About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    Against One-Sidedness
    Diversity in German Mass Media

    The German Media and Islam. Photo: Institut für Medienverantwortung The National Integration Plan (NIP) approved by the German Federal Government in 2007 also mentions the media as an important factor in promoting a process of integration. Under the heading of 'Media – Using Diversity' it highlights such elements as the presentation of cultural diversity as the norm, the recruitment of more immigrant staff in the media, overcoming shortcomings in media research, increasing migrants' media competence (sic!), and specific programmes for immigrants to arouse their interest.

    Leaving aside further discussion of deficiencies in provision for migrants, it already becomes clear at this point that understanding of ‘diversity mainstreaming’ is limited. Ignoring such categories as gender, age, disability, sexual orientation etc. already limits the prospects of success, because it is only a culturally-determined spectrum that is being furthered here rather than the whole range of diversity, which  in turn encourages a restricted definition of what is unfamiliar and ‘other’.

    Immigrant participation in the media

    Speaking about ‘Media and Integration’ at the launch of the ARD/ZDF Media Study 2007, Federal Minister Maria Böhmer had to concede that, despite all the efforts made in this sphere, less than 3% of people working in front of and behind the camera have a ‘migrant background’, even though this group constitutes around a fifth of the German population. This survey by Germany’s two main public service television stations was entitled ‘Migrants and Media’. The fact that specific groups are under-represented in media presentation of course means that no model exists for this target group. Despite a number of improvements, mainly in journalistic training, the German Journalists’ Union has to admit that even today the percentage of migrants among freelancers (who do not enjoy social security benefits) is still comparatively high, as is their presence in the thematically-restricted niche areas assigned to them. Advancement towards diversification can only be achieved once decision-makers have recognised its advantages, since they are the people who determine staffing and programming, not those who demand access. Stagnation is also apparent – despite earlier proclamations – in the realm of equality between the sexes. Unless there is greater awareness of structural restrictions limiting access, this means that changes will remain few and far between, and that stagnation or even retrogression – cf. the number of women in positions of responsibility, according to surveys by the WACC [World Association for Christian Communication] – may even be blamed on the groups concerned, along the lines of: ‘They don’t want the responsibility anyway!’

    Commercial programmes more progressive

    In the dual system of public and private television stations, up till now the latter have been somewhat ahead in these spheres. Belongingness and normality are mediated by the visibility of a great diversity of TV presenters. Aiman Abdallah, who introduces the children’s science programme Galileo on Pro7, is no longer an exception. Brigitte Pavetc from Slovenia and Pinar Abut are well-known newsreaders on regional channels. Several stereotyped expectations are contradicted by Dunja Hayali, a presenter of the ARD/ZDF Morgenmagazin: Hayali comes from Iraq and is a Christian. Presenters like these also counter fears that the absence of such figures would drive excluded groups into producing their own ethno-media. It is plausible that those who don’t find themselves represented in the mainstream will seek alternative media, as exemplified by such magazines as Migazin or Gazelle – or as with the many Turkish media such as Hürriyet, Zaman etc., as well as an increasing number of Russian ventures like Jewropazentr (Europe Centre), Russkij Berlin, and Nowaja Berlinskaja Gazeta. Some individual migrants and groups also become active – frequently on the internet. The blog is mentioned as an example. The mainstream (or at least the people in charge) still seems to underestimate the impact of those who feel discriminated against, generating rejection rather than identification – even if the previously mentioned 2007 ARD/ZDF study demonstrated that the feared and much-invoked ‘parallel media societies’ do not exist. Migrants usually make use of all the media in several languages.

    Meanwhile the people who used to be known as ‘southern Europeans’ seem to have mutated – especially in the way they are represented in news and current affairs programmes – into ‘Muslims’. This has been demonstrated in innumerable studies covering both Germany and the whole of Europe. Today Islamophobia seems to be one of the main factors in the disintegrative processes brought about by media exaggerations. Many media people continue to reproduce the idea of a homogeneous ‘German culture’. On the other hand, a potential for integration seems to lie mainly in television entertainment, because it reaches almost all families and eschews negative reporting. Nevertheless, here too there are self-idealising tendencies, as described by Teun van Dijk in his 2006 article ‘Racism and the European Press’ - ‘emphasise our good things and their bad ones’. Qualitative examination of popular crime series has shown that specific stereotyped roles are still assigned to blacks, Turks, Poles etc., which has a negative influence.

    Positive tendencies versus anti-Islamism 

    On the one hand a great deal of effort is being devoted to such ventures as the Böll Foundation’s scholarship programme, as well as media campaigns such as the WDR’s grenzenlos (‘frontier free’), Bavarian Radio’s Puzzle, the multilingual web portal, programmes by the Deutsche Welle (DW), and special format programmes for Jews (RBB Radio) and Muslims (SWR, ZDF, internet), as well as for Christians. However, there are also counter-productive developments such as the Axel Springer School of Journalism’s ‘further training seminars’ entitled ‘The Islamisation of Europe’.

    A number of examples of the currently dominant anti-Islamic discourse illustrate what problems still have to be overcome or even recognised. Book titles such as Fremde Nachbarn. Muslime zwischen Integration und Isolation [Foreign Neighbours: Muslims between Integration and Isolation] (Chiara Sambucci, 2004) or Die Türken – warum Faruk einen grünen Mercedes fährt [The Turks: Why Faruk Drives a Green Mercedes] (Rita Knobel-Ulrich, 2000) show that Turks or Muslims are seen as ‘outsiders’. They are somehow conceived of as objects of observation rather than part of society.

    In the following examples, a way of employing images to illustrate a text which has become standard practice not only mediates the impression that Muslim women are both oppressed per se, but also that they simultaneously symbolise both ‘Islamic violence’ and ‘otherness’:

    These examples from the print media clearly show that the German Press Council would be well advised to take the use of visual material in the print media more seriously (beyond advertising, with its different focus) and consider extending the applicability of Council Guideline no. 12. We already made such a suggestion some years ago: see 12.1 warns against the verbal induction of viewpoints, and an expanded 12.2 must criticise the incorporation of visual material if the images selected are not relevant to the subject matter described. Their presence suggests that they are relevant – as when reports on the 2005 attacks on the London Underground were accompanied by photos of Muslims praying in mosques, or when obviously Jewish prayer garments were shown in the context of the 2006 Lebanon War. Increasing the emphasis on the religious aspect of a great variety of debates – including what is called the Middle East conflict – also works by slipping in visual elements that incorporate strongly religious symbolism.

    Entertainment programmes are more often fair

    Even today, awareness of the problems involved in potential suggestibility through association is still relatively limited. A well-meant tendency towards ‘alienation’ is often apparent, instead of successful media productions reflecting greater diversity as normal rather than a problem. One example of this was the much-praised Bavarian Television early evening series Turkish for Beginners, which repeated numerous stereotypes despite aiming to promote a Turkish-German patchwork family. As in the field of education, we find again and again that the focus is on the ‘unusual’, which leads to ‘othering’. In my opinion, best practice is demonstrated in an early evening series that has now been running for more than twenty years. At primetime on Sunday evening, H.-W. Geißendörfer’s soap opera Lindenstraße (WDR) demonstrates what diversity of subject matter and people should be portrayed in a chance environment: homosexuals, immigrants, divorce, disability, psychological problems, everyday life in a restaurant, and much more. This highly successful series was launched long before any integration plan, and demonstrates the natural potential for anything to happen.

    On the other hand, conservative newspapers like Die Welt are in the process of becoming mouthpieces for neo-liberal strategies of globalisation (including their view of human beings), where Daniel Pipes and his cronies are given space publicly to cultivate their anti-Islamic resentment. At a time of widespread dissemination of anti-Islamic attitudes, there seems to be a trend in other media for certain people to become popular by serving as a kind of ‘authoritative witness’ to back up those who already have the power to define what’s what. So-called ‘critics of Islam’ such as Necla Kelek or Hamid Abdel Samad slip into this discursive ‘witness’ role, which has more to do with the needs of the majority society than with those of the diverse community they should be representing. Similar mechanisms can be observed with regard to East Germany, where only the toughest critics are considered credible while eye-witnesses who think differently are quickly accused of ‘nostalgia’ (idealisation of the GDR) and their views discredited. These observable preferences among leading journalists are of course no substitute for social analysis, but they often fulfil precisely that function. Such predilections are threatening to replace the results of sociological research into group dynamics with the personal evaluations and assertions of people responsible for programming – executive editors and station directors. In reality that mechanism has the potential to bring about disintegration, since – like any other false analysis – it results in measures being taken regardless of true causes. In such instances the media are not fulfilling their responsibility. This and many other interesting aspects of ‘Media and Diversity’ are documented in a Böll Foundation dossier ( Andreas Linder 2007).

    In addition, journalists like the Berliner Tagespiegel’s Andrea Dernbach show that you don’t have to have a ‘migration background’ to report responsibly and fairly – for instance on the tragic murder of Dr. Marwa El-Sherbini in the Dresden District Court. The press lacks any concept of diversity; nevertheless, the chances of more diverse perspectives do not seem too bad, as depicted by Alexander Pollak in a current FRA Report based on a survey of local newspapers. In this connection Andrea Dernbach’s colleague at the Tagesspiegel, Ferda Ataman, who was a trainee with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, emphasises another important aspect: ‘Being where I am wasn’t planned. If my mother had followed the teachers’ recommendations regarding my schooling, I would certainly not have become a journalist.’

    Training in self-reflection

    Such training makes clear that diversity mainstreaming is also an aspect for learning and application in an education system that still furthers exclusion rather than inclusion, and in recent years once again increasingly seems to generate the reproduction of one’s own, or higher, social class. Training in self-reflection should be introduced in the final years at school, then continued and extended for journalists – particularly since phenomena resulting from decision-making in the dominant part of society are still attributed to those affected by exclusion and disintegration. A first step towards improvement would involve freeing the concept of diversity from a reduction to ‘cultural diversity’ alone and extending it to all possible categories, so that justice is done to the concept of true diversity.
    Sabine Schiffer
    heads the Erlangen-based Institute for Media Responsibility.

    Translated by Tim Nevill
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    June 2010

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