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More Sensitivity and Less Prejudice

by Christoph Butterwegge Saturday, Apr. 01, 2006 at 1:38 PM

Since journalists influence the political and social climate in the subject of migration, they should show greater sensitivity toward racist exclusion..Integration is not a one-way street but can only succeed when we create the prerequisites and grant equal rights.


Mass Media, Migration and Integration as Challenges for Journalism. A Conversation with political scientist Christoph Butterwegge

[Since journalists influence the political and social climate in the subject of migration, “they should show a greater sensitivity toward racist exclusion,” Christoph Butterwegge insists. With Gudrun Hentges, political scientist at the Fulda academy, the 55-year old edited the book “Mass Media, Migration and Integration.” Scholars analyze migration debates and the reporting in the media beginning with the earlier “immigrant workers” and ending with “God’s warriors” after September 11, 2001. Telepolis spoke with the political scientist at the University of Koln about this complex theme. The interview published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis, 3/28/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

At first reporting about migrants reflected fears. They take “our” work away; criminality grows in ghettos, it was said. Then more economic rationality came into play under the Red-Green German government (see the Green Card and the realization that Germany’s economic position would collapse without foreign workers). Fears and rationality have been mixed up since September 11, 2001. Muslims are simplistically represented as terrorists while the vast majority live peacefully as workers in the country. Do you think the reporting mirrors reality?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: Migration reporting reflects the reality fractured by the worldviews, convictions and fears of the media-makers. Media-makers partly construct this reality themselves. What newspaper readers and television viewers learn about “massive migration” to Germany, the “failure of the multicultural society” or the alleged “deficient will to integration of immigrants” is decided by how they encounter individual immigrants in everyday life.

Can you give us an example?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: That many Muslims feel intensely rejected today and are often even attacked on the street can be referred back to the media reporting after September 11, 2001. Since then, Muslims are regarded as potential assassins, a danger for inner security and a social security risk.


In your book, a quotation from FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung) on September 12, 1962 is remarkable: “Communist agitators will do anything to slander West Berlin and praise their own conditions as paradisiacal.” Can the danger be quietly accepted that a simple worker from Sicily or Andalusia will quickly understand the real difference between the two parts of Berlin?” In the Cold War, Italian communists were accused of importing totalitarian thinking as “immigrant workers.” In the “clash of cultures,” we are now warned that Islamic warriors of God as immigrants threaten freedom. Does this happen without scapegoats and stereotypes?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: How journalists report about foreigners, refugees and immigrants cements a hierarchy formed in the consciousness of citizens so that certain groups of foreigners are viewed as “aliens” or even enemies. On the other hand, others – like prominent athletes and artists – are welcome guests. This dualism is very striking in the local and popular press. Both often connect the “foreigner problem” with “foreign control” and inadequate inner security. This was not different after the attacks in Washington, New York, Madrid and London than during the Cold War. In both cases, migrants served “western” self-assertion as a projection screen for the aggressive stance toward the “enemy.”

Let us look at everyday life and our own prejudices. Since the first “immigrant workers” arrived, conservative politicians and the media warned of ghettos, criminality and violence. If one believes the media, these fears have become true at least in some districts. Neo-nazis have renamed the term “multicultural” into “multi-criminal.” Authorities and politicians warn of a further growth of criminality. In France, the suburbs burned first. The opinion that the warners were right gains support there.

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: Migrants like natives are persons and not angels. Like them, they react to impoverishment in slums and lack of occupational perspectives. Dilapidation and violence can only be nipped in the bud when the admitting society recognizes that it should accept and promote immigrants as much as possible without pushing them away. Integration rightly expected of migrants is not a one-way street. Integration can only succeed when we create the prerequisites and grant minorities equal rights and equal social opportunities.


The so-called caricature dispute escalated recently. Your book does not take up this incident. How do you see the debate?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: When the Danish daily “Jyllands-Posten” published twelve Mohammed caricatures in September 2005, they clearly wanted to provoke Muslims in Denmark. Obviously no one suspected how strongly the protest wave would grow seizing the whole Islamic world and erupting violently. The caricature dispute involved the possibilities of peaceful cooperation of people of different skin colors, ethnic origins and religion, not only the limits of freedom of the press and religious feelings meriting protection.

Political agitators have only waited for an opportunity to confirm that “Islam” and “the western lifestyle” are incompatible. Unfortunately many German journalists announced the “clash of cultures” too quickly and blocked the way to a harmonious cooperation with their false undifferentiated interpretation. What do you advise journalists for the future?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: Journalists influence migration and the social climate without always being conscious of their influence. They should show a greater sensitivity about racist exclusion and more regard for the concerned. Migrants can be stylized as burdens of the social system, threats of inner security or as enrichment of the receiver society. But migrants would also be told that people deserve the same respect irrespective of their skin color, ethnic origin or nationality. The question of their usefulness “for us” should really be forbidden. Instead, corroborated information about the everyday working conditions and life reality of migrants would be helpful.

This happens occasionally with “normal” or “useful” migrants.

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: Instead of reporting – with a tinge of sensation-seeking – about the problems caused by asylum seekers, the problems facing them like flight trauma, fear of deportation and attacks, discrimination, exclusion and loneliness in old age should be highlighted. Migrants must not be reduced in the media to a victim- or object role. Rather migrants should be allowed to speak for themselves more often.

In the book, you say migrants are between 9 and 10 percent of Germany’s population. However they are only one percent of persons working in the media. What do you advise?

CHRISTOPH BUTTERWEGGE: Journalists with migration background should not suffer discrimination but become the normality in editorial offices of newspapers and broadcast stations as immigration has long been a normality in globalization.

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