Chives on the head, lover in the pool, cnn in afghanistan – how political staging was discussed at the munich media days
"Party platforms never mattered to voters after all."
Whoever says this at the munich media days must be a rather arrogant pr consultant or an equally arrogant journalist. But no. Sepp durr is the leader of the grunen parliamentary group in the bavarian state parliament – and a pretty clear-thinking politician at that: "as soon as the cameras go on, i’m in a production", he says.
It is astonishing that in all the discussions about political staging and truth-telling, especially in the context of the military mission in afghanistan, no one at the media days held a naive belief in the one, absolutely objective truth. Politics, pr and journalism seem to have completed their basic course in constructivism, which is not such a bad thing. For it is only the realization that instead of reality there are only constructions that makes it possible to analyze according to which rules and with which intentions these constructions are created.
The most important rule: politicians should not be surprised. Illustrious people like ex-kohl advisor andreas fritzenkotter, still scharping advisor moritz hunzinger and n 24 editor-in-chief peter limbourg agree on this.
But how is this stability of expectations staged?? For example, by angela merkel sticking to her chive hairstyle. In all seriousness: "she would have lost her style if she had followed popular opinion and allowed herself to be executed, or rather to be executed", says hunzinger. The negative counterexample is rudolf scharping. Sepp durr expresses it in such a way: "a lumbering guy doesn’t suddenly become a pool lover, pubescence doesn’t suit the defense minister – these are too rough image jumps."
Politics can’t be that simple
It is not. However, politics today is communicated through people.Until the early nineties, political events were organized along value orientations. So whoever saw himself as a christian value conservative could agree with the cdu in all things. The successes of tony blair and gerhard schroder and the grun’s enthusiasm for the kosovo war have shown that the dusty left-right value systems no longer work. That is why today only chives work.
But that too not always. Angela merkel is not doing very well as cdu chairwoman, despite her strong character in matters of hairstyle. According to hunzinger because "no concrete promise is associated with her person" is associated with her person. This is different with roland schill or renate kunast, who both combine concrete promises with a suitable, stable image: it doesn’t matter whether they are bse-proof or drug-proof – the main thing is tough.
A stable image is not everything, it also has to correspond with reference points outside the staging. That’s why fritzenkotter sees merkel’s problem not with her appearance, but with society: "the majority still does not seem to be ready for a woman in this leadership position." and also scharping’s problems are not necessarily those of the production, at least according to limbourg:
"He is completely nuts. Not because of the flight affair. The way he gives things to the press that are classified as secret, we can be glad that in case of defense the chancellor is in charge."
Self-referentiality and credibility
But even if the staged realities still have such reference points outside themselves, the degree of self-referentiality is remarkable. For example, when sepp durr describes how so-called leadership competence is created: the media attribute it to a politician until inner-party critics weaken their positions in the face of the supposed dominance.
This is not a problem, as long as the media point out their constructive power and its fundamentals. So when ard correspondent thomas roth in northern afghanistan begins his report by saying he is several hundred kilometers from kandahar, that’s a good thing. Perhaps viewers will also question the basis of other correspondents’ reports in light of these references. Siegfried weischenberg, chairman of the german journalists’ association and a journalism professor, says:
"After all, it’s not that unusual for a correspondent to sit far away from the action. Often the news comes from news agencies, where there is a high level of self-referentiality."
So where does the news from afghanistan come from?? Roughly speaking, from five sources: governments, afghan employees of non-afghan media, aid organizations, the taliban regime, and bin laden’s terrorist network. Tony maddox, who is responsible for the europe, middle east and africa region at cnn, describes how he deals with these sources as follows:
"Governments always try to impose the interpretation in the media that is most favorable to them. This is normal, there is not much more prere during war than usual." as he says this, his cell phone rings: "ah, it’s george bush, he says i’ve gone too far", laughs maddox.
Cnn’s afghanistan coverage, unlike the gulf war, does not rely predominantly on information from the u.S. Government. The network has been covering afghanistan since before 11. September employs a large number of local staff in afghanistan, who also provide information today. Former ard middle east correspondent friedrich schreiber confirms this. He praises cnn for having learned a lot since the gulf war. Maddox also points to the cooperation with al-jazeera, which began before sept. 11. September 11:
"Of course, we’re reviewing this material ourselves, but that goes without saying. I think the criticism of al-jazeera is exaggerated, they do a very good job, very critical journalism. The insinuations that they were doing something else are often tinged with racism."
Unfortunately, the credibility of the aid organizations was not discussed at the munich media days. This got heavily scratched during the supposed famine catastrophe in athiopia last year. At that time, television teams were flown in to film children, some of whom were suffering from tb, in order to support the previously announced famine with images. Something similar was repeated this year with the reports about an alleged child slave ship off the coast of africa. The trade magazine message recently pointed out the inglorious role of aid organizations in such media stagings.
Even the taliban have realized – as bin ladin has for a long time – that media stagings are more useful to them than a total ban on images. Weischenberg says:
"After all, they now deliberately drove squads of journalists to very specific theaters in order to produce specific images."
The conclusion: journalists today must do what has always been their job: check and evaluate sources. This may not be a spectacular conclusion for the media days, but it is a useful one.