Monday, November 9, 2009

German Media And The Global Financial Crisis: Business As Usual

Eike Christian Meuter

The global financial crisis has shown that the world is much more connected than we had believed so far. The world’s economies are tied together closer than most of us could imagine.

It is no wonder that Germany with its export-oriented economy was hit hard by the crisis and its worldwide effects. Economic growth was at -3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and the country officially entered into a recession. 1Though there are signs of recovery the financial crisis and its effects still dominate much of the country’s business activities 2.

The crisis and its reception in Germany have three major strands. The US subprime crisis that first came to the attention of the wider public through the near-collapse of IKB Bank, a lender specializing in small and medium-sized enterprises, in summer 2007. This was followed by a phase in which major financial institutions were affected – both globally and in Germany. The most notable developments in Germany were the near-collapse of DAX 30 listed Hypo Real Estate and the German government acquiring twenty five percent of Commerzbank to secure the take over of smaller rival Dresdner Bank. During this phase it became apparent that the financial crisis had spread to other sectors such the automotive, airline and the mechanical engineering industries. This can be seen as the third strand. With a focus on the time between January and May 2009 we looked at whether the business media in Germany also saw the financial crisis as the dominating theme in their reporting and how they framed the issue. The focus of the analysis was the country’s two business dailies Handelsblatt and Financial Times Deutschland as well as Wirtschaftswoche, the country’s most reputed weekly business magazine. First of all, it is interesting to see a trend that the number of articles referring to the crisis is slowly becoming smaller. The German government’s second bail-out plan ‘Konjunkturpaket II’ received significant media attention in January 2009, but interest declined afterwards. It seems that in the business press fewer authors are turning their attention to the crisis.

So coverage on the issues has become less frequent. But what is the theme of the articles that do refer to the crisis? Whether it is the merger between automotive suppliers Continental and Schaeffler, the crisis of department store company Arcandor or LyondellBasell’s US operations filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy: The financial crisis is referred to as the starting point of many of the companies’ problems and the media’s political communication frame is that is the underlying cause for many of the current developments in business. The coverage related to the crisis rarely shows any signs of emotional language – with a few exceptions. The suicide of well-known businessman Adolf Merkle in January 2009 whose Merckle group of companies severely suffered from the effects of the crisis has given a human face to the effects of the crisis. But again the crisis simply is there – few words are written or broadcast about the background of the developments. The media, however, did not entirely refrain from occasionally publishing opinion pieces or analyses of the crisis. For instance, Wolfgang Streeck, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies explained in a Handelsblatt article how the crisis will in fact make governments weaker in future despite widespread intervention.3 But most journalists see the crisis as given and do not put much detail into describing what lies behind this development on a macroeconomic level. If we look at the different phases of the crisis we have been going through, this doesn’t come as a surprise. There was much need to explain the origins of the financial crisis – who could have imagined that the collapse of certain insurance markets in the US would subsequently drive bankrupt long-established German firms. But what are the effects of the media frame for the financial crisis? No one would question that the most critical phases of the crisis are slowly coming to and end, also in Germany. But should we pay less attention to the crisis that has been described as the most severe since 1931?

For the Anglo-American world, scientists such as Shanto Iyengar and Donald Kinder have shown that there are significant effects of framing and agenda-setting by media on what people think and believe regarding certain economic issues.4 In Germany, empirical research also proved that what people think about the economic climate is coined by the media and its frame of reporting.5 Could this be the case for coverage on the global financial crisis as well?

While articles about the crisis become less frequent, the business climate is also improving. Research by the German Association of Chambers of Commerce among 20,000 businesses has found that while at the beginning of 2009 the business situations of most companies were better than their expectations, this is beginning to change.6 The economic situation in Germany will and is undoubtedly getting better and the crisis is less apparent. There is a need for more and long-term research into how political communication framing of the crisis by media has influenced the attitudes of business and the public during the different phases of the financial crisis in Germany. But if we assume that the framing effects come into play here as well, the declining importance media places on the topic seems to have an effect on how businesses perceive the current economic climate. It is now business as usual for the press and business as usual for the public as well.


Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag Konjunkturelle Entwicklung in Deutschland. Frühommer 2009. Available:
(Accessed 6 September 2009)

Hagen, Lutz M. (2005), Konjunkturnachrichten, Konjunkturklima und Konjunktur, Cologne, Hubert van Halem.

Iyengar, Shanto and Donald R. Kinder (1987), News that Matters. Television and American Opinion, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Statistisches Bundesamt, Volkswirtschaftliche Gesamtrechnungen. Available:

Streeck, Wolfgang, (2009), Eine Last für Generationen, Handelsblatt, 10 March, p. 9

Eike Christian Meuter is a political communicator living in Frankfurt.

1Statistisches Bundesamt, Volkswirtschaftliche Gesamtrechnungen.
2Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag, Konjunkturelle Entwicklung in Deutschland. Frühommer 2009.
3Streeck, Wolfgang, (2009), „Eine Last für Generationen“, Handelsblatt, 10 March, p. 9
4Iyengar, Shanto and Donald R. Kinder (1987), News that Matters. Television and American Opinion.
5Hagen, Lutz M. (2005), Konjunkturnachrichten, Konjunkturklima und Konjunktur.
6Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag, Konjunkturelle Entwicklung in Deutschland. Frühommer 2009.

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