Even though some 7.3 million foreigners currently live in Germany, migrant life still gets a bad rap in the media. Public broadcasters met in Berlin recently to discuss ways of combating the cliches.
What's missing in Germany is an awareness of every-day migrant life
If German television is anything to go by, Muslim life is still shackled by tradition and overshadowed by crime. Its image took an even steeper downward plunge after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Fritz Pleitgen, director of German public broadcaster WDR.
But migrant life isn't all bad news, he insisted -- and it's high time television delivered the broader picture.
Melting pot Germany
"Honor killings and arranged marriages make more of a splash in the media that differentiated depictions of normal life among migrants," Pleitgen said.
Asli Bayram was crowned Miss Germany 2005
He'd rather see more coverage of upbeat news about the country's minorities -- like German-Turkish director Fatih Akin winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and Asli Bayram (photo) scooping this year's Miss Germany title.
After all, contemporary Germany is increasing becoming a proverbial melting pot. Cultural borders have never been more blurred -- one in six marriages is inter-cultural and one in four children born in Germany has at least one non-German parent.
On the other hand, gang violence, honor killings and the sort of Muslim fundamentalism practiced, for example, by the so-called Caliph of Cologne, Metin Kaplan, who is now standing trial in Istanbul after Germany extradited him last year, are also a fact of modern life.
But it needs to be stressed that these cases are exceptions, said Marie-Luise Beck, a government expert on migration. At a time when economic problems are creating wide-scale insecurity and resentment, society tends to look for scape-goats, she observed.
"It's important to report on what's happening," she said. "The media has a duty to cover an inflammatory speech given by an Imam. But it's equally important to report of the rise of right-wing extremism and show that it doesn't only take the form of jackboots, it can also come packaged in a pin-stripe suit."
It's an approach that can easily depoliticize extremism. Beck said that instead of exploring the roots of right-wing fanaticism, the media tends to promote a stereotypical image of shaven-headed Nazis in bomber jackets which fails to convey the full extent of the problem -- and the rise of middle-class reactionaries.
Beate Winkler from the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia also had reservations about the way the media portrays right-wing extremism.
"Right-wing extremists are turned into victims to such an extent that viewers can identify with them," she said. "At the same time no one really looks at their broader social role."
"Why can't we take them as they are?"
So what can be done to encourage more objective reporting? While many feel that Germany's public broadcasters should assume an educational responsibility by depicting positive examples of integration, others caution against taking an over-optimistic approach.
"People are always saying television should show more good news," said Ulrich Deppendorf from WDR. "But if we only ever showed positive images, we'd lost some of our credibility."
According to media expert Rainer Braun, the problem is that migrants still haven't hit the mainstream.
"Why is it so hard to have people from other backgrounds fronting any thing other than specifically multi-cultural shows?" he asked. "Why couldn't they read the prime-time news or host political shows -- why can't we just take them as they are?"