We all know that you were only invited to provoke, “said CDU / CSU parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus last week to Internet expert Sascha Lobo on Markus Lanz’s talk show. The man with the steadfast mohawk who was previously verbose Had criticized the pandemic strategy of the German federal government, just sighed. Moderator Markus Lanz admittedly stepped in: “I can’t leave it like this, our invitation policy is not like that!”, He defended himself. And some viewers may have thought: “Yeah, unfortunately.”
Well, that’s polemical, of course. Because the times in which the talk shows resembled each other week after week, station after station in their dull cast by party representatives with more or less NLP experience, are now over for a while. So, to be precise, about a year. Because then the rule of the virus began over the discussion panels. The chairs moved apart, the video connections multiplied, and shortly before “Markus Lanz” began, you could bet on a cold quarantine drink as to who would be the “virologist of the day” today.
Fall of Man and Potato
That was a godsend for the genre. In Germany in particular, these TV formats have repeatedly been the plaything of heated discourses in recent years – more heated than in some of the debates on the air. Not only because, because of all the “let me finish” nagging, you no longer knew what was actually going to be discussed. While in the 1990s people were still concentrating on the fact that the party soldiers’ roundtables had exhausted themselves, people later mocked the overgrowth in the TV program – it felt like there was at least one political talk show per station every day. You can’t even come up with so many varied topics. That is why they focused on a single issue: the refugee crisis and immigration policy. If you believe the critics, this was the fall of man for this TV format, at least in Germany.
In 2019, four shows received the negative award “The golden potato” for “unsuccessful reporting on the immigration society”. The ARD talk shows “hard but fair” with Frank Plasberg, “Maischberger” and “Anne Will” as well as the ZDF show “Maybrit Illner” – all on public broadcasters – were criticized with the “award” for having problems To exaggerate “sensational, clichéd and discriminatory” and to help solidify prejudices. The invitation policy received a devastating verdict from the “Kartoffel” initiators: “Public broadcasting should be aimed at all citizens. But if the talk shows of our ARD and ZDF keep giving right-wing extremists and racists airtime, then only rarely invite serious representatives of ethnic and religious minorities, then they will not do justice to their mandate. “
This assessment was aimed at a reproach that was often tried: The German talk shows had made the AfD great. Because they – in order to have a crisp counter-opinion on the couch – would have invited representatives of the party again and again. And only then would have created attention through the media over-presence. Or rather, the editorial staff would not have noticed – or found nothing – that the AfD politicians exploited them for broad impact.
That worked because talk shows and populists share a similar strategy. At least Oliver Weber writes in his pamphlet book “Hate Talkshows.” He diagnosed two years ago, still without a global state of emergency: “Talk shows are constant media crisis summits that have long since run out of steam as a contribution to the culture of discourse in democracy.” He also complained that the discussion had become “petrified”: you already knew who was going to represent which opinion.
Opinion, that is the key point: After the war, the Allies in Germany and Austria used and introduced discussion formats in order to establish the debate as a democratic value. So, after years of dictatorship, to learn again that one can or must listen to other opinions and that one can also have a different opinion. This is interesting because the British, for example, have a completely different form of TV debate – the large round table is not very popular there. These Anglo-Saxon traditions are also followed in the USA.
In Austria one is already closer to the German development of the format. The ORF invites weekly “Ins Zentrum”, where you don’t act much differently than with “Anne Will”, and that is not due to the same slot after the “Tatort”. On Puls4, people often want – and not infrequently with success – to be the better public broadcaster, and that is also evident in the talk shows. ServusTV is going a completely different way – at least since the pandemic. There you make a sport out of seeing particularly absurd opinions represented. Crazy virologists who no other broadcaster would invite, for example, are still regulars there. And a year after the first lockdown, discussants are still arguing whether masks might not help anything anyway.
In a democracy, talk show formats are an important vehicle for the opinion of the audience. In times when there is often no longer any distinction made between (scientific) facts and opinion, this responsibility becomes particularly explosive. And the experience with the debate about the AfD has had an impact on the invitation policy, at least in Germany. But there remains a fine line – suppressing opinions is no way.
The most legendary version of the format in Austria, incidentally, has less to do with the Allies than with a progressive view of television: “Club 2” is considered an unrivaled discussion freestyling, in which even alcohol consumption in cigarette smoke was quite normal. Even if “Club 2” is often mystified today, one has the impression that the argument was still without a strategy. You are also subject to a few formal constraints when you are invited to Wolfgang Fellner’s panel discussion. And yet the differences couldn’t be greater. It is no coincidence that these talks are called like a boxing match, “Andreas Mölzer vs. Robert Misik” for example. You can ask the other person with impunity: “San Se no gonz tight?”, And while Lanz would need a little paper bag to breathe, Fellner only says: “So guys” – and rolls over with joy that this is exactly what is happening what the plan was: an “entertaining,” quotient conflict.
Always stay tough
The fact that something like this can help anyone in forming an opinion should be confidently written off. Especially since such pairings only perpetuate what one observes far too often in society: the inability to open up to other opinions. A development that cannot be blamed on talk shows, but on social media.
That would probably be the most important task of talk shows today: to show the audience that discussing does not have to mean that everyone sticks to their own opinion; but that sometimes you can also meet in the middle, you can be convinced. And: Thank you for letting me finish.