The European media scene is in for a bit of a shake-up in the coming months. The Washington-based political news website POLITICO has entered a 50:50 joint venture with German publishing house Axel Springer to launch POLTICO.EU in the second quarter of this year. This is a significant market entrance and will certainly ruffle some feathers.
POLITICO Editor-in-Chief John Harris could not have been clearer about the the new venture’s intended scope:
Our ambition is clear – to be Europe’s leading publication on politics and policy, with a newsroom that will be headquartered in Brussels and with a reporting team whose footprint will extend across the continent.
So what kind of political journalism can we expect from POLITICO.EU? As far as I can tell POLITICO has a good reputation in Washington. Hey, they got their own knock-off site “Slugline” written into House of Cards, so they cannot be that bad! But I think it is fair to have some serious doubts about the Springer part of the joint venture given the recent reporting on Europe by its flagship German publications.
Let’s take their broadsheet newspaper Die Welt for a start. It is unsurprising that the right-leaning publication did not like Syriza’s win in Greece. But that within a week of the Greek election they started vicious ad hominem attacks against Alexis Tsipras “and his people”, accusing them of anti-semitism, was low even by their standards. The article, written by historian Thomas Weber, a German academic based at the University of Aberdeen, is misleading and wrong, as DER SPIEGEL exposed. But it nevertheless made it into the paper.
But if you think this is as bad as it gets you have to pause for a moment and look at Springer’s main publication, Europe’s most-read newspaper BILD. Last Thursday, one day before the German Bundestag voted on the Greek deal, the paper ran a campaign asking its readers to send in selfies holding up this page of the newspaper:
The campaign simply read: “No! No more billions for the greedy Greeks!” Given the intention to directly influence the vote in parliament the German Association of Journalists (DJV) requested BILD to drop its action against the Greeks because it crossed the “border from journalism into political campaigning” and victimised a whole people for the decisions of national politicians.
Over recent years, the Springer publications in Germany have been protagonists in building up divisions between European countries and publishing wrong or poisoned information. It will be interesting to see whether the 50:50 POLITICO.EU joint venture pivots towards the US side or the German side. If the German side becomes dominant the European media scene, that so far has been mostly free of the tactics shown above, might be dragged in a direction nobody needs – nor wants.
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