German journalism lacks diversity | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.05.2011
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German journalism lacks diversity

Despite making up almost one-fifth of Germany's population, people with immigrant backgrounds make up less than five percent of the country's journalists. The National Integration Plan hopes to redress this imbalance.

Nazan Eckes

Nazan Eckes is one of few journalists with a non-German background

Nazan Eckes is something of an exception. She has Turkish parents, grew up bilingual and did a traineeship in journalism before becoming a reporter and presenter. She is now one of the stars at private German broadcaster RTL. She believes that misconceptions about journalism often deter people with an immigration background from trying to break into the field.

"They think this profession is reserved for Germans with German origins due to the language," she said. "But on the other hand I think it was really difficult to find a way into it for a while, even if you had good grades and good qualifications."

But Eckes said the fact that she had Turkish origins had been totally irrelevant for her own career.

Language hurdle

Estimates suggest that no more than four percent of journalists in Germany have foreign roots, despite the fact that people with an immigration background make up almost 20 percent of Germany's population.

Yasmin Osman is one of this small number of journalists with non-German origins - while her mother is German, her father comes from Sudan. Osman doesn't speak her father's language and has always felt that she is German. Now a finance editor for German business daily Handelsblatt, she says her origins do not matter to her colleagues in the banking city of Frankfurt. But she recognizes that she is an exception.

German-Turkish dictionary

Language can be an obstacle

"I suspect that language is a hurdle for many people," she said. "That of course explains why there are so few journalists with a bi-national background like me."

Studies suggest that less than two percent of journalists working in Germany's print media have an immigration background, which a quick glance at the credits in a newspaper confirms.

But Erkan Arikan made it. He has Turkish parents, grew up in Germany and has a German passport. He has worked as an editor, an editor-in-chief and a presenter for various broadcast stations and is now part of the current affairs team at ARD, a consortium of Germany's public broadcasters.

"When I was younger, I had the good fortune of working for a news channel like n-tv, where my origins didn't matter at all," he said. "My boss liked the fact that, because of my background, I had expert knowledge of Turkey."

Turks underrepresented

But Arikan has also observed that people with non-German origins are not generally interested in getting into journalism and that if they are, they tend to find employment in small regional offices where they are tasked with covering topics about their former countrymen.

Nazan Eckes and Erkan Arikan are an exception to the rule - even though Turks make up the country's biggest immigrant community. Arikan attributes this underrepresentation to a lack of role models, but told also said he thought journalism had a bad image.

"When I told my parents I wanted to become a journalist, the first thing my father said was: 'Son, can't you do something sensible?'" he explained.

Immigrants with school leaving qualifications tend to choose professions like law, medicine or engineering instead. But the German government's National Integration Plan aims to encourage more people with a migrant background to pursue a career in journalism. It considers the move "indispensable to approaching normality in everyday life and also to dealing with issues of immigration and integration."

Promoting opportunity

There are now several initiatives which aim to equip young people of non-German origin with the skills they need to succeed in journalism. The Heinrich Böll Foundation has been running a scholarship program, in which the Deutsche Welle is involved, for several years now and German public broadcaster WDR encourages young people from immigrant backgrounds to become journalists as part of its No Borders campaign.

Erkan Arikan

Journalist Erkan Arikan says his origins didn't matter to his colleagues

New German Media Makers also started up in 2008. Originally an informal network, it is now an association which campaigns for more diversity in German media and sponsors a journalism trainee program for young immigrants.

Chairwoman Marjan Parvand says the association wants to ensure that budding journalists work in one of Germany's main editorial offices rather than winding up in niche departments.

"The problem is that editorial offices which produce content for the majority of society lack diversity," she said. "They lack opinions."

But while efforts are being made to train and employ more journalists of non-German origin, Horst Pöttker, professor of journalism at the Technical University of Dortmund, says there have been no big changes yet.

"I don't think the German media can do without it in the long run," he said. "You can't just write off 20 percent of the potential audience as recipients, receivers and consumers."

Learning from the US

Pöttker added that the right people were needed to understand the kind of content in demand by a diverse audience. Pöttker serves as an advisor to German Integration Commissioner Maria Böhmer.

"We can learn a lot about this issue from the classic immigrant societies in North America," he said. "Every year for the last 30 years American, professional associations have been publishing what proportion of editorial staff the four biggest minority groups make up at newspapers. The proportion has increased to nearly 14 percent from four percent in this time."

If German editorial offices had the same proportion of staff from minority groups, their workforce would be well on the way to reflecting the diversity of Germany's population.

Author: Klaudia Prevezanos / mm

Editor: Kate Bowen

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