″Give everyone a voice″
Mr Bahouth, in the New German Media Makers′ image film it says: ″Germany has grown more diverse, but the media hasn′t.″ Your association is committed to a stronger presence of immigrants in the media. Why is that so important?
Chadi Bahouth: Our society has become diverse, a country of immigration. That′s why it′s necessary that all the various population groups, including those with a history of immigration or disability, have a voice in the media – both in front and behind the scenes – and thus also in society, so as to be able to tell their version of history and expose stereotypes. Our democratic society essentially lives from what is reported in the media. Immigrants in particular often have the feeling that they are represented negatively or in cliches.
The New German Media Makers were founded in 2009 as a lobby for media workers with an immigration background. Who is behind it?
Bahouth: A few years ago some colleagues realised that certain topics put them in a difficult position in their capacity as editors. It was out of this need – to change something, to strengthen one′s own position – that the idea emerged of founding an association.
The name ″New German Media Makers″ is a very clear indication that we see ourselves as part of this society. We′re Germans – with a bit ″extra″; for example bilinguality and an understanding of other cultures. We work in German and some of us even speak German better than our original language. This is essentially different from the ethnically formed associations of our parents′ generation.Your association aims to be a contact point for intercultural journalism. How do you encourage journalists with an immigration background?
Bahouth: With the Bildungswerk Kreuzberg, which we founded in 2009, we started a cross-media, bicultural journalistic training centre for people with an immigration history. I myself was in the first-year group. It′s an intense programme in which you acquire all the basic skills of journalism and acquire lots of hands-on experience. In addition, the association is engaged in conventional lobbying and is committed to the idea that more positions in the media should be occupied by people with an immigration background.
With good reason: every fifth inhabitant of Germany has an immigration background, but only every fiftieth journalist has non-German roots! How in your experience are journalists with an immigration background received in editorial teams?
Bahouth: I think that in the big cities origin doesn′t usually play a role. In small local teams, the picture is quite different. A few years ago 87 percent of local print editorial teams didn′t have a single employee with an immigration background. These days, it is likely to be even more difficult for someone out there with an immigration background to assert his opinions and perspectives, viewpoints which in larger newspapers in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich would be accepted as a matter of course.
″We′re not the better journalists, but also not the worse ones″ it reads on your website. What ″plus″, what strengths, do journalists with an immigration background have?
Bahouth: Bilinguality is surely a great advantage, not only linguistically. If you′ve grown up in Germany with a foreign background, you′re almost inevitably sensitised to different cultures. Understanding for the situation of certain people, access to certain communities, is simpler. Editorial colleagues with an immigration background offer a different angle on subjects.
The association is engaged in numerous events, projects and initiatives for balanced reporting and opposes discrimination and hate on the Internet. A task that, in the face of rapidly growing development, seems like jousting with windmills.
Bahouth: Hate is another form of fear. Our society is undergoing a process of transformation and this makes many people afraid because they don′t know how to deal with it. Then you have a populist party like the Alternative for Germany that says: ″The refugees are to blame″. In this way hate and anger is being exacerbated in the social networks. That′s why our association actively takes part in the ″No Hate Speech Campaign″ of the Council of Europe. We aim to sensitise young people and people working in the media especially to the treatment of discrimination in online media and social networks and to show them how they can protect themselves against it. We want to send a signal against hate.
Interview conducted by Monika Stefanek
© Goethe-Institut 2017