Sat Aug 6th, 2005 at 04:15:21 PM EST
The BBC among others is reporting that the German newspaper group Axel Springer AG is buying Germany's largest TV broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG.
Springer buys top German TV firm
ProSiebenSat.1 is changing hands for the second time in three years. German newspaper group Axel Springer has agreed a complex takeover of the country's biggest TV broadcaster, worth 2.47bn euros ($3bn; £1.71bn).
Buying ProSiebenSat.1 Media will lift Axel Springer into second place in Germany's media market, behind TV and publishing giant Bertelsmann.
The deal will also give Axel Springer more clout with advertisers.
This move has prompted wide-spread criticism in Germany. Unfortunately, I haven't found it mentioned in the English press, so I'll document it below the flip.
The Axel Springer AG is Germany's largest publishing house. Its flagship product is the tabloid newspaper BILD, which likes to call itself the most-cited newspaper in Germany and is, in fact, the biggest newspaper in Germany. Its 3.5 million copies reach approximately 12 million readers daily. That's 19% of all Germans over the age of 14. Axel Springer publishes other national newspapers such as Die Welt and also numerous regional newspapers as well as a host of magazines.
The ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG is Germany's largest private TV broadcaster. ProSieben and Sat.1 are with RTL (from the RTL Group/Bertelsmann) the dominant private TV channels. ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG also owns N24 which is a cable news channel á la CNN. Altogether, ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG has a market penetration of roughly 30%.
The German Journalist Federation (DJV) writes in press release:
"Such media power from one source is disastrous for the diversity of opinions in Germany", [says Michael Konken, head of the DJV]. "The outcome of the 100% [sic] takeover is a media monopoly with a massive influence on public opinion." The plans to integrate the TV stations not only into the economical structure of the Springer group, but also into the publishing structure, have as a consequence an alarming concentration of information and opinion.
ver.di, Germany's largest union chimes in and demands more regulation by lawmakers:
In light of the takeover of the majority of shares of ProSiebenSat.1 by Axel Springer, ver.di demands regulation regarding the concentration in the entire media business.
Cross-media strategies of large corporations advance the power of print and TV media over opinions. They allow for an "ideal environment for agenda setting and marketing strategies that limit competition", which are not transparent for consumers, [says the vice director of ver.di Frank Werneke].
Finally, in an interview by tagesschau.de (a public TV news program), head of the Dortmund Institute for Media Studies and Media Economy Horst Röper says:
Röper: In the future, viewers and readers can be exposed to opinions that are massively dominated by the Springer family. The influence of the public formation of opinions becomes huge. [...] Newspapers, magazines and now TV stations can agree to present [political] events in an angle that suits Friede Springer [ed: Friede Springer, widow of the founder Axel Springer, holds 55% of Axel Springer AG]. The preference of the Springer group for the Union [ed: CDU/CSU, Germany's major conservative party] is known. It is easy to conceive how the upcoming elections can be influenced for example.
And, regarding the difference between Axel Springer and Bertelsmann:
Röper: Although Bertelsmann possesses the mighty RTL-Group, which has a similar reach in the TV business as has ProSiebenSat.1, it is not active in a day-to-day domain. This is the essential difference between Springer and Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann owns lots of magazines, books and music products, but few daily newspapers. Sociopolitical attitudes are, of course, shaped by magazines such as the Bravo [ed: a popular magazine for teens in Germany] as well, but sociopolitical influence works primarily through day-to-day politics. And this is where Springer calls the shots.
The criticism is well-justified. The unethical practices of the tabloid BILD are well-documented. BILD regularly presents suspects as guilty, has a disregard for personal rights and violates basic journalistic practices: Quotes are taken out of context, trivial events are hysterically exaggerated and plain falsehoods are presented as facts.
BILD also regularly blurs the line between editorial content and advertisements, a practice that is apparently being perfected on its online presence bild.t-online.de.
As a result of this, BILD received 12 reprimands in 2004 from the German Press Council, which publishes a journalistic ethical code. This amounts to roughly one third of all reprimands in 2004.
The preference towards the conservative parties is also well-known. The current editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann is a close friend of ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) and co-author of his biography. In 1998 Helmut Kohl named the ex-editor-in-chief of BILD Hans-Hermann Tiedje as his personal advisor for the upcoming general election. Finally, in 2002, BILD announced the top candidate Edmund Stoiber (CSU) as the winner of the TV debate between him and chancellor Schröder (SPD) which was held just weeks prior to the general election. The announcement was in stark contrast to all polls which saw Schröder as the clear winner of the debate.
On the other hand, political opponents, such as foreign minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) and the minister for the environment Jürgen Trittin (also Greens) are labeled as terrorist sympathizers and violent radical in campaigns that seem to have no end, in spite of ongoing criticism.
Thus, it should be no surprise that Stoiber, currently the prime minister of the state Bavaria and also a top CDU/CSU politician on the federal level, welcomes the merger: "I expect from this strong media house with its seat in Germany that it will not only save jobs, but create jobs in the outlook." How the merger will create new jobs is left unexplained as well as his position regarding the criticism that the merger has produced.
The debate about BILD has produced numerous literary works, such as the novel The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll in 1974 and the best-selling book Der Aufmacher - Der Mann, der bei BILD Hans Esser war by Günter Wallraff in 1977. Günter Wallraff is himself a journalist who infiltrated BILD in 1977 und subsequently exposed irresponsible researching methods, falsifications and political manipulations.
Recently, the blog BILDblog tries to counter the effects of BILD by exposing its lies, exaggerations and manipulations on a day-to-day basis.
Note: All quotations are translated by me. I tried my best not to introduce any errors, but if you find any, please let me know.