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Bridging the two media worlds
Dismantling the clichés

Newspapers and Discussions
© Goethe-Institut

Germans often know little about India, and Indians usually know little about Germany. An exchange programme for journalists initiated by the Robert Bosch Foundation has been successfully addressing this shortcoming for five years. The project, however, has had mixed results.

By Martin Jahrfeld

​Anyone wanting to learn about the quality of journalism in Germany should perhaps ask an external observer: ‘You have far greater editorial resources than we do. Journalists have more time for a story and do more thorough work. That a team of reporters is put together to do three months of research rarely happens in India,’ says G. Sampath, an Indian journalist who spent six weeks working in Germany at Der Spiegel, a Hamburg-based news magazine. Sampath also seems to be impressed by the way in which the German media is structured: ‘There are high ethical standards here, as well as an effective system of self-control. In India, it is often virtually impossible to separate the interests of the media from business interests.’

Over the past few years, the Indian media scene has been hearing about the working of German media houses and broadcasting stations. Between 2015 and 2019, 40 journalists from India took part in a programme implemented by the Robert Bosch Foundation that gave participants a more thorough insight into the structure of the sector. An equal number of German colleagues were given the opportunity to learn about the media landscape in India: a five-week training programme at the country’s well-known schools of Journalism, encounters with politicians, business people and members of civil society, followed by six weeks of working in one of India’s media houses in Mumbai, Kolkata or Delhi, that provided the basis for researching an India-related topic of one’s choice.

Initiatives such as the Media Ambassadors Programme will be required in the future as well to strengthen independent journalism in the global context."

The programme 'Media Ambassadors India-Germany', which comes to an end this year, has produced a wide array of results: the participants published close to three hundred reports, reportages and features about their guest country in the Indian and German media, dealing with a colourful spectrum of issues. While the Indians in Germany researched subjects such as the effects of the refugee crisis, the new right-wing extremism, the problems of the energy transition and the challenges of demographic change, their German colleagues reported on issues such as the women’s movement in India, the country’s environmental problems and growing Hindu nationalism.

five different age groups

‘Indian and German journalists spanning five different age groups spent three months in each other’s country. Not only did they give us deep and diverse insights through their reports, but they also grew together as a community. This is demonstrated as much by the alumni and their activities, as by the many bilateral collaborative efforts that subsequently emerged,’ says Dr Clemens Spiess, Programme Director at the Robert Bosch Foundation, who is of the firm belief that ‘the programme has contributed to a better understanding for India in Germany and vice versa – and thus also to intercultural understanding.’  
‘After all, we wanted to work towards dismantling stereotypes and clichés in reports on India. Someone who can spend three months doing research on the ground has a far better understanding of the complexity of many issues,’ claims Pradnya Bivalkar, Programme Manager.

Yet the programme will no longer be continued. Pointing to a changing world, the Foundation has reviewed and reoriented its international work. The decision to stop supporting existing projects had already been taken in 2018. Spiess explains: "In the future, the focus of our work in the area of assistance that has been renamed 'International Understanding and Cooperation' will be on the four themes of conflict, climate change, migration and inequality."
Alumni at the closing event in January in Berlin.
Foto: Jan Zappner
Alumni at the closing event in January in Berlin.

However, at the programme’s closing event in January, where more than 50 alumni from Germany, India and Austria came together in Berlin, it became clear that initiatives such as the Media Ambassadors Programme will be required in the future as well to strengthen independent journalism in the global context. The growing proliferation of fake news and increasing attempts to intimidate critical journalists are phenomena that the profession has to battle with, both in India and in Germany.

strengthen independent journalism

The situation in India, however, appears to be far more serious than the situation in Germany. Ever since the murder of the south Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh in October 2017, there has been a sharp spurt in violence and threats against journalists. Journalists researching cases of corruption that involve powerful concerns and organisations affiliated with political parties often risk their lives. Against the backdrop of growing tension between Hindus and Muslims and a stronger Hindu nationalist movement, the proliferation of fake news also helps fuel violence against minorities – for instance when Muslims are accused on social media of killing cows and then become victims of pogroms.

Incidents like these have not figured much in the German media so far. German reports covering Asia usually focus on China. On top of this, German media in India has only a small pool of suitable journalists to fall back on. According to Sven Hansen, Asia editor at 'taz', a German daily, fewer than 10 German-speaking journalists have a permanent residence in India. Even after the Bosch Foundation’s five-year journalism programme, India still remains in the shadows of the Asian sections in leading German media.