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Conservative and innovative press are deeply divided

Am 25. Oktober 2016 - 13:10 Uhr von Tom Hirche

The ancillary copyright for press publishers is more and more often covered by German media recently. However, the choice of words differs tremendously: While conservative media worship the Holy Günther as their patron saint, the innovators identify the major risks deriving from his proposal and discuss them.

Three weeks ago, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther Oettinger gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV). There, he thanked the print editors for their positive feedback moments before he reminded them of their online editors who “have been quite negative.” In an unprecedented move, Oettinger called on the publishing houses to basically put them to silence. If not, they will “miss out on a time window for their economic and cultural-democratic future.” Therefore he ordered them to “spread out!”

Good intentions > arguments

And so they did. Last week for example, Carsten Knop sang Oettinger’s praise in the well-known Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.). Apparently, the author wants us all to drive to Brussels and hug the Commissioner really, really tight. We all should give him credit because “at least wants to make a statement.” Yes, Oettinger holds opinions “that are not necessarily compatible with what the great community dealing with (media) internet policy thinks”, but at least he would show good will.

Are we not allowed to question his plans? For instance, why in Europa’s name does he not listen to this community of media or legal experts? Why does he not even begin to rethink his position although more and more facts are brought up against it? Why does he favor one group of publishers over the other one? It seems like at this point arguments are not supposed to be a part of the discussion anymore.

Presumptions > arguments

In another issue of F.A.Z., Adrian Lobe tried to discredit basically all institutes, associations and think tanks that research on questions regarding the digital world as lobbyists of US-American IT companies. They would have their fingers in every pie. Lobe senses the great conspiracy nobody else knows anything about. Unfortunately, he cannot provide the smallest evidence but only assumptions, vague suggestions and the statement of a professor for German philology. The article’s goal obviously is to deny all researchers their credibility as soon as they take up a position slightly favouring the IT sector.

What is concerning is that the author seems to be truly surprised by the fact that not shoe shops invest in internet research but IT companies who – as a matter of fact and for many reasons – come from the US. Luckily, the Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, one of the world’s largest media companies, has not yet come up with the idea of creating its own foundation (suggestion for a name: Bertelsmann Foundation) to provide institutes, associations and think tanks with money for, let’s say, research on questions regarding the digital world. Oh wait…

Misinformation > arguments

But F.A.Z. is not the only media outlet that relies on speculation to create support for Oettinger’s proposal instead of arguments. The German newspaper Handelsblatt recently titled: “Berlin [i.e. the federal government] advocates European ancillary copyright”. When did this happen you might asked. Well, the author not only fails to back this statement in any way but also qualifies it in – ironically – the text’s snippet by then adding “seemingly”.

Still, the headline has already been tweeted and reused several times. At this point it is of almost no interest anymore that the German government actually only supports the idea of discussing fundamental questions like this at European level. No more and no less. When German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas (SPD) said something similar a few weeks ago, the paper outright concluded he would see the ancillary copyright of press publishers as the appropriate mean to counter Google’s market power and to protect the publisher’s interests. That’s how it works.

Maybe one should note that F.A.Z. and Handelsblatt lobby for their own purposes. Both are major supporters of the proposed European ancillary copyright for press publishers. Although, the high-quality journalism obviously sees no need to mention this tiny little fact, let alone the substantial critique of Oettinger’s proposal and the threat it poses to freedom of information.

Arguments can only be found online

Fortunately, this is and has been done by the many, many online editors out there. When Oettinger invited several journalists to Brussels to explain his proposal to them and to answer their questions, German news websites like Spiegel Online, or Zeit Online reported. However, in conservative media this round of talks was uncovered. They also remained silent when the editor in chief of Zeit Online, a news website that has over 50 million visits per month, explicitly spoke out against the ancillary copyright for press publishers, or when the editor in chief of, the online news portal of F.A.Z., published their number of visits to demonstrate the importance of search engines and other services. Remember that those are only the most recent examples.

Conservative and innovative press are divided by a deep ditch: While one side relies on feel-good rhetoric and speculations, the others side actually delivers journalistic work and different arguments to enable the people to conceive a sophisticated opinion.

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