German media: Covering the refugee crisis from all sides | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.09.2015

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German media: Covering the refugee crisis from all sides

TV magazines, websites and newspapers are filled with all sorts of stories about refugees making their way to Germany. The media outlets, including tabloids, have found sensible ways to cover the touchy subject.

With hundreds, even thousands, of refugees coming to Germany every day, reactions among the population range from hateful and xenophobic to helpful and welcoming. In Munich, where many refugees arrive at the central train station from Hungary and Austria, residents brought in so many donations that the police had to ask them to stop. But there are also cities all over Germany where alleged right-wing extremists have torched refugee homes. So how do German media cover this sensitive topic?

All mainstream media condemn violent attacks against refugees and refugee housing. This is most clearly seen in the opinion sections of radio shows, TV broadcasts, or newspapers. One contribution that made waves recently was a call to action by TV host Anja Reschke on Germany's public broadcaster ARD. Reschke said people should stand up against hateful posts in social media that say refugees should be "set on fire" or "left to drown in the sea."

The commentary, which was broadcast on the popular news program "Tagesthemen," quickly went viral and spread to international media as well.

Most stories on the refugee crisis, of course, don't have this much "success." That's because they're more nuanced and more complicated, trying to explain why and from where the refugees are coming and what the long-term implications are.

Popular online magazine "Spiegel Online" has recently also published more far-reaching pieces, like a correspondent's report from the city of Tripoli in Lebanon. In it, the reporter states that the four million inhabitants of the Middle East nation have taken in around two million refugees - and readers are left to ponder how the number of refugees in Germany compares.

A common theme has been to get facts out in order to nip prejudices in the bud. "Spiegel Online" has an explainer series called "Facts about the refugee crisis - finally clear." Another expansive list of facts and figures was published by the "Bild" online issue. The "Bildzeitung" is Germany's most-read daily newspaper, mostly known for its polarizing headlines and simplified stories. But on Wednesday, it published a story called "7 truths about refugees in Germany."

Arson attacks on refugee homes: infographic. (Graphic: DW)

A look at the facts: the number of arson attacks on refugee homes from January to July 2015 alone

For the tabloid, it's an unusually detailed account that included several infographics and answers to questions like "How does an application for asylum work?" and "How many xenophobic attacks have occurred this year so far?"

No rose-colored glasses

On Wednesday, four of Germany's largest, nation-wide newspapers, "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," (FAZ) "Frankfurter Rundschau," "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) and "Die Welt," all had the refugee crisis playing out between the train stations of Budapest, Vienna and Munich as the top stories on their front pages.

While "Die Welt" focused on the emotional aspect with a photo of tired-looking refugee children, FAZ and SZ highlighted the issues that Germany faces in accommodating a growing number of refugees. The SZ headline read "At the limits of solidarity" and the FAZ quoted Germany's chancellor: "Merkel: Germany did not contribute to large inflow of refugees."

Angela Merkel. (Photo: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke)

Stories about the refugee crisis focus as much on political aspects, like Angela Merkel's decisions, as on personal stories

The FAZ story deals with the question of whether the German government is encouraging refugees to come to Germany by not following the Dublin Regulations. According to those, refugees have to apply for asylum in the European Union member state where they first arrive.

Angela Merkel stressed that Berlin is not intending to ignore the Dublin regulation, but that refugees from Syria would likely be allowed to stay in Germany "for practical reasons." The FAZ also reported that politicians from Austria and Hungary had criticized Merkel's government for not being clear on the issue and thus being responsible for the large number of people boarding trains from Budapest and Vienna for Munich.

Stories like these aren't easy to understand and don't elicit as much emotional reaction (and cold, hard clicks or sold copies of newspapers) as personal commentary, but they're just as important, if not more so. And German media outlets have been doing a pretty good job of telling them.

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