The media image(s) of right-wing populist parties in recent German history - the case of the German Freedom Party 2010-2013

by Hendrik Behnisch

Institution: University of Helsinki
Year: 2015
Keywords: Poliittinen historia
Record ID: 1139214
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/154583


The thesis addresses the media dynamics around a specific case of German right-wing populism in recent years. It examines the mainstream media’s portrayal of the right-wing populist party ‘The Freedom Party’ during its active nation-wide existence as a political party (July 2010 - November 2013). The point of departure is a theory by the German political scientist Frank Decker, which claims that a constant media bias exists in the country towards right-wing groups. This bias can be explained through the German people's collective memory of the Third Reich's horrors ('Hitler's shadow'), which is deeply anchored in the German political culture. Essentially, the objective of this thesis is to test Decker’s theory and apply it to the specific case of the German Freedom Party. In order to achieve valid results, various media portals that address different parts of the German public, yet all belong to the mainstream media, have been incorporated into this study. The chosen media include the digital publications of Süddeutsche Zeitung, DER SPIEGEL, BILD and Berliner Zeitung. All relevant articles covering the Freedom Party included in the digital archives of these news publications within the above-mentioned time frame have been analyzed in the main chapter of the thesis. The analytic framework that is applied in order to test Decker’s thesis and look for possible media bias in those publications is Theun van Dijk’s concept of ‘The strategy of polarization/ the ideological square’. In substance, it contains the idea that the ideological opposition of journalists to phenomena they are describing (in this case right-wing parties in general, and the Freedom Party in particular) can be measured through a) How they construct headlines (‘surface structures’) on the phenomenon; b) Which terminology (‘lexical items’) they apply in order to describe it and c) To what degree they highlight negative characteristics of the phenomenon (‘The ideological square’). These three analytic dimensions are applied to every single digital article incorporated into the thesis. Every article is summarized and then analyzed in an in-depth-fashion, while charts visualize and summarize the degree of polarization against the party that can be identified in those media publications. In order to be able to assess the accuracy of the terminology that the media has applied to describe and image the Freedom Party, an introductory analysis of key elements of the party program is included in the main chapter as well. The dismantling of the party’s political agenda serves as a 'compass' for the media investigation. Only if the subject of analysis is approached independently by the researcher, conceptualized in the larger context of the study (right-wing parties in Germany and their relationship with the mainstream media) and labeled according to previous research on the diversity of German right-wing parties, can it be given a fair hearing in its own terms. The investigation of the party program has identified the party as a stereotypical modern right-wing…