Media and Integration

Politics as a Corrective of the Fourth Estate

Whilst Germany's leading politicians are striving to find new ways to integrate the country's immigrants, journalists are increasingly displaying an uninhibited petty bourgeois mindset. Politics as a corrective of the fourth estate – a paradox of German history, says Eberhard Seidel

Whilst Germany's leading politicians are striving to find new ways to integrate the country's immigrants, journalists are increasingly displaying an uninhibited petty bourgeois mindset. Politics as a corrective of the fourth estate – a paradox of German history says Eberhard Seidel

German dailies (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Change of paradigm: in the 90s it used to be politicians who stirred up campaigns against asylum seekers - now it's journalists who are ethnicising and polarizing, says Eberhard Seidel

​​ "One in three immigrants are unemployed. Immigrants in north Bremen, homeless. An armada of helpers, helpless. […] It is difficult, trying not to become angry." (Stern Magazine, 5 April 2009)

For the past five years we have been hearing that integration has failed. It is the mantra of Ralph Giordano, Seyran Ates, and Necla Kelek, just as it is of the FAZ and the taz newspapers. And the "them" and "us" mentality has long since firmly lodged itself in many heads.

No other issue better illustrates shifting public opinion in recent years than the "integration and migration" issue. When, at the beginning of the nineties, some politicians stirred up a campaign against asylum seekers, there were hundreds of journalists who were prepared to stand up against them. Informing, criticising, commenting.

They warned, too, that this sort of agitation would put freedom and human rights at risk. The outcome was an awakening of civil society in the form of protest rallies and candle-lit demonstrations, culminating, from 1998, during the era of the Social Democratic-Green coalition, in a period of self-criticism and reflection.

Ethnicization of social problems

Ten years on and everything has changed. Now, above all, it is the middle class, enlightened circles, journalists especially, who are ethnicising and polarizing – in the quality press as well as in the tabloids. A profession so proud of its enlightened attitudes, its critical discernment and its role as watchdog is now revealing itself as nothing more than a coterie of the uninhibited petty bourgeois. Laden with resentment, incapable and unwilling to reflect current developments in immigration.

photo: AP
Maria Böhmer, Germany's Commissioner for Migration, Refugees, and Integration, promotes equal opportunities for migrants. 'Learning is not a question of (ethnic) background,' the campaign poster reads

​​ Their supposedly progressive stance fuelled by fears of a tipping of the social balance, a skewing of the scales. Eagerly they gather evidence from the social fringes; from Germany's deprived areas, such as the Neukölln district of Berlin or notorious places like the Rütli School; ascribing anomic tendencies wholesale to all immigrants, and contributing to an aggressive you and us attitude.

Nowadays it is the political powers that be that incur journalistic wrath. Chancellor Merkel, Interior Minister Schäuble, SPD leader Müntefering and Foreign Secretary Steinmeier – all of whom are seeking new solutions to the problem of integration. Politics as a corrective of the fourth estate – a paradox of German history.

Since 2007, a number of substantial studies and investigations into the migration situation in Germany have appeared. "Muslims in Germany", for example, is a 500-page illuminating study of integration, which investigates barriers to integration, religion and attitudes to democracy, the rule of law and political-religious violence. Informative and insightful, it makes a nonsense of much of the media reporting.

Differentiating according to social situation and attitudes

The Sinus Study on migration and migrants in Germany has been available since the end of 2008. It was begun in 2006 and the first findings published in the autumn of 2007. The quantitative and qualitative results of the study thoroughly refute the media constructions. Immigrants are not a homogenous group and they certainly do not define themselves primarily on the basis of their ethnic background or religion.

For the first time in the Federal Republic's history immigrants are treated in the same way as the native majority, in terms of their social situation, fundamental beliefs and attitudes. Eight situational environments are presented. They range from the intercultural-cosmopolitan via the status-oriented and traditional working class to the religiously rooted.

Student in classroom (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Large-scale surveys of Germany's migrant population attest to a high degree of willingness on the part of immigrants to integrate, writes Seidel

​​ Findings: Only around 7 per cent of the immigrants are from a background with strong religious roots, advocating strict, rigid values and bound to the patriarchal and religious traditions of their home countries.

Since 2007, the Sinus Sociovision Institute of the University of Heidelberg has been publishing their findings from a large-scale survey of the migrant population, findings that attest to a high degree of willingness on the part of immigrants to integrate. They also show that the influence of religious traditions is something that is overestimated. For example, 84 per cent are in favour of church and state being separate and are of the opinion that religion is a private matter.

The findings have attracted little notice and even less discussion. Only one article on the subject has found its way onto the pages of the taz since 2007. By comparison, the same period has seen around 300 articles on the subjects of honour killings, forced marriages and the infamous Rütli School; headlines that read like the epitaph of integration.

Of course, some of these articles do go to the trouble of making distinctions. Unfortunately, their own frame of reference ensures that they themselves remain a contributory part of an integration debate that runs the gamut from problematic to reactionary. The picture is very similar in Germany's other quality newspapers.

Superfluous Integration

Consequently, it is this kind of reporting and not the findings of the Sinus Study that has sunk into everyday consciousness. The Sinus Study, on the other hand, describes the individualisation and pluralisation of lifestyles among the country's immigrants: 98 per cent choose their own spouses; 83 per cent of those with an immigration background said they were happy living in Germany; 82 per cent speak German with their closest friends, and for 74 per cent education and knowledge are important values.

Although the immigrant communities are becoming more and more like the Germans, the media persists in its ethnocentric definitions and in ignoring the actual moral values and lifestyles practised in such communities.

According to a study published by the Sinus Sociovision research team at the end of March, 40 per cent of Germans believe that anti-discrimination policies are "superfluous". And, while it was quite rightly felt that women should have equal pay to men or that the elderly and disabled should not be discriminated against, there was no such understanding for the granting of equal treatment to immigrants, homosexuals or followers of other faiths.

And the idea of political and in particular legal action being used to bring this about found little sympathy.

Eberhard Seidel

© Qantara.de 2009

Eberhard Seidel, 54, is chairman of the School without Racism – School with Courage network. His work as a journalist has focused on right-wing extremism, migration, political Islam and youth subcultures. He has recently published "Stadt der Vielfalt. Das Entstehen des neuen Berlin durch Migration" ("City of Plurality. The Development of a New Berlin through Migration", Berlin 2009) with Sanem Kleff.

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