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Germany: bad reputation for public broadcasters ARD and ZDF

The public broadcasting in Germany has a left-wing audience. This is the conclusion of a study by the University of Oxford. According to the survey, the BBC succeeds in addressing people from different political camps.

Critics of the public media in Germany like to refer to the radio as the "Rotfunk" ("Red radio"). Thus, ARD and ZDF is assumed to report politically biased and pursue a left-wing agenda. This is usually justified by individual examples, such as the euphoric reporting of an ARD journalist from the Green party congress in 2018 . The fact that ZDF and ARD are politically leftist is for some critics of the stations a perceived truth that can hardly be substantiated seriously. However, the Reuters Institute of Oxford University has published a study that draws a surprising picture of the users of these programs: viewers of public broadcasting in Germany are located to the left.

For the survey, the institute examined public service broadcasting in eight European countries. A different picture than in Germany arises in countries such as Great Britain, Finland or Spain. There, the public channels have apparently an audience that sees itself right, left or center-right. In Finland and Spain, the distribution is almost symmetrical: one half of the spectators are located slightly to the left of the center, the other slightly to the right. The British BBC shows a rather weak trend to the left, while the public of ARD and ZDF is almost completely in the left half of the political spectrum.

An unpleasant result
This result is unpleasant for public broadcasters in Germany. The program principles of the ARD oblige their broadcasters "to reflect the social spectrum of opinion as comprehensively and fairly as possible." The principles of the ZDF state that they want to represent "the diversity of existing opinions in society". According to the study of the Reuters Institute, however, ARD and ZDF have a predominantly left-wing audience. The majority of viewers are likely to choose a program that fits their political beliefs. In this respect one can come to the conclusion that the editors of ARD and ZDF draw a more left-wing world view.

This also seems to be reflected in the credibility of public service broadcasters. On a scale of one to ten, participants in the study answered the question of how reliable are the news from ARD and ZDF. Citizens who are politically left or center, gave the channels an average of 7.1. Those on the right of the center only awarded a value of 5.0.

Right-wing viewers are more skeptical
The trend that the left believe the news rather than the conservatives, can be observed in most of the broadcasters surveyed, but almost nowhere is as pronounced as in Germany. A balanced result was provided by the survey of viewers from the British and French public media. In both cases, right, middle-left and left-wingers judged coverage with almost equal credibility.

The study by the Reuters Institute aimed to find out whether public service broadcasters in Europe manage to attract as many citizens as possible. According to ARD and ZDF with all their channels and online offers they reach 69 percent of Germans. Like many other media channels are struggling to convince young people of their offers. According to the study, only 9 percent of the public of ARD and ZDF are under 25, which probably has something to do with the demographic trend and the triumphant advance of digital media. In order to reach young people on the Internet, ARD and ZDF are investing in special interest channels and online offers. However, the success is manageable, according to Reuters Institute: Only a fifth of Germans between 18 and 25 years, uses these offers. The BBC shows that things can be done differently. It reaches 56 percent of this target group online.

ARD criticizes the study
When asked, the ARD stated that a "acceptance study" carried out by the Society for Consumer Research (GfK) last year showed a different picture. According to the ARD with all their offers they reach about 94 percent of the citizens. Even among the 14 to 24-year-olds are 88 percent. The study by the Reuters Institute has shortcomings because it does not take into account the third programs and the online offerings of the regional broadcasters. The press office of the ARD did not answer the question of why the BBC in contrast to the ARD is attractive for people from different political ideologies.

The comparison with the BBC shows that the continuing criticism of the public broadcasters in Germany is justified. The BBC seems to be more politically balanced and apparently reaches more young people. With around 5 billion pounds (5.6 billion euros) it has less money available than the German public broadcasters with about 8 billion euros. Although the BBC has to finance fewer regional channels than ARD and ZDF, its broad regional program is considered by critics of the public system to be oversized and in need of reform. Ultimately behind the Reuters Institute's study is the question of whether public service broadcasters in Europe live up to their social mission. The result is not a good report for Germany, the country that has the most expensive public broadcasting in the world.

"Old, Educated, and Politically Diverse: The Audience of Public Service News" (Reuters Institute, PDF - 2019)
"Schlechtes Zeugnis für ARD und ZDF" (NZZ Nachrichten, 13-09-2019)

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