Kai Hafez and Carola Richter, both specialists in the field of communications studies, have conducted a comprehensive analysis of the image of Islam presented by Germany's public broadcasting companies. Sabine Schiffer took a critical look at their study
In order to analyse the image of the Islamic community portrayed by Germany's media, Kai Hafez and Carola Richter of the University of Erfurt scrutinised a variety of television shows (including talk shows, documentaries, and reports) that addressed the issue of Islam and were broadcast over a period of almost 18 months (from July 2005 to December 2006). They also examined the context of the reports in question.
The authors of the study came to the conclusion that this context was negative in over 80 per cent of all cases, whereby the issues of terrorism and extremism were the most frequently addressed of all (23 per cent).
While only just under 20 per cent of all reports highlighted the everyday world of Muslims or religious issues relating to Islam, the remainder of the reports covered a variety of issues ranging from the difficulties of integration, religious intolerance, fundamentalism, the repression of women, and human rights.
Polarisation in an attempt to influence public opinion?
By focussing on such themes, Islam is primarily portrayed as a problematic issue. Hafez and Richter quite rightly ask whether the broadcasting companies are really meeting their obligation to provide the public with substantiated information or whether they are doing the work of those who would wish to polarise in order to influence public opinion.
They do not criticise the reports as such, but instead the fact that the broadcasting companies neglect to portray and report on the less spectacular, everyday lives of Muslims in Germany. According to the authors of the study, a hugely distorted image of Islam is created by suppressing positive aspects in this way and by not highlighting examples of successful integration and peaceful, everyday co-existence.
This is why the authors call, among other things, for greater thematic pluralism in order to prevent such a one-sided negative stereotype being peddled in the media. Most of Germany's public broadcasting companies are considered to be credible, model media. Their influence on the media as a whole is considerable.
Muslim representatives in the supervisory bodies?
With this influence comes a particular social responsibility – a responsibility that is not being discharged when it comes to their reports on Islam. In order to counteract this development, Hafez and Richter recommend that representatives of the Muslim community get involved in the supervisory bodies of the broadcasting corporations by means of the system of rotation which is generally applied in these cases.
The authors quite rightly point to other religions' potential for violence to prove that violence is not a purely Islamic phenomenon. Nevertheless, it would have been preferable for them, by way of comparison, to also highlight the violence of political systems. After all, the loss of civilian lives is often taken into account in the war against terror and in the name of freedom, democracy, and human rights.
The myth of "high-quality television"
All things considered, the study dispels a few myths. It claims, for example, that Germany's public broadcasting companies are idealizing their own image by referring to their products as "high-quality television" in comparison with other channels.
Moreover, the study shows that Islamophobic websites such as akte-islam.de, politicallyincorrect.de, or buergerbewegungen.de are now part of the mainstream despite the fact that the people behind them like to portray themselves as outsiders who are fighting to have their voices heard by a naïve and uncritical public.
Let us hope that other studies will be conducted both on this subject and on the private television sector.
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan