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German media sorely lacking diversity and inclusion

Rob Mudge
August 24, 2020

News organizations around the world are struggling to reflect an increasingly diverse society. But why is this reflection of pluralism so important, and how can diversity improve the quality of content and programming?

Panelists at DW's Global Media Forum
Image: DW

The drive to embrace diversity and become more inclusive is increasingly ubiquitous — from company boards to political parties to cultural and social institutions and media organizations.

More often than not, the ambitions outweigh the actual implementation. That appears to be especially true of the German media landscape.

On paper, Germany is an immigration country, however in a recent study, the New German Media Professionals association found that only 6% of the country's editors-in-chief have an immigration background. Those parts of society that suffer discrimination and racism disproportionately are not represented at all.

At the same time, a majority of Germany's editors-in-chief encourage diversity within their organizations, but fall far short of doing anything about it. Internationally, Germany has plenty of catching up to do.

At a digital panel session as part of DW's Global Media Forum 2020 focusing on the need for news organizations to promote diversity and inclusion, Armin Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, highlighted the fact that "German journalism does not even come close to depicting social realities."

Practice what you preach

Trustworthy journalism, he said in his keynote speech, "has to address all classes of society and reflect the perspectives of different social groups."

Also joining the session were Jamie Angus, the director of BBC World Service Group, which provides news in English and 42 other languages around the world on TV, radio and online; Aruna Roy, an Indian political and social activist and cofounder of the Workers' and Peasants' Strength Union and the National Campaign for People's Right to Information; and Peter Limbourg, DW's director general.

The overarching question addressed by the panelists was how diversity can be practiced in news organizations; what contributions can newsmakers make to overcome division and exclusion?

An infographic on diversity in German journalism

Inherent to both DW and the BBC World Service is a built-in diversity as they offer wide-ranging news coverage in dozens of languages. However, as Angus said, that is not enough.

"We work hard at offering diversity every day, but we can't be complacent. We need to raise the number of staff from ethnic backgrounds, especially in senior management roles, and make progress in career progression."

One crucial ingredient is to create diversity across all the hierarchical structures. "We need teams that are diverse and closer to our public. That means bringing in more people from minorities into senior management positions," said Limbourg.

Different markets and audiences require different approaches in terms of addressing diversity and the needs of ethnic minorities. India, with its myriad classes and castes is a case in point, said Roy.

"We have to live with all these differences. Here, the economic debate is critical for all the minorities that feel they are being edged out of [the coverage] of the mainstream media."

Tap into the knowledge

The panelists agreed on the need for more positive coverage of people from minorities or different ethnicities. The best way to do that, said Angus, is to listen to and and learn from the journalists who have a similar background.

"Our own staff are our most earnest critics. So let your own staff be your guide to address the different audiences and tell the stories."

Another hotly debated issue is the question of whether news organizations should introduce a quota to guarantee more diversity.

Diversity is not only a question of background but also diversity of opinions. For Roy that misses the point to a certain extent. "The perception of individuals has to change and there has to be identification with the issues."

For Limbourg it's not so much a question of quantity, but the quality of how diversity is lived.

"Diversity is not only a question of background but also a diversity of opinions. Our key mission is to report about minorities, their problems, the way they are treated."

Broadening the horizon is key to understanding and implementing diversity — especially in these turbulent times marked by fake news, conspiracy theories and populism.

"This would give journalism the opportunity to showcase our diverse society, to promote understanding of one another and support social cohesion and to tap into new target groups," he said.