‘Nius’: Fox News in German?  

By Kira Ayyadi, freelance journalist 

The German media conglomerate ‘Nius’ initially looks like traditional journalism, not least because many formerly renowned journalists work here. However, it is an alternative right-wing platform that is striving for a right-wing culture war based on the American model and is also focusing on the AfD. 2024 is a super election year in Germany. German citizens will vote in EU elections, local elections and state elections. In the state elections in autumn, the far-right AfD threatens to join the government. Nationwide, the AfD has been polling between 15 and 20 per cent in recent months. How can it be that in Germany of all places, a largely far-right party is gaining such huge support?  

The number of supporters of extreme right-wing attitudes has increased in Germany. According to  the “Mitte”-Study 2022/23 by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which surveys the attitudes of Germans every two years,eight per cent of people in the country share an extreme right-wing world view, which is one in twelve adults. At the same time, trust in institutions and the functioning of democracy has fallen to below 60 per cent. At 38 per cent, a significant proportion of respondents believe in conspiracy theories. Populist and nationalist-authoritarian-rebellious positions are also widespread, at 33 per cent. 

Mistrust created by ‘alternative media’

Central to the mistrust of democratic institutions are so-called ‘alternative media’, extreme right-wing propaganda media, and individual actors who sow hatred among marginalised groups and cast doubt on the cornerstones of democracy. For millions of people, ‘alternative media’ are now the primary or even only source of information. They have an impact far into the centre of society and fuel distrust in liberal democracy. Conspiracy myths, playing with antisemitic stereotypes, the manipulative staging of facts, and partisanship for the AfD are part of the core arsenal of these platforms.  

Germany added one more right-wing media portal in July 2023. The website ‘Nius’ was launched at that time and has since established itself in the right-wing alternative and right-wing conservative camp. The same right-wing identity-forming content is always disseminated here in texts and videos. It is always against migrants, against the rights of queer people, against the ecological party ‘The Greens’ and generally against the current government, a left-liberal coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP. Simplification, exaggeration, scandalisation and the creation of a ‘we’ feeling are intended to appeal to people who are dissatisfied with politics.  

This is all happening under the direction of Julian Reichelt, the former head of the populist Bild newspaper, Germany’s highest-circulation daily newspaper. However, ‘Nius’ has little to do with journalism.  

Reichelt’s role model: Tucker Carlson and Fox News  

Julian Reichelt was editor-in-chief of Bild-Zeitung for almost four years. The former war reporter was one of the most influential journalists in Europe at the time, with excellent contacts in business and politics. In 2021, the Springer publishing house parted ways with Reichelt following allegations of abuse of power, compliance proceedings and a scathing article in the New York Times. He initially found a new home on YouTube. Since April 2022, he has published videos almost daily under his own direction on his channel ‘Achtung, Reichelt!’ . The most clicked videos include titles such as: ‘Green incompetents Lang, Nouripour & Co.: The laziest Germans rule the land of the hard-working!’ and ‘Energy crisis: That’s why Germans should now dig in the rubbish // Greens want banana Stasi’. It’s not just the titles that sound like populist hate speech, the content is equally so. However, the growth with 450,000 subscribers and the number of clicks, totalling over 140 million views (as of April 2024), is impressive.  

In particular, the YouTube format ‘Achtung, Reichelt!’, the driving force behind ‘Nius’, is strongly modelled on the right-wing populist opinion journalism of the American news channel Fox News. In particular, the rhetorical devices of the former Fox News talker, Tucker Carlson, seem to have won over the ex-Bild boss. Like Carlson, Julian Reichelt is also focussing on the ‘culture war’. Just like the AfD, he presents himself as the voice of the people. This is absurd, as he was one of the most influential journalists in Germany for years, with excellent contacts in politics, culture and business. But both Carlson and Reichelt are representatives of this ruling class. In numerous videos Reichelt receives guests, some of them international, from the right-wing populist to far-right spectrum. Part of Reichelt’s strategy is to suggest things and then have his guests carry them out in order to sow distrust in democracy and hatred among migrants.  

Reichelt is now one of the managing directors of the operating company of the online medium ‘Nius’. He has taken his YouTube format ‘Achtung Reichelt!’ with him there. It is one of five video shows on ‘Nius’. 

‘Nius’ also presents its content in text form on a website that looks like a news site, in the style of Bild – with short and pointed headlines. Reichelt is backed by a large team, some of whom are former Bild journalists. “’Nius‘ is even more riotous than “Bild”, with its own political agenda, which is also pushed through at the expense of facts,” says journalist Lars Wienand.  

Since the end of 2022, the former head of Bild’s parliamentary editorial team, Ralf Schuler, also once a respected journalist, has also been receiving quite illustrious guests in his YouTube format ‘Schuler! Fragen, was ist”, which is now also part of “Nius”. They include Wolfgang Kubicki, Vice President of the Bundestag and Deputy Chairman of the FDP, Saxony’s CDU Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer and Hans-Georg Maaßen, former head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, who is now categorised as a right-wing extremist by his former employer.  

In contrast to ‘Achtung Reichelt!’, this format appears serious, not least because of the prominent guests. But that is precisely the problem: by offering themselves up as discussion partners for ‘Nius’, democratic politicians are normalising the portal. 

Manipulative methods of disinformation 

In addition to the videos on YouTube centred around Reichelt, ‘Nius’ is intended to give the impression of a classic news site, based on the Bild newspaper. In terms of subject matter, ‘Nius’ is mostly centred around debates within Germany; European topics are rarely covered here. And when they do, they mostly construct a threat to Europe posed by migrants. 

In a survey of its readership at the beginning of May, ‘Nius’ revealed that 65 per cent of the almost 2,000 respondents fully or partially agreed with the statement that Europeans ‘are gradually being replaced by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East’. The majority believe in the conspiracy narrative of the ‘Great Replacement’, according to which the European ‘tribal population’ is to be replaced by migrants.  

For Benjamin Krämer, a media scientist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, ‘Nius’ is ‘’Bild‘ on speed’ and still ‘clearly far right’. Nius’ often criticises the Greens, the German government, migrants and refugees. 

While Bild receives by far the most reprimands from the Press Council in Germany for unjournalistic work, ‘Nius’ cares even less about journalistic rules than Bild. However, according to information from t-online, ‘Nius’ has now landed on the radar of the Berlin-Brandenburg Media Authority (Mabb). Several complaints to the institution have raised the question of the extent to which ‘Nius’ violates journalistic due diligence. State media authorities such as the Mabb examine the journalistic content of commercial programmes to determine whether minimum journalistic standards are being adhered to. Possible consequences can range up to (albeit unlikely) blocking of the site. 

The strategy of the media professionals  

Political scientist Markus Linden told t-online that he sees a dual strategy at the portal: on the one hand, ‘moderate’ formats with democratic politicians, such as ‘Schuler! Fragen, was ist”, on the other hand “sensationalised riot formats in which there is no visible commitment to journalistic due diligence”. Political scientist Linden says that the portal has undergone a radicalisation. “’Nius‘ is prepared to go beyond the purely ideological style of presentation, i.e. to consciously use manipulative methods of disinformation.” There, ‘post-factual presentation methods are now also being used’. Classic false reports are also not uncommon. However, these are not technical errors, as there are numerous trained journalists at work. Linden explains: “The creators are media professionals, but they follow an agenda.” More moderate texts are often cribbed from traditional media outlets. 

Pushing a right-wing agenda 

Meanwhile, ‘Nius’ refers to the AfD in a positive light, but not to the same extent as most other extreme right-wing media outlets. Rather, it seems to be about right-libertarian content and about moving the conservative party, the CDU, further to the right, away from the liberal legacy of former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). For example, ‘Nius’ mentions individual aspects of the AfD in a positive light, concluding that the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, should learn from them.  

This involves, for example, a tougher stance on asylum law and generally against the rights of migrants, the denial of the rights of queer people and the rejection of modern feminist achievements. ‘Nius’ is therefore working to tear down the so-called ‘firewall against the right’ in Germany, i.e. no pacts with the AfD. Should the AfD become the strongest party in the upcoming state elections, it would need a coalition partner. The only possible party for this would probably be the CDU. 

The question inevitably arises as to how ‘Nius’ and its staff are financed. It has now been confirmed that the Koblenz-based health data billionaire Frank Gotthardt is largely paying for the portal. Gotthardt is the honorary chairman of the CDU Economic Council in Rhineland-Palatinate and has now been given a kind of permanent advertising programme against the Greens with ‘Nius’.   

Reichelt is currently in the process of establishing a kind of pseudo-opinion journalism that has never existed in this form in Germany. Modelled on the USA, the aim is to wage a cultural war against the achievements of modernity. Reichelt is also relying on a young team to shift the discourse further to the right on social media platforms.  

Thanks to Reichelt’s success, right-wing (extreme) alternative media can now hope to better position their issues in the so-called ‘mainstream’. Guests, especially political representatives, should know that their mere presence on these media contributes to making these channels and their content acceptable. 

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  editor@media-diversity.org