Public Evening (in German): The Truth Industry or the Power of the Media

Wednesday, 23. October 2002 | 20:00 Uhr



The Truth Industry or the Power of the Media

About 120 people took part in the conference at Engelberg. As Canton President Hans Hofer pointed out in his welcoming address “especially the small cantons like Obwalden often have to fight for the attention of the media“. He took advantage of the occasion and presented Obwalden as an innovative canton in the field of tension between tradition and modernism.

With ten provocative theories, Roger Köppel, Editor-in-Chief of the weekly Weltwoche, sparked an intensive discussion at Academia Engelberg’s public evening event.

In particular, the point of contention as to what power media professionals wield led to heated discussions. Some 120 participants attended the event in Engelberg.

In his opening speech, Landammann (Chief Magistrate) Hans Hofer, gave rise to the fact “that particularly a small canton like Obwalden often has to struggle with the media’s perception.”

The Open Evening of the Academia Engelberg saw some lively debate kindled by ten thought-provoking ideas put forward by Roger Köppel, Editor-in-Chief of the Weltwoche. One issue in particular – the power of the media – led to heated discussions.

10 provocative theses

Roger Köppel introduced his presentation with personal recollections from the 80s, when he worked on the magazine supplement of the TagesAnzeiger. What he found particularly impressively was the strength of the group dynamics which can develop on a given issue within the editorial team – the issue at the time focused on the critical debate surrounding the policy of the major banks regarding South Africa. This development of group dynamics, he said, can lead to prejudiced opinions which then influence the entire development process of an article. In his ten theses, Roger Köppel spoke of the moral trap into which journalists are prone to fall. As an example he mentioned the prejudices which surface on the issues of gene technology or Martin Ebner. In his opinion, journalists very often underestimate their public, which leads to moralizing articles. But the public, he contended, has very much its own opinion, and this puts the power of the media into perspective. As an example he pointed to the issue of joining the EU, which – although the media reports on the subject were consistently positive – was rejected by the people in a referendum. In conclusion, he called on the media not to treated their readers as if they were stupid, because the readers will very soon notice when they are being taken for a ride.

Media and personality cults

Klaus Hug, President of the Board of Trustees of Academia Engelberg and facilitator of the session with Prof. Dr. Heinz Gutscher, Head of Social Psychology I, University of Zürich, Canton President Hans Hofer, Prof. Dr. Klaus Ammann Director of the Botanical Garden in Bern and Roger Köppel, raised a number of other issues. For example, how far one should continue to focus on personalities. Today we speak of Leuenberger’s Department. It was suggested that maybe this focus on personalities had something to do with the sensation mongering of the media with their hunger for ratings and high circulation figures, but Roger Köppel voiced the opinion in his theses that “market did no harm to the media and that readers appreciate quality when they see it”. From the floor, Rolf Probala, former journalist and today media spokesman for the Swiss Federal College of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, suggested that personalities can also exert a positive influence on opinion forming. And as an example of this he cited Franz Steinegger, who – by virtue of his reputation made Expo.02 into a success with the public despite the prophecies of doom from the media.

Engaged discussion with the public

Media representatives from the floor, such as Philipp Löpfe, editor-in-chief of the TagesAnzeiger or Robert Ruoff from SF DRS, vehemently opposed Roger Köppel on a number of points and defended critical investigative journalism. Readers, they said, wanted a discriminating debate on issues, and this includes taking a closer look at people like, for example, Martin Ebner. Developments, they said, had shown that it had not been wrong to do so. However, Canton President Hans Hofer would like to see a clearer distinction made between fact and opinion, which would make it significantly easier to perceive an issue. A scientist raised the questions of what scientists should do to ensure that their issues were given a better treatment in die media. The answer came from Klaus Ammann, who called on them not only to supply facts, but also to convey their effects and ethical aspects. The discussion was closed late in the evening with an invitation to everyone in the auditorium to use the nightcap that followed for further animated discussions.


Welcome Address:
Hans Hofer, Landammann des Kantons Obwalden




Roger Köppel
Heinz Gutscher
Hans Hofer
Klaus Ammann

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