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Media Development

Exchange program for German and Turkish journalists: Research trip promoting mutual understanding

In the first part of the exchange program German journalists flew to Turkey to research a number of topics. Frederik Bombosch from the Berliner Zeitung talks about his impressions.

German journalists meet Istanbul's governor (photo: Nina Otte-Witte).

German journalists meet Istanbul's governor

Twelve German journalists have just taken part in a ten-day research trip to Turkey. There they had the opportunity to speak with opinion leaders involved in the political, business and social arenas, and to spend a few days with the editorial desks of Turkish newspapers and radio stations. They also travelled to Gaziantep to visit a camp for Syrian refugees. Next Spring, Turkish journalists will be travelling to Germany. DW Akademie is conducting the program sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation.

A tour of Byzantine architecture (photo: Nina Otte-Witte).

A tour of Byzantine architecture

What were the highlights for you personally?
Frederik Bombosch: It seems like the entire trip was a highlight. I'd never been to Turkey before and was overwhelmed by Istanbul, not realizing that there's a megacity like this in Europe. The program itself was intense with countless impressions - and contradictions. A major highlight was visiting a camp for Syrian refugees, located in southeastern Anatolia near the Turkish-Syrian border. In Germany the situation for Syrian refugees seems very abstract because people have no or little contact with them. So meeting the refugees in Turkey was a moving experience.

You spent two days in the editorial offices of the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. Compare the way journalists work there to the way journalists work at the Berliner Zeitung.
I had a sense that journalists in Turkey are somewhat perplexed, not always sure of what they can or can't write about, what the government condones or doesn't, or where they might run into other problems. I was with Hürriyet's foreign desk where the topics tend to be less controversial, but there are still some areas where colleagues hesitate. This isn't a problem in Germany - at least we don't think it is - and political debates are less heated. Still, if we had the same challenges facing Turkey we would be asking ourselves questions that are very different to the ones we're asking now.

Frederik Bombosch, Journalist, Berliner Zeitung

Frederik Bombosch, Berliner Zeitung

You also had a chance to meet Turkey's EU Affairs Minister, Egeman Bagic, and discuss Turkey's possible entry into the European Union. Has this in any way changed the way you see the issue?
Egeman Bagis is like a salesman - and a very good one. Right now his job is to push for Turkey to gain entry into the EU and he's doing this in an almost entertaining but very astute way. I believe him when he says the entry negotiations are leading to positive changes in his country, and to me that's a surprisingly clear statement coming from a member of the AKP government. Still, I've also been influenced by many of the ensuing conversations I had with others. The country is at a stage that's very different to the one in other European countries. One can't really predict how Turkey will look in 2023 but it remains a fascinating process.

During the last part of the trip the group travelled to Gaziantep to visit a camp for Syrian refugees. How is the government dealing with this huge influx of refugees?
On the surface there appear to be no conflicts between the Turkish population and their Syrian "guests" - that's how the people I spoke with referred to the refugees. This surprised me, given that in Berlin a building housing fewer than 100 refugees can lead to massive protests. Approximately 19,000 Syrian refugees have come to Germany since 2011 - compare that to the 85,000 who are now in Gaziantep alone, or to the total one million who will likely be in Turkey by year's end. If we're already talking about a "wave of refugees" in Germany, we need to keep the situation in Turkey in mind and offer effective support. The refugee camp that we visited did look quite good, although Turkish colleagues I’d spoken to beforehand had told me this was a "model camp" - one that foreign journalists were permitted to visit. German correspondents based in Turkey, however, have not been allowed to visit other camps. So it's difficult for me to gauge the overall situation but I was impressed given the sheer numbers and by the open hospitality and sense of neighbors helping neighbors.

Frederik Bombosch (right) interviews a German-Turk who decided to return to Turkey (photo: Nina Otte-Witte).

Frederik Bombosch (right) interviews a German-Turk who decided to return to Turkey.

How do you feel about the way German media are depicting Turkey?
They oversimplify things. For years they ignored the serious conflicts that resulted from the way Erdogan was running the economy. Turkey has, however, undergone a modernization process within a very short space of time but it’s taking much longer for Germans to recognize this. Many think Turkey is still the way it was 15 years ago when it was steeped in political chaos. But Germans are increasingly travelling to Istanbul and bringing back a very different picture.

In Spring 2014 Turkish journalists will be in Germany as part of the exchange program. What are you planning to show them?
I would like them to see Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater which is now headed by the German-Turkish artistic director Sermin Langhoff. Germany now has a German-Turkish cultural elite which is being recognized and taken seriously, and this is an important change. I'm hoping we'll be able to talk to some of those involved.