End Russophobia!

Interview with Gabriele Krone-Schmalz

[This interview published on 2/8/2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.nachdenkseiten.de.]

Whoever supports a differentiated picture of Russia is "slaughtered" by the media. The former Russia correspondent of ARD, Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, made that observation. In the interview with NachDenkSeiten, Krone-Schmalz says nearly hysterical conditions appear sometimes in opposing Russia's demonization. In the US, it is sometimes so bad that any contact to Russia is immediately put under a "general suspicion." "The McCarthy era sends its regards," Krone-Schmalz warns. This interview focuses on the assailed relations to Russia, inconsistencies in journalist reporting and possibilities that could lead to improved relations between Germany and Russia.

Ms. Krone-Schmalz, the relations between Russia and the West have not been good for some time. What is wrong here?

Many things are wrong. The prevailing opinion is that only Russia is responsible for this: by supporting the Assad-regime, the intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea or the modernization of its armed forces.

We hear that again and again in the media.

Yes, but the subject is more complicated. This way of looking at things suppresses the western share in the escalation. This is crucial for the question what policy toward Russia should be pursued,

Could you explain that?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian interests were either not taken seriously or pushed aside as illegitimate. In his first term in office, Vladimir Putin ran aground with his attempts at strengthening connections with the West. NATO enforced its policy. Again and Again, Germany acted moderately – much to the annoyance of Washington and its eastern European allies. NATO's eastern expansion was and is a serious strain on relations with Russia. This is also true for the missile defense system in Poland and Rumania which allegedly is only directed against Iran and North Korea. Moscow fears its nuclear second-strike capacity is restricted in the teamwork with other systems. The 2014 coup in Ukraine when politicians came to power in Kiev who were all rabid advocates of a NATO membership of their country made the barrel run over – from a Russian view. The Crimea could not become a NATO territory. Russia created facts since the Russian Black Sea fleet was stationed there on the basis of a treaty signed with Kiev. That would never have happened if Moscow had been taken seriously by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the meantime, we find ourselves in a classical escalation spiral where one feels threatened by the other and takes counter-measures. It is high time for a new détente policy.

How do you see the role of the German media?

A simple good-evil scheme is all too often dominant. The usual insulting of the media does not lead us forward since unproductive confrontation replaces creative discourse. Russia alone is always on the evil side – wherever one looks, in the Ukraine, Syria or sports. Consider how often reports about Russian misdeeds are based on speculations and on unproven reproaches, for example from Baltic government officials as recently with the Russian "Zapad" maneuver. The media researcher Uwe Krueger calls this correctly "suspicion reporting."

Where are the weak points in the reporting?

Moral judgments and double standards are used in all possible areas instead of political analysis. Much too often, making policy and leading citizens on the "right" way replaces describing backgrounds and connections as neutrally as possible and changing perspectives to "understand" all the sides in the sense of understanding motives.

What strikes you as negative?

The pressure of public opinion in which Russia plays a negative role is so strong that politicians and colleagues who support a more differentiated picture of Russia and seek ways out of confrontation and to the high goal of peace do not venture to speak publically for fear of being slaughtered in the media. Everyone who moves outside the mainstream can only be bought. The idea that someone uses his or her own intelligence and comes to a different conclusion on the basis of facts is not allowed. Now and then, a kind of hysteria prevails. This is stronger in the US than in Germany where any contact with Russia is criminalized and put under a general suspicion. The McCarthy era sends its greetings.

Why is quality media that generally have very well-educated journalists handed over to such journalism?

I have long been tormented by this question. There are certainly structural reasons. For example, the technical possibilities in television have dramatically improved. Technically, we can immediately "broadcast" an event. Speed is also a quality in journalism even though at the expense of thoroughness and carefulness. Then the supposed advantage turns into the crass opposite. Journalists cannot only fall back on agency-news for their reports since they have no time for their own research. That would be dishonest abdication.

The death of newspapers is at the expense of diversity. What is generally reported comes from the editorial staff of a few key media relied upon by everyone. Moving in the mainstream is much more comfortable. One need not justify one's existence. This should not be underrated. Everything apart from the mainstream must be justified and resisted. Enlightening things could be learned about the transatlantic networks in the political cabaret "Die Anstalt" (The Establishment) in April 2014. There is nothing comparable about Russia as far as I know.

You are also engaged in training journalists. What advice do you give journalists who notice inconsistencies in reporting but do not publicize the problems out of fear of not being trusted by their own editors?

I try to give self-confidence to students and encourage them to independent thinking. Everyone saying the same thing does not mean it is true. Again and again, there are dramatic examples of this. Think of the lies held out as justification for the Iraq War after the terror attack on September 11. Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction did not exist. I try to communicate ethical principles. Obviously, we journalists sell our "goods" but they are very special goods. Like doctors, journalists need an ethical compass. There are situations where questions must be asked: Must I do something that is prohibited? The use of a hidden camera and whistleblower themes are examples. I must always know that I am responsible. I have to think through the consequences of my journalist activity to the end and not be kept away from my work by possibly dramatic consequences. There are no directions for use. Every case is different and often anything but obvious. We must gather information from all sides and think for ourselves. I always tell students, distrust anyone who only argues morally. Morality is important but cannot replace political analysis.

In the summer, the soccer championship will be held in Russia. What will the reporting look like?

I fear the worse. Please open my eyes. Maybe the reporters will learn from the trainer Joachim Low. In an interview with ZEIT during last year's cup, he said he wanted to bring his team to international understand ding: "We want to talk to the people in Russia, show interest in them and be open."

Propaganda was emphasized at the conference in Kassel on "War and Peace in the Media" in which you participated. Do you see propagandist elements in the reporting of the German media on Russia?

I passionately support Uwe Krueger's demand: we need many chairs for propaganda analysis. Propaganda affects persons in Moscow, Washington and in the capital cities of the European Union. The greatest problem is the unconscious propaganda, the horizontal propaganda, as Uwe Krueger says, "this automatism through successfully socialized members of society."

How can the relations between Germany and Russia be improved?

What sounds like empty words or meaningless phrases be filled with life, trust-building measures. A majority must prevail in a democracy. The majority of Germans want good relations with Russia. It is time to let decision-makers in politics and the media know this.

What can be done?

Everyone should encourage contacts and exchange in his or her environment. This is like a kind of inoculation against narrow-mindedness, stereotypes, and established scapegoats.