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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Mass murder or “murder with a view”?

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In the last four weeks it was the regular program. At ARD, the “Tagesschau” at 8 pm was followed by a “Focal Point”, in the second main news no “heute” without a “ZDF special”. Private broadcasters ProSieben to RTL only started their prime time when the special routes ended.

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Since February 24, since Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, war reports have dominated German television, radio, newspapers and platforms, from tagesschau.de to tagesspiegel.de. Reports 24/7, live speeches by Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with dramatic images of what devastation and death mean for Ukrainians in their country’s besieged cities and on the run.

The victims of war are all the same, but some are more equal than others. The war in Ukraine is closer to the Germans than the wars in Iraq and Syria and they are currently in Ethiopia and Yemen. The help and offers of help for the people in Mariupol, Kyiv and Kharkiv are overwhelming, donations in kind and money are flowing, the care of the refugees does not let the authorities and volunteers rest.

The closer a war is and the more people think they know the aggressor and the victim of the aggression, the more affected they feel. Information, real and supposed news, controls emotions and reactions, feelings and fears.

New stage

Now, four weeks after the invasion, the (media) war has entered a new phase. The information channels are becoming scarcer, Zelenskyj is synchronizing the transmitters in the Ukraine, in Russia the truth about the war is under threat of punishment, the war and crisis reporters have left Mariupol. This makes assessing the war situation increasingly difficult.

As in other times of crisis, most people initially trust the traditional media, which in turn record fewer sources due to the tense news situation and have to invest more in verifying the material. What is spread about Russian actors is considered fake news because it is propaganda. But what about information of Ukrainian origin? Even if it is about falsifying authentic facts, does solidarity then mean blind trust?

The public demands clarity

But the general public wants clarity. It is difficult to obtain, and as a consequence the war and the war situation become a matter of hermeneutics, a science of interpretation. And tomorrow, when the facts are new, the interpretation will have to change again. The practice of clinging to symbols like Ukraine’s accession to the EU, 100 billion for the Bundeswehr, no-fly zone over Ukraine is simply symbolic.

naughty thoughts

The media situation, the television situation always acts and agitates. These are probably out of proportion to the indecent thoughts, but there is something reassuring in the experience that after the “Tagesschau” the grinning crime thriller “Murder with a View” is broadcast. No “focus” can mean: none or not so serious news from the Ukrainian battlefield. The terrible war is priced into the news flow the same way it is priced into the emotional balance. Now more than ever, war means being able to face war.

One, perhaps the crucial question not only for media professionals is: how much war should there be, how much war can there be on screens, on mobiles, in newspapers? The intensity of the reports will never match the intensity of the war. On the contrary, it is an illusion that a night of television without “Focus” or “ZDF spezial” is a day without war in Ukraine.

A long war of attrition looms, military experts say.


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