Conservatives of all sorts have long lived under the impression that their positions are systematically suppressed in public discourse. A simple, but effective, study by Junge Freiheit, however, shows that this is more than an impression. The journalists looked at appearances of politicians in talk shows hosted by the two major state TV stations, ARD and ZDF. As these talk shows are still a major contributor to the public discourse for large parts of the populace, the appearances of politicians should reflect their representation in parliament.
At least that’s what the AfD thinks, but it is not an opinion shared by the ARD and ZDF. Since the last federal election in September 2021, politicians have appeared a total of 426 times in various talk shows. While Health Minister Karl Lauterbach alone appeared 21 times on TV, not a single AfD politician was invited even once. Even representatives of Die Linke (the Left), a party represented in parliament only with 3 direct mandates, appeared an astounding 26 times.
Front runners are politicians of the CDU/CSU with 122 invitations, followed by the social-democratic SPD with 119 appearances. Green politicians appeared 86 times on TV, FDP politicians 72 times. Compared to parliamentary representation, this means that all parties are overrepresented on TV, with exception of the AfD, a party elected by 10.3% of voters, which is excluded from public discourse altogether.
According to the ARD, talk shows aren’t “substitute parliaments;” the choice of guests is based on the topics and follows “purely journalistic criteria.” Such notions have been expressed in previous years as well, when similar studies showed a clear underrepresentation of the AfD, and back then also of Die Linke. The ZDF said that its choice of guests is motivated by representing “different positions and perspectives on the topic at hand,” which should facilitate “controversial debates.” ZDF did admit, however, that it wasn’t always possible “to represent all possible positions in a single show.”
The head of the AfD, Tino Chrupalla, however does not believe in mere coincidence: “The obvious and systematic exclusion of the AfD from talk shows of the ARD and ZDF is a clear violation of the programming mandate and the duty to maintain balanced reporting.” Chrupalla accuses state media of excluding millions of voters from being “represented in important formats.”
While such “balanced reporting” is defined by the broadcasting treaty, it is nigh impossible to control these choices in reality, as the “journalistic criteria” are nowhere defined or even publicized, allowing the stations to continue gatekeeping the flow of information.
David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.