By Pueng Vongs | December 13th, 2006
An invitation to a conference about diversifying media in Germany opened my eyes to how far behind Western Europe is on the concept of diversity.
The conference was held in Berlin as a transatlantic discussion on the Impact of the Media on the Integration Process in Europe and the United States.
The first thing that struck me was the absence at the conference of minority members of the population they are trying to integrate. In fact the only non-Caucasian speakers and attendees came, ironically, from the United States, me one of them.
Germany, like other countries in the region including France and the U.K. are grappling with a burgeoning immigrant population. Immigrant diversity for Germany mainly means the 1.8 million Turkish in the country. Most of these Turks, however, are not counted by the German government who will not recognize them as bonafide German citizens.
In fact in order to be a German citizen you must have direct lineage in the country. There are other groups who have been in the country for generations and are still not considered German citizens. This includes what the country deems as ethnic minorities, some Danish and Serbs in rural parts of the country.
This German pluralism goes deeper than that. One German journalist at the conference said that despite the fact that he was born in Germany and both of his parents hold German passports he will never be considered a German. This is because he grew up in Kosovo and speaks with a thick accent.
How this impacts media is major German dailies like the Der Spiegel have only one reporter out of more than one hundred who is not German. He is a Turk. A reporter from the publication lamented this fact, but I found it hard to believe that with a little more searching, the newspaper could find more journalists from diverse backgrounds.
I spoke on the importance of ethnic media in the United States to bring to light important stories on immigrant and ethnic communities. I was surprised to learn that some in Germany think that ethnic media isolates immigrant communities and support the creation of terrorist networks. I countered with examples in the United States of ethnic media telling their readers how to vote, informing them on major national issues, and helping communities become more engaged in the new society they live in. All participants agreed this was the beginning of an important discussion in Germany that can only gain momentum in the future.