The Initiative News Enlightenment in Germany: Uses Censored Yearbooks as Model for Assessment of Major Neglected News

by Project Censored
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The Initiative News Enlightenment is a non-governmental organization that informs the German-speaking public on topics and news that are neglected by the German mass media, but which are, nonetheless, particularly important for democratic opinion formation.

Even highly important issues are often neglected due to a variety of factors, including, for example: journalistic self-censorship; the danger of legal battles against financially superior opponents; the time needed to inquire into long-term important issues; and work intensification and faster production cycles in many newsrooms. By contrast, the budgets of lobbyists and interest-led public relations firms increase far beyond those of journalism. In addition, certain social classes and milieus are over-represented among journalists and media company owners or shareholders (and others, of course, are under-represented), which affects how they perceive news relevance for the public.

New information and communication technologies transform journalism. Algorithms for the acquisition, archiving, analysis and narration of predictable patterns in large data sets re-prioritize journalistic perceptions; those topics, which cannot be calculated are deleted from easily available data sets. Computer programmers usually model social relationships without any professional knowledge of journalistic or civil practice.

Short-term horizons dominate in many areas. Many stock exchange companies focus on the next shareholders’ meeting, on production and marketing cycles of a few years. Politicians usually act within the framework of election periods. These short-term horizons threaten sustainable economic, ecological, or cultural responsibilities.

Peter Ludes founded the German Initiative News Enlightenment at the University of Siegen in 1997. Our criteria for the specification of neglected news have been based on the Project Censored model. Particular conditions of the media and publics in Germany are, however, taken into account.

In Germany, we cooperated for several years with the most important network of investigative journalists, Netzwerk Recherche. Several of its members, including Hans Leyendecker, Christoph Maria Froehder, and Thomas Leif, were our jury members for years. Recent jury members like the widely respected investigative journalist and book author Guenter Wallraff or Petra Sorge from the news magazine Cicero enhance our Initiative, which in 2014 has been registered as the non-profit association Initiative Nachrichtenaufklaerung.  (The Initiative’s chairman is Professor Hektor Haarkoetter, and its board members include C. Solmecke, J.-U. Nieland, M. Welker, and M. Heck.)

Since 2015, our initiative has been cooperating with the major German public service radio station Deutschlandradio. It is now situated at the University of Media, Communication and Economics (HMKW) in Cologne, which annually organizes the Cologne “Forum for a Critique of Journalism.”  The Initiative also awards the €6,000 Guenter-Wallraff Prize. Donors are the jury member Wallraff, the television station RTL, and the Cologne media law firm Wilde, Beuger, and Solmecke. The first winners in 2015 were Sebastian Pertsch and Udo Stiehl for their project “Cloud of Flowery Phrases.”

We use Censored yearbooks as a model for our assessment of the major neglected news in our research seminars and jury meetings. We also benefit from critical media observers in Germany, other European societies and the United States, check proposals submitted via our website, in research seminars, by former or current members, as well as particularly relevant topics from Project Censored.  Our seminars at several German universities generate comprehensive reports on these proposals:

* The more people are affected, the more important a proposal is, taking into account the extent, duration and intensity of direct and indirect social (dis-)advantages.
* Although we focus on the previous year, we select only topics relevant for a longer period of time.
* Checking various databases, our research seminars and jury determine whether a proposed topic has been covered adequately in national, publicly accessible, widespread mass and network media.
* We inquire how such topics are related to other neglected subjects.
* We try to promote critical investigative journalism and corresponding NGOs.
* Thus we want to support the Global Critical Media Literacy Project.
Since January 1998, we have published our selection of the most neglected news or topics. Over the past years, our Number 1 stories have included:

1997: The Democracy of 3.8 percent of party members
1998: Digital telephones as a means of surveillance
1999: The role of NATO in Kosovo: On the edge of World War III?
2000: The HAARP project: New military technology from the United States
2001: Monopolizing the drinking water supply
2002: Forgotten Wars
2003: Corruption: German companies abroad
2004: From Germany deported – and then?
2005: The UN Battle against corruption – no support from Germany
2006: Missing therapy places for addicts of medical drugs
2007: Illegal agreements between German mobile phone companies
2008: Too many criminals in psychiatric custody
2009: Emergency in hospitals: the nursing staff is left alone
2010: No publication (due to shift of time frame)
2011: Gigantic rescue sums for banks without any effective parliamentary control
2012: No pension for working prisoners
2013: Judges can distribute the income from financial punishments without external control
2014: No publication (due to shift of time frame)
2015: Mass media sell Internet links for advertisers and erode their own credibility
2016: Non-Transparent financing of nuclear weapons

From 1997 to 2002 our Initiative was organized at the University of Siegen (by Prof. Ludes), from 2002 to 2014 at the University of Dortmund (by Prof. Horst Poettker and Dr. Tobias Eberwein), since 2014 at the University of Media, Communication and Economy in Cologne (by Prof. Hektor Haarkoetter). Student seminars were organized inter alia by Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti, Joerg-Uwe Nieland, Rita Vock, Miriam Bunjes, Edith Dietrich, and Ulrike Spree.We thank them and all the jury members, especially the founding members Imme de Haen, Ingrid Kolb, Hermann Meyn, Georg Schuette as well as many active students, e.g., Judith Merkelt and Lina Lindner.

Peter Ludes, Jacobs University Bremen,
Petra Sorge, Cicero News Magazine, and Rita Vock, German Radio
Initiative News Enlightenment
HMKW (School of Media, Communication and Economy)
Hoeninger Weg 139
50969 Cologne