Reporting evil - How to deal with right-wing extremism in mass media

We all know how a neo-Nazi looks like. He is hairless, has a lot of tattoos, wears Bomber jackets and Combat Boots and he always has a look on his face which is both scary and dumb. But is this really true? Do we actually know any neo-Nazis? Most of us don’t. There are two explanations for this lack of personal contact to extremists looking like the neo-Nazi-stereotype: First, radicals usually like to stay among themselves and second, only few of them are “classical” Skinheads.

The German neo-Nazi scene is a wide network of various ideological currents and groups. One of those is the Skinhead-subculture, but it only represents a small fraction of the right-wing extremist scene. Among others, there are autonomous nationalists looking like Punks, members of the “völkisch movement” dressing like Germans during the Third Empire or fellows of several companionships not looking different from you and me at all (netz-gegen-nazis.de).

So how come we think that all neo-Nazis look like Edward Norton in American History X?

Well, this question already incorporates its answer. Mass media spread a wrong and antiquated image of the right-wing scene, which leads not only to a lack of proper information about this political subculture, but also to an avoidable advantage for recruiting extremists. The less young people know about the scene, the easier it is to implement the right-wing ideology (bpb.de). Furthermore, right-wing extremist are usually content with the image that mass media create about neo-Nazism. Most of the groups want to be seen as a radical political alternative to the existing system, some as the evil par excellence - cruel, violent, and ready for anything. They anticipate the media logic to keep this image alive and commit violent crimes following the goal to appear in the media (Neumann, 2014).

As you can see, right-wing extremists use journalists as tools to spread their ideology, to advertise their groups and to threaten certain minority groups. To make it more obvious: If right-wing extremists burn down a refugee camp and the media report it extensively, than not only the refugees in the specific refugee camp are attacked, but also all the other refugees who see the media reports about the arson attack are threatened.

But what can journalists do to avoid advertising the right-wing scene? Should they just stop writing about extremism? They seem to be trapped in a dilemma: Journalists have to inform the audience about what’s going on in the world, but they need to be careful not to give extremists a platform to spread their ideology.

It could be a beginning to consider the differentiation of the scene in order to sensitize the public for the fact that you can’t identify a neo-Nazi only by the missing hair on his head. Journalists should as well stop mystifying extremists as the evil par excellence and try to report as objectively as possible – this might be a first step to stop advertising the right-wing extremist ideology and start to properly throw light on the scene (Neumann, 2015).

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