German media and the fortunes of AfD 

By Angelo Boccato, Freelance Journalist 

Germany, like Italy, had to create a strong constitution after World War II to counter a  resurgence of the horrors of Nazi fascism.  In Italy it was specifically forbidden to form a party named Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party), however, it still allowed Giorgio Almirante’s fascist party MSI (the political grandfather of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy) play a role in postwar Italy. Germany adopted stronger measures in its constitution. 

The model of state envisioned by the German constitution is a protective-defensive democracy, with major checks and balances.  Because of this and the history of post-war Germany, while far-right parties have existed, they have always been confined to the far fringes of the political system. 

Now, after years and cycles of popularity and unpopularity, the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD – Alternative for Germany) is the second most popular party in the country

However, a variety of scandals ( from meetings with Neo Nazis, to potential links with Russia and China, and the ban from electoral rallies for the leading candidate for the EU elections Maximillian Krah) weighed on the party in the elections in Thuringia, where AfD has a strong support. 

AfD is an exceptional  case for two reasons: the party has never sought approval from the media and has instead relied on social media to spread its messages. It has also not sought a path towards  “normalisation”, differently from Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy or Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. 

AfD popularity cycles and dynamics with the media 

An example of AfD’s lack of interest in normalisation can be seen in the break between the party and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally) after the Spitzenkandidat (the lead candidate) of AfD Maximilian Krah told the Italian daily La Repubblica that he would “never say that anyone who wore an SS uniform was automatically a criminal,” a reference to German novelist Günter Grass. 

Soon afterwards, AfD was  expelled by the European group Identity and Democracyand  Krah announced he would step back from campaigning and resigned as a member of the AfD’s executive committee. 

An interesting element about the AfD is that it was not a far-right party with a lengthy history. It was not even born as a far-right party, even though today it is one of the most extreme. 

“AfD history is not that radical, they set off as an economic liberal anti-Euro party, they were nicknamed as the professors’ party. There were repeated power struggles within the party, and every time the right-wing won,” James Jackson, a British freelance journalist based in Berlin, tells MDI. 

After years of popularity for its policies, however the party ended up losing its momentum during the global pandemic. 

“The AfD lost a lot of support during the pandemic because they decided that their strategy was going to be opposing the vaccines and the lockdown, and it was not very popular. Most people recognised that this was a public health crisis, but I would say that the AfD’s core support radicalised during that time.” 

“There is great dissatisfaction with the government at the moment and the AfD has been pushing migration as their top issue, and it has risen in the agenda. So, they have increased their popularity as they have become more radical, which is quite unique within European far-right parties, where you see Meloni and Wilders gaining support as they have become more moderate. You do not see that in the AfD and I think that is why the AfD is arguably more dangerous and radical.” Jackson added. 

Between secret services monitoring, Ukraine, media, racism, Islamophobia 

The more dangerous and more radical nature of AfD in comparison with other European far-right parties that Jackson highlights was made quite evident after the revelations of the German investigative non-profit newsroom Correctiv in January 2024. 

Correctiv found that high-ranking members of the party had met with neo-Nazis and sympathetic businesspeople to discuss plans to get rid of migrants. 

Those revelations put the party at the centre of the secret service’s attention, while also inspiring protests against the far-right  the country. 

“German secret services have more power in terms of investigating political parties, but of course, there are legal challenges to that. The AfD lost a court case in Munster where they challenged the right of the domestic intelligence service, the Office for Constitutional Protection. As they lost that case, this means that they can be observed on a national level,” said Jackson. 

Jackson says that despite that, the AfD is running in elections and expected to win in the eastern states. However, they failed to secure outright victories in recent local elections in Thuringia. Yet another paradox is the closeness that the AfD is keeping with Russia and Putin, unlike other European far-right leaders who support Ukraine.  

“The two lead candidates for the upcoming European elections of the AfD, Maximilian Krah and Pret Bryston, are both accused of taking large sums of money from a pro-Kremlin broadcaster based in Prague, the Voice of Europe,” adds Jackson. 

The media and AfD 

When it comes to the relationship between the media and AfD, this seems to be changing.  

“German media had a policy of not talking too much to the AfD. Private broadcaster Die Welt hosted a TV duel in Thuringia among the most radical senior leaders of the AfD and they were quite criticised for that. German media has also lost a lot of trust in recent years and the AfD has created its own media network, particularly on Tik Tok, where the party is by far the most popular in Germany”. 

According to the Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) 2024 Index, Germany ranks tenth (among 180 countries analysed) in terms of press freedom; however, the report points out that “…. security law reforms have granted intelligence agencies broader powers that undermine journalists’ fundamental rights. Furthermore, access to information is fragmented, media pluralism has been threatened and violence against journalists is increasing”. 

The popularity of AfD is a cautionary tale, showing how a far-right force can rise in the polls  in a country with a protected constitution to stop the return of the horrors from the past, and with media that do not tend to normalise the far-right. 

In the last European elections, AfD achieved  11 MEPs; however, the party’s result this year is now looking more tenuous as its popularity could be shaken by recent scandals. 

Get the Trolls Out, MDI’s project story on AfD entitled “The problem is right-wing extremism, not Islam or migration. “

Picture from Shutterstock

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Media Diversity Institute. Any question or comment should be addressed to