Media and Politics: Disparate Brothers

Theo Sommer gives speech as part of the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s Lecture Series

"Politicians are all about seizing power," while a journalist’s role is "to understand, to hit the nail on the head" - at the beginning of his lecture, Dr. Theo Sommer emphasized this fundamental, defining difference between the two disparate brothers. And in order for the interrelationship between those in power and those who watch over this power to work, journalists need to "have the freedom to say anything - so that politicians do not have the freedom to do everything."

But this shouldn’t be construed as giving a free pass to abuses of this freedom, like yellow journalism and checkbook journalism, which he criticized: "Our influence only stretches as far as our persuasive power." And this power is derived from the media’s integrity and civic duty, not from "how eye-catching our headlines are" or even from the "assertiveness of our elbows." Dr. Sommer was most concerned with the future of print journalism: fewer readers, dwindling circulation figures - due to the spread of the Internet, the print industry has a "digital dry spell" ahead of it. At the same time, companies can combat this trend with high-quality journalism.

He was also cautious in his appraisal of the Internet’s role in political processes: "Politics is more than just spur-of-the-moment clicking on the ‘Like’ or the ‘Dislike’ button or surfing from one wave of outrage to the next. It requires permanent, dedicated action." That’s why it’s the media’s job to report on politics in a reliable and balanced manner. This is because, according to Dr. Sommer, "journalism is a public service." And even though some journalists are prone to being unscrupulous, arrogant, and conforming, "we don’t need to be ashamed of the service we are performing for society and the community at large."

(Julia Rommel, July 2012)

Audio: Theo Sommer

"Media and Politics: Disparate Brothers," a lecture held by Dr. Theo Sommer, editor-at-large for Die ZEIT newspaper, on Wednesday, July 4, 2012, at the Alte Stuttgarter Reithalle. With an introduction by Dieter Berg, Chairman of the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s Board of Management.

Picture Gallery

After studying history and political science as well as international relations at universities in the United States, Sweden, and Tübingen, Dr. Theo Sommer began his career as a journalist at the Rems newspaper in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. His name has been associated with Die ZEIT since 1958, where he was editor-in-chief for 20 years. From 1993 to 2000, he acted as the managing editor of Die ZEIT, and since then, has worked for the newspaper as editor-at-large. He also headed up the German Federal Ministry of Defense’s planning department during Helmut Schmidt’s administration as German chancellor.