Serving the populist agenda. How German public media broadcasters inadvertently facilitate populist movements by evoking fear and anger
The term Media Populism is used to indicate a ‘involuntary complicity’ between news media and populist movements based on the convergence of commercial media logic and populist communication style. It grants populists and their messages a high degree of media visibility. According to the literature, this applies more to tabloid media and infotainment content in commercial television than to upmarket media outlets and news programs. In this paper, we refer to another form of involuntary collaboration between news media and populists that is not based on similar communication styles, but simply on the fact that news media have to report on topics which populists claim issue ownership for. This applies foremost to upmarket media and public service broadcasting, which are obliged by their own quality standards or legal mandate to report completely and comprehensively on all topics of public concern. We are especially interested in the emotional response of German audiences to news coverage on two topics: mass migration and the role of Islam in Germany. With the help of two experiments, we demonstrate that public service news reporting on these issues provokes strong negative emotional reactions. What is more, our results indicate that media induced fear and anger lead to increased support for anti-migration and Islam-critical demands. Hence, German public service broadcasters may not only be ‘secret accomplices’ in creating negative emotions towards Muslim migration, but also facilitate populist movements.