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Journalists with an immigrant background change media reporting

A dream has come true for Özlem Sarikaya, the daughter of Turkish immigrants. From January, this 34-year old will be presenting the monthly magazine programme "Jigsaw – many cultures, one country" on the Bavarian radio and television network (BR). The half-hour show is devoted to cultural movers and shakers from immigrant backgrounds who are shaping the Bavarian cultural landscape.

New programme "Jigsaw" on Bavarian radio

“Jigsaw” is not expressly concerned with the problems faced by and with immigrants in Germany, explains the presenter and creative director of the programme. BR is promoting its new programme format as the “first intercultural magazine programme on German television.” The young woman with her dark hair and eyes usually works behind the scenes; now with “Jigsaw” she is in front of the camera and represents a change in the media policies of the Bavarian network.

Migrants are often the subject of media reports

Migrants feature daily in news reporting. Issues about immigration are seized upon in the daily press, on radio and television in various different ways. Opinion is, however, divided about the quality of the contributions. The segment of the population focussed on in the broadcasts or newspaper articles frequently believes it is not portrayed fairly.

This resentment about stereotypes in the general media has now spurred on some journalists to take matters into their own hands. As a result, at the end of 2008, a group of journalists with an immigrant background banded together under the name “New German media makers”.

The German Islam Conference promotes balanced reporting

The German Islam Conference’s working group 3 "The economy and media as bridge-builders" was quickly unanimous in calling for a responsible, impartial and different approach to reporting. Topics relating to everyday matters should also be covered and the contribution of Muslim diversity to Germany's common culture should be recognised.  Having more qualified personnel with an immigrant background on the editorial staff of television, radio and print media would contribute a greater intercultural understanding of the subject and provide new perspectives in the media. The National Integration Plan (NIP) also calls for a responsible attitude to the topic of immigration and a greater involvement of immigrants in compiling reports.

Journalists rarely have immigrant background

Immigrants are rare in the German media. And they are sometimes a source of wonder, as Ferda Ataman, a journalist from a Turkish family, experienced during her placement at a national newspaper. "I was almost like a freak of nature; someone from the immigrant ghetto who had wandered into the hallowed editorial precincts of the politics desk." Journalists from immigrant backgrounds were scarcely represented in print media. Now, it is possible to see a positive, if slow, development in this direction.

Successful journalists with immigrant backgrounds

Media makers with foreign roots are even taking on leading roles, although these are still isolated cases, such as that of Kayhan Özgeç, who has a Turkish background.The 38-year old was the director of the Hamburg editorial board of Focus magazine and is now head of the parliamentary editorial staff in Berlin. And the fact that prime time television on the ZDF channel now has a news presenter, with a foreign appearance and a name like Dunja Hayali, would have been inconceivable not so long ago.

Germany lags far behind other countries

According to an empirical study by media studies academics at the University of Dortmund and Siegen, the estimated proportion of people working as journalists as their main profession and who have an immigrant background is approximately 1.2%. As far as ethnic diversity is concerned, Germany lags "far behind" when compared to countries such as the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom, the study notes.

New perspectives from journalists with foreign roots

Having an immigrant background is certainly not a guarantee per se for reporting on immigrant issues better than members of the majority society. Doubtless, however, immigrants can speak more easily to others in immigrant communities and have a different view of the reality of their lives. Immigrants can identify with journalists from immigrant families, and such journalists reflect in the media the reality of German society, which is no longer homogeneous but is made up of people from different cultures.

Canan Topçu, 12.01.2009

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