International media should focus more on human rights issues, the head of Deutsche Welle said. Activists have said these topics are neglected in day-to-day reporting.
The Olympic Games in China in 2008 helped put human rights issues in mainstream media
Deutsche Welle's Director General Erik Bettermann has called for an international media alliance for human rights. Independent international broadcasters in particular were "a significant factor in efforts to secure greater importance and implementation of human rights in countries around the world," he said.
Bettermann called on leading Western international broadcasters, such as Deutsche Welle, BBC and Radio France International, to increase their focus on these issues.
Independent media were "powerful instruments to provide human rights with a voice," Bettermann said at a podium discussion in Bonn on Monday, Jan. 19.
Human rights issues often "not sexy enough"
Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, the head of the German parliament's Committee on Human Rights, said at the discussion that her group consistently tried to interest German media in human rights issues.
Some media did report seriously on them, for example on the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration, but she said the everyday work of protecting rights often gets lost in the media shuffle.
"There is a lot that only report on these issues when 'man bites dog' but not on the regular work of human rights activists," Daeubler-Gmelin said. "They actually find this not sexy enough."
Media shouldn't ignore human rights violations, Lochbihler said
Barbara Lochbihler, secretary general of the German section of Amnesty International (AI), said her organization had similar experiences. But media should not focus on how popular a human rights story is in deciding whether to report on it, she said.
"The central motive should not be how high my viewer ratings will be or my circulation figures, like reporting on human rights violations in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo," she said. "You also have to report on people or countries that are not in vogue, so to speak, such as several African countries where there is little interest among the German public and where the media thinks, that won't pay off for us."
Media influences public opinion
Lochbihler said it was easy for AI to get stories about major human rights violations into the news.
"But if a media outlet feels it can't sell the story well, then we, as an NGO, really have to make efforts to get the news out," Lochbihler said, adding that AI works to do this by showing individual fates and creating public sympathy for an issue.
Some media played down human rights violations, such as the German mass daily Bild, as well as some television talk shows, she said.
"They don't name torture for what it is and in this way influence public opinion," Lochbihler said.
Nevertheless, media played a vital role in helping human rights organizations like AI, she said.
"The media here in Europe have a substantial function to inform the general public, but also to affect them and bring them to act," Lochbihler said. "When people are shocked and express that they don't want this, then governments act, as well."