Merkel, Germany, the Media and Free Speech

From the Financial Times  earlier this week:

German media were too uncritical in their coverage of the 2015 refugee crisis, giving Angela Merkel’s open-door policy a free pass and failing to represent the legitimate concerns of ordinary people alarmed by the influx, a new study has found. The report, commissioned by the Otto Brenner Stiftung in Frankfurt, said the coverage was so one-sided that it ended up deepening the ideological rift in Germany between liberals on the one hand and nationalists and conservatives on the other.

“Up until late autumn 2015 hardly any editorials dealt with the concerns, fears and also resistance of a growing part of the population,” the report said. “When they did, they adopted a didactic or in the case of east Germany [where anti-immigrant sentiment is strongest], a contemptuous tone.”

The study, led by Michael Haller, a former senior editor at weekly newspaper Die Zeit, is the most comprehensive analysis of how the German media dealt with the migrant crisis…

Newspapers were filled with articles about the new “Willkommenskultur” or welcome culture, epitomised by the crowds who gathered in Munich station in September 2015 to greet refugees arriving from Hungary and hand out sweets and toys.

The report said Willkommenskultur became a kind of “magic word” used by certain sections of the media to turn ordinary people into good Samaritans and encourage them to carry out acts of kindness towards newcomers.

And yet even this was not enough for Merkel, an authoritarian curiously now widely praised as a defender of liberal (in the accurate sense of that word) values.

Here’s CNBC from September, 2015:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was overheard confronting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over incendiary posts on the social network, Bloomberg reported on Sunday, amid complaints from her government about anti-immigrant posts in the midst of Europe’s refugee crisis. On the sidelines of a United Nations luncheon on Saturday, Merkel was caught on a hot mic pressing Zuckerberg about social media posts about the wave of Syrian refugees entering Germany, the publication reported. The Facebook CEO was overheard responding that “we need to do some work” on curtailing anti-immigrant posts about the refugee crisis. “Are you working on this?” Merkel asked in English, to which Zuckerberg replied in the affirmative before the transmission was disrupted.

Could it have been that some people at least were turning to Facebook to express their views because there was nowhere else where they could get a hearing?

In the course of a post that September on the topic of the German government’s attitude to (yes, sometimes ugly) dissent, I noted this from a Breitbart report:

An organisation run by a former Stasi agent has been recruited by the German government to patrol Facebook in a bid to stamp out “xenophobic” comments. Those caught posting material that the government disagrees with are likely to face criminal prosecution. Germany is set to welcome one million new immigrants this year, a move that has not been without controversy. Determined to see his fellow Germans embrace their new multicultural homeland, Justice Minister Heiko Maas has decided to crack down on those citizens who criticise the influx, especially those who take to their own private Facebook accounts to do so. Maas has recruited the help of an organisation – Network Against Nazis (Netz Gegen Nazis, or NAN) – to aid him in his crackdown. NAN was founded by, and according to it’s website works in partnership with, the Amaedu Antonio Foundation, run by Anetta Kahane, who between 1974 and 1982 worked for the Stasi under the code name ‘Victoria’ [According to Wikipedia she was an “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter”​, an “unofficial collaborator” with the Stasi, no agent, but still…].

Fast forward to the end of last month.

Newsweek:

Social media companies in Germany that don’t do enough to prevent the spread of hate speech and “fake news” could face fines, the country’s parliament ruled Friday.

What could go wrong? 

Newsweek:

Networks that do not remove content that is “obviously illegal” within 24 hours, or one week in less clear-cut cases, face fines beginning at €5 million ($5.7 million) and rising to €50 million ($57 million) depending on the severity of the offense concerned. Facebook immediately slammed the decision in a statement. The company said it shared the aspiration to fight hate speech in a statement to the BBC, but: “We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem.”

The new law has even gone too far for the UN…

But the U.N. has criticized the bill. “Many of the violations covered by the bill are highly dependent on context, context which platforms are in no position to assess,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights David Kaye wrote of the law in the run up to its passage.

At the beginning of 2016 (as I noted in a post here), Angela Merkel was awarded the Roosevelt Foundation’s “Four Freedoms Award” for, amongst other achievements, “her moral leadership of Germany and Europe during the refugee crisis”.

Handelsblatt:

The Roosevelt Foundation in Middelburg, the Netherlands, and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in New York present the annual Four Freedoms Award which is named after the four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt named in a speech in 1941 and which all people should enjoy. They are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Top of the list: Freedom of speech.

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