OPINION
POLES APART
By Ulrike Reisner
Ulrike Reisner
Self-employed political analyst, lecturer & journalist, based in Vienna / Austria, political analyst with "Creative Diplomacy" (PICREADI)
Leading German language media is creating its own conception of the world and thereby refraining from its grip on reality. A short analysis based on the interview with the President of the Russian Federation with Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.
Media wants to engage in politics
The visit of the President of the Russian Federation to Vienna and the accompanying reporting in German language media is a classic example of describing the phenomenon that political, social and media realities is drifting apart more and more. We are witnesses to a time period when leading German language media is depicting and reflecting political and social realities less and less, but creating their own conception of the world more and more. We are witnesses to a time period when leading German language media is decreasingly committing itself to the diversity of opinions, but increasingly indoctrinating the public with its political and social dogmas. We are witnesses to a time period when leading media is consciously refraining from its grip on reality. Following the concept of checks and balances, democratic states have repeatedly affirmed the free media's control function. However, leading media is not content with its role. Media wants to engage in politics.
Commitment and pragmatism

The Federal Republic of Austria's attitude towards Russia has – in recent decades – been characterised by a combination of commitment and pragmatism. This attitude is neither exceptional nor meritorious. It is simply an expression of what is called the "Austrian soul".

It is a fact that there are close links between Austria and Russia from political, economic, cultural and historical points of view. After more than 90 years of bilateral relations there is also a lively exchange in the field of science.

It is a fact that Austria's foreign trade with Russia rose by almost 14 percent to 4.95 billion euros in 2017. Austrian companies export machinery and equipment, pharmaceutical products and goods made of iron and steel to Russia.

It is a fact that the number of tourist arrivals from Russia rose by 24.1 percent last year. The number of Russian overnight stays increased by 18.3 percent to 1,156,380.

Last but not least it is a fact that Austria has been purchasing Russian gas since 1968 – the fact that the Republic of Austria was the first country in Western Europe to sign a supply contract with the former Soviet Union at that time might again be explained by pragmatic commitment.
Dogmatism at any cost

The President of the Russian Federation's visit to Vienna in June 2018 was patterned along this line by high political and diplomatic representatives from both sides. The Austrian public accompanied the state visit with predominantly friendly interest. Splendid staging flatters the vanity of those parts of the Austrian people who passionately regret bygone times. So much for political and social realities!

Media reality, however, looks somewhat different. In good company with other leading German language media, representatives of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation do not content themselves with depicting and reflecting these political and social realities, but engage in politics by promoting their own conception of the world. An analysis of the interview with the President of the Russian Federation with Austrian Broadcasting Corporation delivers insightful clues.

Clue 1: Questions aim at getting the interviewer`s opinion confirmed

As mentioned earlier, German language media is decreasingly committing itself to the diversity of opinions, but increasingly indoctrinating the public with its political and social dogmas. This, at the moment, specifically refers to Russian politics [1] . An analysis of the selection, the content, and the wording of the interviewer´s questions revealed his preconceived opinion on the issues concerned. The interviewer did not ask questions with an intention to collect new information, but merely asked questions to get his own opinion confirmed.

This procedure requires a special kind of questioning technique, including interruption, offence, leading questions, erratic changes of topics, and sometimes even provocation. This questioning technique has been adopted in interview settings in leading German language media, especially in television. What appears to be rude and unprofessional behaviour from a social point of view [2] , is hyped as "impressive journalistic achievement" on the part of the media [3] .

Clue 2: Personalisation and simplification are the basis for indoctrination

An unwritten law of this interview technique is to keep the message simple. The preconceived opinion of the interviewer should not be allowed to falter due to complex and challenging answers on the part of the interviewee. The analysis of the interview with the President of the Russian Federation with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation supports this assumption. The interviewer implicitly proceeded on the assumption that the famous quote of Louis XIV – L´Etat c'est moi – could be projected on his counterpart. The content and wording of the questions made clear that they were not an emanation of a decent knowledge of the Russian political, economic and social reality but an emanation of the only too well-known media conception of a puppet master pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Simplification, on the other hand, not only has a negative effect on fact-based information, but also helps to reinforce dogmas and strengthen the prerogative of interpretation. A comparison of the interview's "full versions", published on the Kremlin's and the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation's websites, sheds light on how editing is used for simplification of messages. The President of the Russian Federation's remarks concerning the role of actors such as Mikheil Saakashvili [4] , for instance, were cut out completely and were not even maintained in the German "long version" [5] . Although the reasons for this might be manifold and justify further analysis, it is a fact that this piece of information was kept away from the audience completely – unless Russian sources of information weren't used.
Clue 3: Permanent repetition of messages is self-enforcing

Being an essential part of classic propaganda techniques, leading German language media also uses permanent repetition in order to reinforce its messages. In the context of the interview concerned, the analysis showed that selection, content and wording of questions as well as the editing of the interviewee's answers served this purpose.

A shortened version of the interview (app. 40 minutes) was broadcast on prime time on the evening before the state visit of the President of the Russian Federation to Vienna [6] . Official numbers indicate that almost 900,000 spectators watched the broadcast.

This version of the interview did not contain all of the President's remarks on the alleged toxic gas attacks in Syria. His comments on Syrians who obviously had confirmed a staging of the attack and the refuse of The Hague to investigate this [7] were completely left out in the prime time version.

An interviewer committing himself to the diversity of opinions would have admitted these remarks. An interview ermaintaining his political and social dogmas will always fend off such comments. If interruption or erratic changes of issues does not work, editing will do.
Clue 4: Biased wording is the advance guard of hostile take-over

Dogmatism and propaganda of leading German language media are also subtly supported by biased wording. This phenomenon is often underestimated or overseen in media analysis, especially when much of the attention is drawn to content questions.

One of a great number of examples with regard to political reporting in leading German language media is the use of the German term "Machthaber" (potentate) instead of using the correct political designation. The term "potentate" originally described the absolute monarch. Today, in German language media, this term has predominantly negative connotations and is generally used for the head of what is assumed to be a totalitarian or abusive regime [8] .

The analysis of the interview showed that leading media are not even reluctant to force their biased wording on the translation of the answers. A comparison of the German translation of the interview and the Russian original [9] showed that the President of the Russian Federation used the Russian term "лидер" as political designation for North Korea's Kim Jong-un, whereas the interviewer used the term "Machthaber" ("potentate"). In the German translation the Russian term "лидер" was translated incorrectly into"Machthaber" ("potentate"). The result of this "take-over" was that the interviewer and the interviewee seemed to agree on the political designation of Kim Jong-un, which in fact was not the case.
Clue 5: Leading German language media support each other to increase their significance

The analysis of the interview does not only include the interview itself, but also the media framing shortly before and after the broadcast.

It was remarkable that much of the leading German language media did not tire of claiming that independent media had very little opportunity to get an interview with the President of the Russian Federation. In some cases, it was also alleged that the Head of State preferred interviews with media that is controlled by the Kremlin. Thus, the interview with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation was hyped as something extraordinary.

The interviewer himself published his impressions and reflections on his personal weblog [10] , thereby providing a source of information that was willingly cited and re-cited by leading German and English language media. The interviewer himself admitted on his blogpost that he was particularly pleased about the praise of the Moscow correspondent from New York Times and the Eastern Europe experts from Financial Times and the Guardian [11] .

Predominantly positive reflections on the interview (and on the interviewer) were published in leading German language media the day after the broadcast, including Die Zeit [12] , Tagesschau [13] , Die Welt [14] Meedia [15] , just to name a few.
Post Scriptum

The interviewer is a representative of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation. Being a state-owned company, the corporation is subject to special legal regulations and state control. According to Austrian media and broadcasting law, the representatives of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation are obliged to ensure objectivity.
Author's remark:

Contrary to the explanation in the analysis, the interviewer did not mention the North Korean Leader himself in his question. Nonetheless, the Russian term "лидер" was translated incorrectly into "Machthaber" ("potentate"), thus imposing German language media's preferred political designation of Kim Jong-un on the President of the Russian Federation's remark.
[1] It can be assumed that the biased attitude of leading German language media towards Russia is a kind of proxy war for prerogative of interpretation. Although highly interesting, this issue would go far beyond the scope of this article and should therefore be investigated at another point in time.

[2] Even though the interview of the President of the Russian Federation is not a diplomatic, but an act of civil society, the average educated Austrian citizen will expect the interviewer to follow certain etiquette and a "bon ton".

[3] Statement of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation's Director General in Die Presse (https://diepresse.com/home/kultur/medien/5441116/Putin-und-Wolf_Bis-zu-898000-sahen-das-Interview)

[4] app. minute 47:00 in the Russian version (http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/57675)

[5] http://tvthek.orf.at/profile/Additional-Content/16...

[6] http://tvthek.orf.at/profile/ZIB-Spezial-Wladimir-...

[7] app. minute 38:00 in the Russian version (http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/57675)

[8] In many leading German language media the President of Syria is not designated „president" but „potentate", for instance.

[9] The Kremlin's website offers both the long version of the interview and a transcript in Russian and English. In Austria, the long and the short version are published on the Austrian Broadcasting Company's website (see above), a transcript was published in Die Presse (https://diepresse.com/home/ausland/aussenpolitik/5440456/PutinInterview-im-Wortlaut_Denken-Sie-dass-ein)as well as on theAustrian Broadcasting Company's website (http://orf.at/stories/2441362/2441367/)

[10] https://www.arminwolf.at/2018/06/03/rendezvous-mit...

[11] https://www.arminwolf.at/2018/06/05/putins-publiku...

[12] https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2018-06/wladim...

[13] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/putin-nordkorea-101.html

[14] https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article1770003...

[15] https://meedia.de/2018/06/05/harter-fragensteller-...