Media conglomerate Axel Springer AG is known in Germany for its populist and archconservative tone. What most don’t know is the degree to which it also owns publications across Central Europe – in which it spreads deep-seated skepticism of Germany’s energy transition, remarks Paul Hockenos.
One of the highlights of working on the most recent energy-related report of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Greening the Heartland of Coal in Europe, was collaborating with the team of German, Czech, and Polish energy experts.
It was one of the Germany experts who pointed out that one of the chief antagonists in the media furor over the Energiewende (in Germany, but not only in Germany) is the Axel Springer AG, the German media conglomerate and publisher of the daily Die Welt and the mass-circulation tabloid Bild Zeitung. In Germany, Springer media are known for their conservative sympathies and populist tone. In fact, one of Heinrich Böll’s most famous novels, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, published in 1974, was a fierce critique of Springer’s methods and influence.
Although the atmosphere in Germany is less raw than in the 1970s, in recent years Bild has turned its populist verve to the energiewende. In spring 2011 after the shutdown of seven nuclear plants, for example, Bild readers were warned about imminent blackouts, job losses, and the inevitable decline of the German economy. Almost three years later, Germany’s power supply remains among the most reliable in the world, and the German economy is thriving.
Germans know that Axel Springer AG is one of the largest publishing houses domestically. But not so well known is that it holds 50 percent of Ringier Axel Springer Media AG, a leading integrated multimedia company in Central and Eastern Europe. According to its own website, Ringier Axel Springer Media manages an “extensive portfolio of over 70 print titles and more than 60 digital offerings in the expanding markets of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Serbia” and “is the market leader in tabloid publications and one of the largest magazine publishers in the region.” In November 2013 Ringier Axel Springer Media proudly announced that its publication Newsweek Polska and server newsweek.pl were the most frequently-cited media in Poland.
The ideological affinity of Springer media in Germany and their cousins in Central Europe is quite close. According to the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, “Springer’s [Polish] tabloid Fakt … is a Bild clone. … Interestingly, Fakt frequently publishes anti-German texts, just as Bild frequently publishes anti-Polish ones. Some observers believe that this is a deliberate PR strategy on the part of the publishing house.”
As for the energy transition, a lead article published on newsweek.pl a few days before the 2013 German elections had the headline “Merkel’s Germany Plan like the Third Reich.” The story is accompanied by photos of German highways in the 1930s next to today’s wind and solar plants, the latter behind a fence with a high-voltage warning sign, reminiscent of a concentration camp. The subtitle reads, “Just as the Nazi economy was fueled by the construction of highways and giant rearmament programs, in the 21st century the German economy is to be driven by the energy revolution.” After some analysis of the upcoming elections, the article continues, “Before the war, public works plans for road construction and state intervention led to ever-increasing political control over the economy and their consequent subordination to Nazi war plans. Unfortunately, the current transformation may also end up with a series of errors and distortions.”
In the Czech Republic, the tabloid Blesk belonged until recently to Ringier Axel Springer Media. On the German energy transition, Blesk has featured articles with headlines such as “Electricity prices in CZ will go up 30 percent because of the Germans!” and “German energy transformation jeopardizes industrial employment.”
The cited articles are not necessarily representative of the tone of Polish and Czech media concerning Germany generally, but these examples show that certain media houses convey a coherent message against the energy transformation in all three countries.
Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based journalist and author of the Going Renewable blog, where this post was first published.