Future of Democracy In the media

Policy Fellow puts ‘Framing’ issue on media radar

"Master plan", "asylum tourism", "transit centres" – Johannes Hillje explains how language is instrumentalised in recent political speech in three major news outlets
Foto: Erik Marquardt

Where there is language, there is usually also subtext – especially when it gets political. The concept of “framing” in political analysis describes how such subtext is created in political language in order to carry certain messages, thereby suggesting simple solutions by playing with the associations language evokes.

Contributing to Süddeutsche Zeitung’s “framing check” reporting series, Policy Fellow Johannes Hillje analyses recent political discourse, such as Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s “master-plan migration.” After he first announced his “master-plan” in March 2018, some media have adopted the expression without questioning whether it is appropriate. “Master plan” is originally an expression from urban planning. It suggests power, oversight, and control – an unrealistic expectation when it comes to dealing with the global challenges of displacement and migration.

Read the full article here (in German).


In an interview with the news show TagesthemenJohannes Hillje emphasised how political framing is used in the current debate on migration policy in Germany. Expressions like “asylum tourism” or “refugee wave” trigger negative associations and emotions. For example, “refugee wave” suggests an untameable force of nature crushing down on the country. Such an association shapes the discussion which follows towards focusing on security issues.

Watch the excerpt from Tagesthemen below (in German):



Invited by another German news show, ZDF heute plus, he explained that framing tactics are more commonly used on the right of the political spectrum, rather than in left-wing or progressive political discourse. Furthermore, he demanded that media should not only carry a responsibility to verify facts, but also a responsibility to detect framing.


Watch the episode of heute plus (in German):


Johannes Hillje

Serafine Dinkel

published on

6 July 2018