German-Russian media wars: one is no better than the other

It is too evident in the context of this media conflict that it is neither about formal legal reasons nor about media freedom, but the continuation of the geopolitical conflict in the region by other means.

German-Russian media wars: one is no better than the other

Germany and the EU have harshly criticized Russia for banning the German foreign broadcaster DW from broadcasting. This step, they say, is not comparable to the previous German measures against RT DE. Russia sees things differently.

Not only the German government, but also the EU Commission is outraged. On February 4, the Russian Federation informed "Deutsche Welle" (DW) that it would be banned from further broadcasting in Russia and that its staff would have their accreditation as journalists withdrawn. In addition, proceedings would be initiated to classify the medium as a "foreign agent". As recently as 2019, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had opposed such a demand by the State Duma.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, described the measure as a symmetrical reaction to the broadcasting ban of RT DE in Germany. At the beginning of February 2022, the Commission for Licensing and Supervision of the State Media Authorities (ZAK) had justified the prohibition of the "broadcasting and distribution of the television program RT DE" with the lack of a media law license.

The German side feels justified in this action. On the one hand, RT had not applied for a license under the State Media Treaty in Germany, and on the other hand, the state was not allowed to operate media itself or to hold shares. This was a consequence of the role of state media under Nazi Germany.

DW owned by the FRG

The fact is that with DW, the German state itself operates a broadcasting station that is owned by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) - like Rossiya Sevodnya is owned by the Russian state. The budget is also decided by the respective parliaments.

In Germany, however, the belief is that two people doing the same thing are not necessarily doing the same thing. According to the Deutsche Welle law, the reporting of DW, which was founded in 1953, serves to "enable an independent formation of opinion" and it may not "unilaterally support a party or other political association, a religious community, a profession or a community of interests". In this respect, state ownership of the DW is more of a formality; in terms of content, its design is more like that of public broadcasting in Germany.

Although public broadcasting is not directly controlled by the government, the political reality in Germany reveals that it is heavily politicized, as evidenced by the substance of numerous programs.

At home; for status quo - abroad; for revolution

It is noticeable with regard to both the German-language reporting of the Russian state broadcaster RT in Germany, and the German public broadcaster DW in Russia that the two show a keen interest in strengthening the non-systemic opposition.

While DW pays a lot of attention to people, NGOs or artists -e.g. from nationalist Alexei Navalny to "Memorial" and so on- in a manner characterized by recognizable sympathy, RT Deutsch gives this attention to forces that, for their part, strive for a radical transformation of political and social conditions in Germany. This is another reason why some politicians from the Left Party and AfD who are explicitly pro-Russian or critical of the United States, as well as vaccination opponents and coronavirus demonstrators, can hope for benevolent coverage on RT Deutsch.

In its own country, the meticulous guardian of the status quo; in the other, the mouthpiece of revolutionary critics of the system: strategically, there is no significant difference between RT and DW, the self-appointed "anti-Putin broadcaster" -according to director Peter Limbourg.

Symbolic political self-affirmation instead of pragmatic sobriety

It is simply too evident in the context of this media conflict that it is neither about formal legal reasons nor about media freedom, but the continuation of the geopolitical conflict in the region by other means.

The German authorities' move against RT DE also raises eyebrows, given how conscientious the West, and Germany in particular, claim to be when it comes to supposed or actual limits on media freedom. Meanwhile, German politicians are even considering banning the messenger service Telegram over allowing illegal content. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has now set up its own task force to prosecute criminal offenses on Telegram.

In terms of domestic policy, such extreme intervention was defended with security concerns for the sake of society and the fight against right-wing extremist forces. On the other hand, for instance, when Turkiye demanded from Twitter to set up a branch in its own country in order to assume legal responsibility a few years ago, Germany decried alleged "censorship".

As little as RT's English -or Spanish- language satellite channels reach an audience that extends far beyond those population groups that already share its narrative, so little is DW's Russian-language service perceived beyond Russian media consumers who already classify themselves as belonging to the pro-Western, non-systemic opposition.

The likelihood that RT DE would decisively influence public opinion or the political majority in Germany is manageable; similar to the case of DW's Russian-language program in Russia. In terms of content, neither channel offers surprises or insights that would be capable of shaking world views. Rather, each seems to be geared towards confirming people in their already fixed, preconceived worldview.

In the end, however, the will to publicly assert oneself once again prevailed over sober pragmatism in Germany. That Russia would react to the ban on RT DE's broadcasting operations with reciprocal measures against DW could not have come as a surprise to the German government authorities. Being outraged by a supposed restriction of press freedom and to harp on formal quibbles that supposedly justify one thing but not the other is a highly transparent maneuver.

AA/Ali Ozkok

Hüseyin Demir

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YORUM EKLE