Public communication systems and democracy



Where quality public broadcasters exist, authoritarian populism and totalitarianism are less likely

Since the weekend, protests have erupted in dozens of cities across Germany. On the streets of Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Dresden, Cologne and other urban centers, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched together. The objective was one: to repudiate the far right's plans to expel millions of immigrants from the country, even those who already have citizenship.

The xenophobia conspiracy was kept secret, but was revealed by an investigative report from Correctiv, an independent, non-partisan and non-profit journalistic website. Soon after the news was released, the marches came. They were the first reaction, in due time and in good volume, and were well received by international public opinion.

But, as we know, marches will not be enough to stop the intolerance and hatred that are spreading in Europe. Last year, right-wing extremists gained higher positions in Sweden and the Netherlands. Now, disturbingly, this new fact emerges in Germany. What else is coming? Are we on the verge of a Revival of the dystopia of death, in the land that is the cradle and tomb of Nazism?

No, marches are not enough and all concerns are valid. As reported by the State, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has members directly involved in xenophobia plans, co-opts more supporters every day. Founded in 2013 with a speech in opposition to the European Union, the AfD soon established itself as a reference for reactionary ideas, enchanting closeted Hitler nostalgics. In the 2021 federal elections, he obtained 10,3% of the votes. Shortly afterwards, in 2023, it emerged in the polls with 23% of the electorate's preferences. The situation raises alarm bells, especially when one takes into account that the flags against foreigners and the European Union are just the tip of the iceberg. The greater evil runs underneath, and it is running rampant.

And now? Will the democratic field, based on the culture of human rights, be able to resist? With all the usual precautions, we have reason to believe so. In the German case, unlike what was seen in Argentina and what is beginning to emerge in the United States, confidence in democratic forces is justified. The reasons are at least three.

Firstly, the German State knew how to institutionalize in an efficient – ​​and legally effective – way the protection of freedoms and human dignity, prohibiting openly Nazi propaganda. This fence is not at all limiting, as it may seem to the unwary. Rather, it is the opposite: the veto of the cult of Nazism – which has been historically (and traumatically) proven to be the antithesis of freedom – does not diminish, but expands diversity and plurality in public debate.

Secondly, the rule to combat disinformation through digital media has given good results in Germany. The legislation limits and inhibits the spread of outright lies that, in other countries, have been the main weapon of neo-fascism and neo-Nazism. At least in Germany, information fraud is less common.

Finally, there is the third reason, which has hardly been commented on. German democracy has one of the best public communication systems in the world. In Brazil, we know Deutch Welle more, but this is just the international face of an intelligent and original model, which has established itself as a factor in sustaining the quality of discussions and collective decisions of public interest in that country. German viewers and listeners, in fact, do not follow Deutch Welle, which is made for the foreign market – what they follow internally are two other large public broadcasting networks: ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), which takes care of programming and national television news, and ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), dedicated to regional content.

The two organizations make up a complex whose budget is around ten billion euros per year. Both are successful. ZDF and ARD news programs are among the most watched and most respected in the country, with indisputable credibility. Like other public communication institutions in the world, such as the BBC, in the United Kingdom, ZDF and ARD are not government-run. Neither of them is commanded or guided by State authorities. Instead, both observe the canons of editorial independence, which makes them reliable and valued vehicles in the eyes, ears and free judgment of citizens.

Conclusion: German society has more antidotes against fanaticism, as it has more access to disinterested information (which does not want to exploit anyone's will) and, consequently, has more access to critical knowledge. Democracy depends on the existence of an educated, cultured and questioning population, just as totalitarian preaching depends on ignorant, angry and obedient masses. Where quality public broadcasters exist, authoritarian populism and totalitarianism are less likely.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic). []

Originally published in the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo.

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