The Greek debt crisis in German news

A comparative analysis of recent criticism

Term Paper, 2015

24 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of content


Theoretical and empirical background
The normative role of media and journalism in reporting news
The concept of framing

Literature review: media coverage of crises in criticism









The German media has recently been strongly criticized for its coverage of the sovereign debt crisis in Greece. Critics say that journalists tend to represent Greece, its politicians and the people, in a very negative way. Against the background of the quality news media’s normative role in information coverage and the framing concept, this paper examines how the German news media covered the sovereign debt crisis in Greece recently, and if the current criticism is justified. To examine this, I gather data from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung to look at how the Greek debt crisis and the latest events were covered in the time period of 29 June to 19 July 2015. The articles are examined by textual analysis. The findings are contrasted with the theoretical and empirical background and the literature review.


Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, the news coverage has intensively been investigated and the press has earned a lot of criticism for its performance. Now, seven years later especially the German media has been strongly criticized for reporting the sovereign debt crisis in Greece.

Philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote an article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung in which he dealt with Angela Merkel’s Greece policy but also criticized the German journalism. He said that there is an “attending journalism” where journalists are going arm in arm with the political elite to care for the “customer’s” well-being. Habermas also criticized that journalism lulls the public to sleep rather than informing the people (Sü, 2015).

The research question is: How is the sovereign debt crisis in Greece covered and framed by the media in Germany recently?

The time period of June and July 2015 can be seen as a climax in the crisis history so far. The expiry of the second aid program, the bailout referendum, the Euro summit in Brussels and the intensely discussed “Grexit” attracted a lot of attention in the media.

The purpose of this study is to examine whether the current criticism of the media is justified, and if there are differences or similarities in how crises have been framed by the media in former times and in other countries. Germany in particular is very central in this crisis, firstly, because there is a lot of money at stake: in the case of Greek bankruptcy the potential losses for Germany would be the highest compared to other European countries (Statista, 2015). And second, chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble attract a high level of attention for their role in the crisis. The examined articles stem from the highest-circulation quality newspaper in Germany, the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The next chapter deals with the theoretical and empirical background of the examination. It focuses on the normative role of the media and the concept of framing. This is followed by a literature review of what we know so far of the media coverage of economic and financial crises in general and of the Greek crisis in particular. The following chapter presents the methodology used in the study. Subsequently, the findings of the investigation are presented and analyzed. The essay concludes after a critique.

Theoretical and empirical background

The normative role of media and journalism in reporting news

Closely connected to the investigation of crisis reporting is the question of what constitutes quality news and journalism. If a study aims at evaluating or justifying criticism of media coverage, it is essential to look at the normative role of media and journalism in the context of the respective media system and political system.

Knowles, Phillips & Lidberg (2015) suggest that the normative journalistic paradigm in liberal and democratic countries attaches “social and democratic value to journalism” (p. 2) and argues “for fair and balanced reportage as a counterbalance to abuses of power” (ibid.).

Christians, Glasser, McQuail, Nordenstreng &White (2009) list some basic tasks of journalism in a democracy: “observing and informing” (p. 116), “participating in public life as an independent actor by way of critical comment, advice, advocacy and expression of opinion” (ibid.) and “providing a channel, forum, or platform for extramedia voices or sources to reach a self-chosen public” (ibid.). They go on to define more clearly the roles of the journalists encompassing to control the social environment, to form opinions and set the public agenda. They should act as informant and as a “watchdog”. (p. 119).

The journalist’s role as “watchdogs” is a very important one in democratic societies and emphasized in almost every literature that deals with journalistic role descriptions. The idea is that the media serves “as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing” (Schiffrin, 2015, p. 641) for instance by identifying abuses and providing critique. Yet, it seems like the opposite is the case: studies found that financial journalists don’t even identify with the watchdog role. Their role perceptions are more likely impressions of conduits of information, forwarding news from the financial industry to the public (Tambini, 2010; Usher, 2013).

Another important point to which journalists should adhere to is that any form of bias should be avoided. That means that no point of view or interest group should be overrepresented in the news (Christians et al., 2009, p. 119). Of course the criteria listed above is only a selection of some most mentioned normative standards in the literature for the media regarding its role in the democratic process.

The concept of framing

Framing is a communicative process that includes production, content, and media use perspectives (De Vreese, 2005, p. 51). De Vreese distinguishes between the emergence of frames, namely frame-building and frame-setting which describes how the frames operate in public opinion formation (ibid., pp. 51-52). Factors influencing the news frames-building arise from the newsroom conditions and can reflect the outcome of the production process. As independent variables, the media frames may be seen as source of audience interpretations (ibid., p. 52). Studies of framing concentrate mostly on the analysis of media content and the relationship between media and the public opinion or framing effects (ibid., p. 51).

Framing means that some aspects of reality are selected and highlighted in a text while others are omitted. A particular problem definition is being promoted by the way aspects of the text are highlighted and made more salient than others. Information gets more remarkable and meaningful for instance by placement and by repeating the word or information (Entman, 1993, p. 53). Whether and how people notice and understand a problem can be influenced by a frame that diagnoses causes and causation of the problem and interprets them. Frames evaluate by making moral judgements and suggest treatment recommendation for the problem (ibid., p. 52).

The main statement of framing is that the media may influence the public opinion by framing events and issues in a particular way. Depending on specific frames and selected or omitted facts and interpretations, the audience develops different opinions towards issues. Media coverage can affect public perceptions by making some policies seem appropriate and others seem inappropriate (Autesserre, 2009, p. 254).

Since salience depends on the receivers existing schemata and stereotypes, it has to be noted that text frames, detected by researchers, don’t necessarily influence the receivers thinking - and if it does, it cannot be said, that it’s a universal effect on all (Entman, 1993, p. 53). Nevertheless, some studies of framing of economic events argue that the business press is even able to change economic outcomes when they frame an issue in a specific way (Casarin & Squazzoni, 2013; Huxford, 2012). That is for instance share prices responding to media coverage (Casarin & Squazzoni, 2013, p. 8).

Literature review: media coverage of crises in criticism

A variety of previous studies examined the media coverage of economic and financial crises. Much of the scholarship deals with evaluating whether the media fulfilled its role as watchdogs and how issues have been framed. Especially the business and financial press has been criticized a lot for their reporting.

Knowles et al. (2015) examined financial reporting trends over three decades in three countries (namely the US, the UK and Australia) to verify increased criticism of the financial media. They conclude that there are declining financial journalism standards since the 1980s. This can be seen for instance in decreasing levels of forewarning and numbers of articles covering the pertinent issues (ibid., p. 8). Also, the variety of information sources is shown to be reducible to a small number focusing on elite sources (ibid.). These findings confirmed their theoretical assumption that financial journalist’s reportage is too uncritical and too pro-business (ibid., p. 2).

In line with these findings, Schiffrin (2015) notes that journalists failed to fulfill their role as “watchdogs”. As shown in the previous section the watchdog function is very essential when talking of the media’s normative role. Schiffrin (2015) states that in the reporting of the 2008 crisis the media inadequately fulfilled its tasks as providers of reasonable coverage of the events surrounding the financial and economic crisis (p. 650).

Some studies confirmed the fact that quotations from government and business sources are overrepresented in the media (Berry, 2012; Kollmeyer 2004) and that narrow sourcing leads to framing (Schiffrin, 2015, pp. 646-647).

Schifferes (2012) points out that according to the survey in the UK during the euro-crisis in 2011 half the people felt not being well informed by the media (p. 57). The news media’s use of economic jargon and their focus on markets move rather than on the possible impact of the crisis on the general public contributes to the negative image the news media has in the coverage. The main findings of this survey are that there is a deep level of mistrust in the objectivity of business journalists. This paints an unfavorable picture of journalism that seems neither fair nor balanced, that does not report independently and that is forced by media corporations to act unethically (p. 58).

Researches in the US even showed a correlation between the increase of coverage of the economy and people’s worries: the anxiety and worries about the economic situation of their country intensified with increased media coverage (Pew Research Center, 2008, p. 12).

Huxford (2012) noted that journalists use narrative frames and tell stories concerning economic events. Since complex economic events present challenges for journalists, they use strategies like storytelling to give more meaning to the issues and to make them more readily accessible for the audience. In doing so they use rhetorical devices and metaphors (p. 350).

A journalist from the British “Telegraph” says German media tends to present and emphasize political German interests above others without reflecting them, and that there is “a complicity between politics and the media” (, 2015b). Another point of criticism is the focus on details and personal stories that veil the economic problems behind “soap opera” coverage (ibid.).

The Greek crisis

The German media has been criticized for the Greek crisis coverage in the past as well. In particular the tabloid media is said to have produced very negative opinions and stereotypical images about the “lazy”, “corrupt” and “untrustworthy” Greeks from the outset of the crisis in 2009 (Kaitatzi-Whitlock, 2014, pp. 33-34).

Georg Diez, journalist at Spiegel Online noted that there is almost no difference in coverage between all news media in Germany - be it BILD Zeitung, ZEIT, ARD - from tabloid to quality news, from print to broadcast media (, 2015a).

Not only the German media has been criticized for covering the crisis. There was some criticism in other countries as well. Using framing research, Tracy (2012) examined US news media in respect to the representation of the Greek crisis. He found that the media blamed the Greek nation and its people for the crisis by accusing them of being irresponsible and incorrigible. The media also was very moralistic in tone (p. 522). In his investigation he identified three dominant frames in the coverage, namely: “Greek Contagion”, “Incorrigible Greeks” and “Austerity” (p. 517).

A recent population survey in Germany from Infratest dimap[1] in the time period of the 2 to

10 July 2015 shows that those people who dealt intensively with the subject of the Greek

In sum: The literature suggests that news reportage needs to be critical, to provide balanced and independent information, to use a diverse range of sources, to avoid economic jargon and report in the public interest that takes into account what affects the people personally. As the previous sections showed, criticism towards the normative role of journalism is present in many countries. The literature provides evidence that there is a trend in news reporting that affects quality (financial and economic) news standards.

Against this background, the study focuses on the features of the news content and how it might be framed. The examination aims at assessing whether the selected news fits within the normative paradigm, and to what extend the normative standards and quality values might have been affected during the coverage of the crisis.


This study used a constructed week sampling method. This sample has been found to be more efficient and to produce more reliable results than simple random sampling (Hester & Dougall, 2007, p. 811; Song & Chang, 2012, p. 365; Riffe, Aust & Lacy, 1993, p. 138).

To ensure that “each source of cyclic variation - each day of the week - is represented equally” (Hester & Dougall, 2007, p. 812) the sample consists of the Monday of the first week, the Tuesday of the second week, etc., starting in week one again - as shown in table

1. The constructed week includes no Sunday because there is no publishing on Sundays.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Overview of constructed week days

News from the print edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung was analyzed qualitatively to identify patterns of reporting. Using Factiva, a total of 147 articles were collected for the time period of the 29 June - 19 July 2015. The key words used were: Griechenland-Krise or “Griechenland and Krise”.


[1] Infratest dimap is an institute specialized in political opinion and electoral research referendum were more skeptical, tended more than others to support the “Grexit” and were more critical towards Europe (, 2015c).

Excerpt out of 24 pages


The Greek debt crisis in German news
A comparative analysis of recent criticism
University of Aarhus
Political communication
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1577 KB
Nach dem dänischen Notensystem: 10 ECTS scale: B
Greek debt crisis, Griechenlandkrise, Berichterstattung, media news coverage, German news, Greece, communication, Kommunikation, Tsipras, Varoufakis, Merkel, Schäuble
Quote paper
Alexandra Pfleiderer (Author), 2015, The Greek debt crisis in German news, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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