Is the brainwashing of the media people

Media policy

Heinz Bonfadelli

Dr. Heinz Bonfadelli is Professor of Mass Communication at the IPMZ - Institute for Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich. In his research he deals with media reality as well as with questions of media use and media effects.

Media change and the media crisis can lead to scandalization, moralization and personalization in reporting. Does media use contribute to everyone being informed or do the better educated benefit more? How are the old and new media used?

The shadow of a television cameraman. (& copy picture-alliance)


The article deals with the achievements of the mass media for society and democracy. In the context of media change and the media crisis, changes in journalism such as commercialization and orientation towards the mass audience, but also increased scandalization, moralization and personalization in political reporting are discussed. Against this background, questions are asked on the one hand about the possibilities of ensuring media quality and on the other hand about the potential of the Internet and social media.

Finally, the focus is on the citizens of civil society as media users: How do they use the old and new media? Does media use contribute to everyone being informed or do the better educated benefit more? Further questions are: Do the media promote change or stability in society? Does the increased flood of information tend to fragment and polarize society?

Social expectations and possible achievements of the mass media

Mass media such as the press, radio and television as well as the internet and social web make an indispensable contribution to the functioning of democracy. Politicians in general and media professionals in particular, but also the general public, assume this. Mass media should contribute to both stability and change in society.

According to the sociologist Niklas Luhmann [1], the media enable society to observe itself:
  • Media as a "window to the world" select relevant topics for the public and make them available.
  • The media provide citizens with arguments for and against controversial issues.
  • The media research the background knowledge necessary for decision-making, prepare it in an understandable manner and make it widely available.
As a result of this media performance, arguments on current issues are exchanged, discussed and critically questioned in public. By using the media, the population participates in current social issues and problems. This increases everyone's level of knowledge. In addition, it is hoped that minorities such as migrants will also be integrated into society through the media. Media coverage could alleviate social prejudices and perhaps even discrimination against minorities.

Mass media perform indispensable functions for society:

Functions of the media for society I. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)
Functions of the media for society License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

Both graphics can be downloaded here.
  1. The communication of information and background knowledge about current events and relevant topics (keyword: agenda setting), but also a contribution to education and cultural development.

  2. Citizens, but also politicians in the legislature such as members of the government and other political actors (e.g. non-governmental organizations = NGOs) and those from business, culture and science express their interests, opinions and arguments on political and social issues via the media (keyword: framing [2]). The media themselves provide a public arena or platform for these actors. In this way, they enable the emergence and coordination of opinions through an appropriate presentation of the existing diversity of opinion.

  3. In addition, in the sense of a so-called "fourth power", the media also have an independent and, ideally, responsibly perceived control and criticism function: the "powerful" in society are to be monitored and any grievances uncovered through research, as it were on behalf of civil society .

  4. Finally, an early warning function is assigned to the media in a future-oriented way: They should draw attention to problematic developments such as global warming at an early stage so that societal learning processes can take place [3] (see graphics above and the overview below).

These expectations of the public mass media are ideal ideas that are required as desirable services. In reality, however, they are only partially implemented, which is repeatedly expressed in media criticism and scolding. Instead of transparent diversity of opinion, especially in authoritarian societies with restricted media freedom, the opinion of the government or powerful groups as a uniform majority opinion can dominate unquestioned in the media (e.g. Russia or China).

But the question arises for the media in democracies as well, whether and to what extent they are specifically committed to more or less equality in society. Because instead of contributions to integration and solidarity with migrants or other minorities, the media can contribute to stereotyping and intensify discrimination through generalized negative reporting. Finally, there is always the danger of unjustifiably discrediting individuals or social groups through unilateral moralizing presentations. Content analyzes of media coverage show that migrants and especially Muslims tend to be rarely featured in the media, and when they are, they are portrayed stereotypically and negatively [4].

Media change and media crisis

Recent media developments give cause for concern that the quality of media coverage is at risk. Warning voices even speak of a media crisis [5]. In both the print and broadcasting sectors, media groups have been increasingly concentrating on media for a long time: Large media groups are becoming more and more dominant. At the same time, advertising spending is shifting from the press to the Internet and newspaper usage is declining. At the level of media organizations, this has not least led to the dismissal of media workers, the downsizing of editorial offices and the creation of more cost-effective newsrooms. The joint production of the content for the print edition and the online offer takes place in the news room. Journalists no longer just write an article for the newspaper, but also create online versions or radio or TV reports at the same time. This has not least led to an increase in the time pressure for journalistic work.

But the media crisis is not just a financial crisis, journalism is also affected in terms of content. Commercialization has not only led to a decrease in media diversity, but economic pressure also manifests itself in an increased external influence of public relations on reporting, for example as courtesy journalism. The blurring of the boundaries between editorial and advertising (keyword: native advertising) endangers journalistic independence.

As a result of the economization, there is also an increased focus on the audience and their wishes. Information and entertainment as well as the public and private, for example from politicians, are mixed up in the reporting in order to make it more interesting. The media criticism focuses here under the keywords "personalization" [6] and "infotainment" [7] on the one hand on the tabloid press and on the other hand on private broadcasting. Both are accused of populism and a lack of independence as well as a generally low level of quality.


Info box

Infotainment / personalization

The mixture of informative and entertaining television formats is known as infotainment. The first part of the word comes from "information", the second part is derived from the Anglo-American term "entertainment" (= entertainment). Usually it describes the tendency, e.g. B. Include more and more "soft" topics such as celebrity reports in news programs. Infotainment also describes the increasing emotionalization and personalization of messages, the latter meaning the orientation towards a specific person (moderator, "anchorman").

Source: Tele-Visionen: Glossary of media science terms

Analyzes of media reporting recognize and criticize in particular a change in the so-called media logic, i. H. the way in which the media selectively select events and topics and report on them [8]: Journalism, but also public relations, would stage more and more events as media events itself and increasingly focused on scandalization and moralization on the one hand as well as personalization and emotionalization and intimacy on the other hand. The media public's need for curiosity and voyeurism would be deliberately served and managed in the sense of increasing circulation and reach.

Conversely, under the heading of mediatisation, it is discussed that not only politics, but also the other areas of society as well as science would adapt to the logic of the media [9].

Media quality between aspiration and reality

The often expressed criticism of the above-mentioned (mis) developments in journalism [10] has given impetus to demands for increased self-regulation and for more external control over media policy to ensure media quality. In communication science, this has led to the definition and measurement of the quality of media offers as a research topic [11]. The state media authorities also began to commission studies on the quality of private TV and radio programs [12].

The discussion about media quality is nothing new. Again and again journalists, politicians and the media public argue controversially about the quality:
  • of media genres such as the tabloid press or private television,
  • individual programs or formats such as reality TV or
  • individual programs such as the new political talk "Absolute Majority" by Stefan Raab on November 11, 2012.


Info box

"Absolute majority - opinion must be worthwhile again"

Political talk show with Stefan Raab. "Five guests discuss three topics and the viewers decide who has the best arguments. If a talk guest manages to gather an absolute majority behind them, they'll win 100,000 euros!" From November 2012 to September 2013 the program was no longer broadcast due to sharply falling ratings.

In such debates on media quality, reference is made to positive criteria such as objective, appropriate, relevant, professional, independent, understandable, etc., or a negative lack of professionalism, subjectivity, arrogance, one-sidedness, distortion of reality, superficiality, etc. is criticized.

When determining media quality, individual dimensions of TV news, for example, are measured using content analysis and compared with quality standards. What is normatively understood by news or media quality can, however, be defined and justified in different ways. As a rule, such quality dimensions are derived as in Germany with recourse to Art. 5 of the Basic Law and the corresponding state press laws.

Schatz / Schulz formulated the following 5 quality dimensions for TV programs as early as 1992 [13]:
  1. Diversity of offers in terms of formats, topics, regions, groups, interests and sources
  2. Relevance of the topics for individuals, groups and society
  3. Professionalism of the content and design, for example with regard to appropriateness and impartiality
  4. Acceptance by the audience
  5. Legality as compliance with the relevant journalistic standards and media laws, such as B. Protection of minors.
The magical polygon of media quality
Magical polygon of media quality ( Graphic for download) Please click on the image to open the graphic. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

At the same time, Russ-Mohl [14] formulated his quality model, according to which qualitative journalism should be oriented towards:
  1. Topicality
  2. Complexity reduction
  3. objectivity
  4. Transparency and reflexivity
  5. Originality.
The comparison of the two approaches shows that quality standards in journalism depend on various factors [15]:
  1. Medium (radio vs. press),
  2. Periodicity (daily vs. weekly journalism),
  3. Genre (news, report, report, commentary),
  4. Function (information vs. entertainment) and
  5. Self-image of the journalists (objective mediator, lawyer, explainer), but also
  6. the audience as a target group (e.g. education).
Various empirical studies have now been carried out on media quality [16]. The information broadcasts on public broadcasting do better than those on private broadcasting, insofar as ARD and ZDF, among others. have more news, a higher proportion of politics, a wider variety of topics and more topics of social relevance.

And the discussion in communication science is no longer just concerned with the question of measurement, but increasingly with the problem of (sustainable) assurance of media quality in the context of editorial management [17]. Key words for this are: existence of journalistic guidelines, fact checking and proofreading, newspaper or broadcast criticism, institutionalized further training, etc.