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Study Sees German Television Reinforcing Foreigner Clichés

A new study of German media shows that German youth are being fed a daily diet of soap operas, talk shows and boulevard magazines on television that tend to reinforce old stereotypes of foreigners living in the country.


Turks make up the largest group of foreigners living in Germany.

Hot-blooded Italian Latin lovers, illegal Polish construction workers and macho gold chain-sporting Turks – unfortunately such hackneyed stereotypes of foreigners still abound on German television, according to a study conducted by the Center for Media and Communication at University of Leipzig.

Titled "What do you Watch? What Do you Think?", the survey looked at the television viewing habits of 41 young Germans aged 9 to 14. The study also scrutinized afternoon and early evening programs on German state and private television channels for how foreigners were portrayed. Regardless whether it was a daily soap, a talk show or a sensational tabloid program, the results weren’t very encouraging.

"Many of those we questioned, only knew foreigners through television. But that doesn’t correspond to reality," Bernd Schorb, university professor and author of the study, told the German news agency DPA.

Foreigners as criminals

Talk shows and courtroom dramas fared particularly poorly when it came to presenting foreigners. The study stressed that while Turks, Spaniards and Italians are almost always projected as glib, confident and carefully-styled when chatting with show hosts, the foreigners populating legal television dramas in Germany – Russians, Turks, Italians or Asians – are predominantly seen in the roles of the perpetrators of crime and seldom as victims.

Tschetschenische Flüchtlingskinder in einem Camp in Sleptovskaia, Russland

Schorb discovered that every third criminal in boulevard magazine shows was a foreigner and popular soap operas also painted a completely undiscerning and "exotic" picture of the handful of foreigners who starred in them.

The study also criticized the fact that entertainment programs, rarely if at all dealt with real problems faced by many foreigners such as immigration and integration in a new culture. Gernot Schumann, director of the media supervisory authority in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein told DPA the findings should serve as a wake up call: "We need to reinvent color television and get away from consciously black and white images.”

Seeing is believing?

Though the study concluded television largely delivers a poor picture of foreigners living in Germany, it would be wrong to assume that the country’s growing foreign population, estimated currently at roughly 10 percent of the total population of 80 million, is only being marketed in negative ways across the media landscape.

In fact, a look at VIVA, Germany’s leading music video channel, has an increasing number of non-German hosts. In fact, VIVA and much of the rest of Germany’s entertainment industry has begun to use “cool” foreigners to market everything from music to clothes to lifestyle products to Germany’s youth. For example, a recently casted pop band called BroSis had not one white German among the six band members, despite being cobbled together from thousands of applicants.

Mola Adebisi, a German-Nigerian VIVA host, told Deutsche Welle he hoped that positively-portrayed foreigners would soon become more than a gimmick. "One must simply make it clear to the Germans that they’re the ones who need to catch up – not the foreigners," said Adebisi.

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