Investigative journalist Günter Wallraff has made history with his exposes about Turkish guest workers, tabloid journalism and call centers. He spoke to DW about moral courage, discrimination and the media.
Wallraff has spent his life doing undercover exposes
Social standing has replaced origin as a basis if discrimination, Wallraff says
What do you consider to be moral courage?
I think moral courage should be a compulsory subject in the schools instead of certain virtues that have returned to the forefront, such as industriousness, punctuality, etc. I think that in Germany of all places, moral courage should take that place instead, that is, that children should already learn in school to respect other cultures, other ways of life, minorities and also to stand up for them -- also if it means taking risks. That's why I'm often in schools -- especially in eastern Germany. In the last 10 years, I've given almost 100 presentations -- in places where right-wing radicals are often quite dominant. Here and there, I've even changed people's attitudes.
"Lowest of the Low," the book for which you spent two years disguised as a Turkish guest worker, was a huge success in Germany in 1985. It was, according to one critic, the first time the Germans realized that the Turks, who were working hard for little money in the country's factories and being treated like dirt, were real people. Is there now less discrimination against Turks and others foreigners in Germany?
Bild is known for its bombastic front page
Today it's not the Turks who are at the very bottom of society -- it's the workers from eastern Europe: Poles, Romanians, construction workers who have no rights, who, where we used to earn six, eight deutschmarks [3-4 euros], now do it for two euros an hour. Every third construction worker is illegal or only partly legal, and they are really treated like commodities, hired and fired according to the situation. Germans are among them, too, no difference is made anymore. The long-term unemployed, especially from eastern Germany, also end up in such crews. Discrimination can't necessarily be attributed to an individual's origins anymore, but to their social standing. We have already firmly embedded so-called third-world standards in Germany.
You plan to start working in a factory again soon. Nowadays personal reports have become a standard feature in the media. There's no need to glue on a fake beard anymore. Now that anyone can make their own personal experiences public -- on YouTube, for example -- hasn't undercover journalism become old hat?
I've just provided proof of the opposite, to my own astonishment. The short time I spent in two call centers drew so much public attention to the topic that politicians are now responding and business groups are anxious. Trying it out for yourself has a very different authenticity and force of expression than when you assert something from the outside or even investigate it. And I think it's essential for many more people to do it.
Ramon Garcia-Ziemsen interviewed Günter Wallraff (ncy)