We're using the summer to work hard on putting the finishing touches on our forthcoming publication, Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform, edited by Pippa Norris from the Harvard Kennedy School. In this book, we will discuss the news media's roles as watchdog, agenda setters, and gatekeepers to the public forum. We will present studies and cases from all over the world that show the effect that media can have, but also what constraints can hinder the media in fulfilling these roles. When we started putting this work together, I was struck by how little examples and evidence we could find on the media as public forum, as a platform that gives voice to diverse social groups, even those on the margins of society. Now that I'm proofreading the final chapters, I'm reminded of a study I was once involved in that looked at the media's role for Turkish migrants in Germany - a group that qualifies as marginalized indeed.
Turkish migrants are in their fourth generation in Germany by now, the largest migrant group in the country. There is not much experience with multi-ethnicity in Western Europe, and accordingly the relations between Turks and Germans in Germany aren't always as cooperative as they could be. In the study, my revered professor Beate Schneider from the Institute for Journalism and Communication Research in Hannover/Germany and I argue that social integration is a continuing process where social groups interact and exchange information and knowledge that originate in only one of the groups. Common values, structures of meaning, and identity - the foundation of integration - can only be constructed when they are communicated. Here, obviously, the media play a huge role. Research on the representation of ethnic minorities in the media points to mass media’s ability to influence integration through the way it portrays social groups. Assuming that pictures in the media become pictures in the minds of the audience, media representations could create, alter, or dismantle prejudices and distances between ethnic groups. A second approach focuses on media consumption, assuming that the development of language and communication proficiencies is a basis for creating inter-ethnic relations and inter-ethnic communication; and second, the diffusion of information and knowledge about values, meanings, and identities creating a symbolic community - between or within groups.
Different types of media have, of course, different functions. In Germany Turkish migrants can use German media, Turkish media that they receive per satellite from Turkey, and Turkish media that is published in Germany for a Turkish audience. It has been argued that the latter two groups of media could increase segregation because the audience does not come in touch with issues from the host country. On the other hand, German mainstream media does not usually address issues that are relevant to Turkish migrants. A dilemma?
In our research we found some potential - that remained largely unused. We asked a group of several hundred migrants about what media they used and what specifically they were looking for in them. We also asked a small group of Turkish journalists working in Germany for their views on integration and their understanding of their role in the integration process. We found that ethnic media do not communicate separation nor is this the intention of ethnic journalists. We did, however, find specific functions of ethnic media that point to a specific role for integration and matters of cultural identity. Whereas German mainstream media provide information on current affairs, ethnic media are turned to for several reasons. On one hand, the audience is looking for orientation in everyday life; on the other, emotional aspects play a crucial role. Turkish media provide a bond between the Turks living in Germany and their culture of origin; they preserve ethnic traditions and foster a family’s sense of togetherness as Turks.
It was very clear, however, that our respondents did not feel that the German mainstream media provided any public platform for them. On the contrary, there was consensus that Turks were mostly portrayed with negative attributes. A platform for their voices they found in online communities - with predominantly Turkish and German-Turkish membership. But - what good is a public forum that is not also a shared forum? Germans don't use Turkish media, online or offline. We did find a clear media segregation that is indeed worrisome in a society where the youngest Turkish generations have never seen Turkey and have a German passport. But they would not call themselves Germans. If you don't have a voice in society, you're not part of it.