarly, The Daily Mail had the same story with the headline: “We Give you Cash, You Give Us Corfu!” as a quotation. This has misled the readers to believe that it was a direct quote – with the exact wording and condescending and hateful tone – from the German politicians. Yes, the event did happen. Yes, the politicians did suggest Greece to sell properties in times of bankruptcy, as any individual would consider when dealing with financial difficulties.  Yes, what was reported was in some way true. Was it the whole truth though? The answer is no.

A low journalistic standard is not European

Europe prides itself on being a place of democracy. A well-functioning democracy cannot live without a high-quality press. Yet from the journalistic standard of many media outlets in Europe in the past months, we did not see a huge amount of accuracy, objectivity and professionalism. So, for this issue, we regrettably have to crown our European national media the Flop European.

Is the media in your country better/worse than the ones we have written about? Leave a comment and let us know what you think! 

Cover photo: Jane Cockman (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

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