Trust Would Be Good–Control Is Better
"Who should we believe in times of Trump and fake news?"
This article comes from my friend in Germany, Johann. He is the Head Editor for the student newspaper, GO Public, at Gymnasium Othmarschen. I hope it will help you to consider the crucial role the media plays in a democracy from a new perspective.
"'The truth: it's probably somewhere between Tagesschau (a German daily news program) and Russia Today'. When it's getting late and there is nothing else to complain or gossip about, then such sayings can become common. The era when one trusted the major newspapers or even the Tagesschau (literally: Today Show) is now history. A distrust of the press and the main-stream media has established itself in many young adults. This idea is verified by the survey 'Generation What' that was commissioned by the Bavarian and Southwest Broadcasting Corporations. Twenty-four percent of German teens don't trust 'the media' at all, and forty percent are skeptical of the media's reliability. If you look at the numbers for all the people in Europe between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, the lack of trust gets even larger.
In a democracy, critical thinking is imperative. For all intents and purposes, these numbers should be reassuring, because they show that most people won't simply accept what's placed in front of them as always true.
However, in a democracy, something that is just as important as criticism is trust. Trust in the political system, in the judiciary, and in the media. Without this, a nation cannot function. These institutions must work hard to earn trust - through transparency and bilateral control. By the same token, citizens should ideally inform themselves as comprehensively as possible. In this manner, trust in the institutions should emerge.
There are many countries - even in Europe where the lack of trust rightly exists. In Italy for example, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi didn't only hold executive powers in his governing period. No, he also owned numerous TV broadcasters, magazines, and publishing houses. But in Germany?
A critical look in the daily press suffices: Between Taz (die tageszeitung, a left-leaning newspaper) and FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a centrist-right leaning newspaper) lay many different worlds, visible on a daily basis to anyone who reads the newspaper. One saw this especially well around New Years' 2017: There were reports about the deployment of the Cologne Police at Cologne's main train station. The police detained and checked about 1,000 people of supposed North-African origins. A look in the FAZ: commentator Jasper von Altenbocktum wrote about a 'marked mainstream North-African culture' with reference to the events of the previous year when hundreds of women were sexually harassed. Heribert Prantl from the Süddeutschen Zeitung (literally: South German Newspaper, a liberal, centrist-left leaning newspaper) later accused von Altenbocktum of 'hate speech' and described the deployment of the police as 'proportionate'. In turn, the Taz accused the police of 'stomping all over' basic human rights in a 'racist' deployment. Where does this exorbitant mistrustfulness come from, when the facts speak against it? Now the skeptics might say, those 'people up there' were always present, but since the introduction of the internet, where anyone can publish something without a fact-checking mechanism, conspiracy theories have found a new and much more effective platform. Further, the spread of lies through governments, such as in the case of the Bush administration, which in 2003 claimed that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and thus justified the attack on Iraq, are often fueled by such theories. Then the media and the government are lumped together and one expects similar behavior from both. And there are by all means some media outlets such as Breitbart, Fox News, or Russia Today, which spread disinformation to pursue political goals.
But there are likewise those who see it as their duty to get to the bottom of the truth. For example, the New York Times, whose research unearths new aspects of the potentially illegal connections of Donald Trump's staff to Russia on an almost daily basis. Since Trumps' election to the office of the President, the number of online subscriptions to the New York Times has skyrocketed. During times in which the President of the United States incessantly spreads lies and half-truths, and as he says, finds himself 'at war with the media', many people are beginning to put their faith in the media again. In other words, they trust the media to be more competent at dealing with the truth than a habitual liar.
A similar situation in Germany is that the Süddeutsche Zeitung uncovered questionable practices of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (literally: Federal Messages Service, similar in function to the CIA) or the federal government (of Germany) in the matter of spying over the course of the past few years. Or the SPIEGEL (literally: the Mirror, similar to Time Magazine), that researched the business and tax practices of football (soccer) players such as Messi or Ronaldo.
The question is: Who can one trust if not the 'established' media? Who should verify the accuracy of photos and documents that were leaked somewhere else? Who does one think is capable of independent reporting? Who should, aside from congress and judges, control the government, if not the media? In this case the New York Times and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the SPIEGEL, the Guardian, or also the broadcasting corporations who have all earned a reputation as critical reporters and researchers should be considered more trustworthy than an alternative internet portal filled with typos.
And why is today's youth, why are we, currently so distrustful? Does it have to do with the fact that we grew up with the internet and and therefore had already distanced ourselves from the established forms of reporting such as newspapers and TV? Perhaps. But perhaps is it better explained a completely different way. The feminist Claudine Monteil once said, 'The youth always believe that old people have no clue. That is a teenager attitude that many people keep till they are thirty.'"
A big thanks to Johann for letting me translate and share his article. Keep up the good work of fostering such high-quality school newspapers as Head Editor!
The photo is of numerous German print publications.
Photo credit: Arvid Bachmann