The euro crisis has repeatedly placed Germany in the media spotlight - and not always in a positive way. "Germany's image in the European media" was the topic of Deutsche Welle's recent panel discussion in Brussels.
"Europe is more than an economic or financial community. It is a community of shared values," said Deutsche Welle (DW) Director General Erik Bettermann in his opening address at the event on Wednesday evening in Brussels. "The media should make use of these shared values in order to break down stereotypes in Europe and in other parts of the world."
Over 300 representatives from politics, business, culture and the media participated in the lively panel discussion chaired by Dr. Christian Trippe, who heads DW's Brussels bureau. The five high-profile panelists included Dimitris P. Droutsas, member of the European Parliament, Susanne Fengler, professor of international journalism at TU Dortmund University, Dr. Berthold Franke, director of the Goethe-Institut in Brussels, as well as Thomas Mayer, the Europe correspondent for the Austrian national newspaper "Der Standard," and Derek Scally, the Berlin correspondent for "The Irish Times."
While Derek Scally said he believes Germany's image has remained largely unchanged and positive in Ireland since the euro crisis, Dimitris Droutsas responded that the way Greeks see Germany has changed significantly. The former Greek foreign minister said that the negative and populist-tinged images of Germany conveyed by the Greek media fell on fertile ground among the population, which has been forced to adopt austerity measures.
But the problem is also systemic, Droutsas said: "The media landscape in Greece is very problematic. The media as well as the political system, in which the media plays a central role, are particularly to blame for the situation as well as for the crisis we are going through in Greece. Politicians, entrepreneurs and family business owners have bought up media outlets in order to exert pressure on politics and to do business."
Asked why journalists fall back on historical stereotypes when they report about foreign countries, the media expert Prof. Fengler said: "The realities are too complex. You would have to work through the whole bandwidth of information in order to come to a well-founded conclusion. As a normal media consumer or as a journalist, you just can't manage it. And so you fall back on simplifications and stereotypes in order to squeeze a complex truth into the short formats required."
Though the media "can significantly shape what topics we think about, the so-called 'agenda-setting function' of the media, the media cannot determine how people think," said Fengler. She gave the example of Greece, where, according to polls, 70 percent of the population distrusts its media.
Fengler also argued that the complexity of the euro crisis, paired with limited resources and cuts at media companies, is partially to blame for the so-called "parachute journalism." In her view, the media should provide more in-depth analysis and background information.
There are positive aspects of media coverage on the euro crisis, however, Fengler went on to say: "There is a consolidation of agendas going on. There is a lot of talk about economics in a variety of European countries, and opinions are pushing in different directions: suddenly, we have an inter-European dialogue."
Language, of course, plays an important role in such a dialogue. The Goethe-Institut's EU Representative, Dr. Franke, commented: "In our institutes, particularly in the countries affected by the crisis, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, the demand for German language courses has doubled in just a few months. Young, extremely well educated adults are looking towards the German labor market."
Thomas Mayer, Europe correspondent for "Der Standard," even forecasted that Europe’s future lies in multilingualism. "We have to encourage people from a young age. We are moving towards a whole new world. Not only politically, economically and in terms of the EU, but also in terms of future generations."