Freedom and responsibility of the media in the migration and integration process
In the process of increasing global communication the media has a special importance – even though one has to accede to the fact that decentralised information brokering increasingly gains in importance at the cost of the classic mass media press, radio broadcasting and television and leads to an increasing dissolution of mass and individual communication. Or, metaphorically speaking: YouTube and myspace have become a veritable competition to ARD and BBC.
The importance and the impact of the media also concerns societies’ challenge ‑ migration. The growth of the migration flow and the success of integration are to a not inconsiderable extent influenced by the media. The media enforce the status of simultaneousness of completely different levels of development – economic, cultural, political, social – by making information available to every corner of the world. This is how they contribute to the large migration flow.
The media also contributes, of course, in many ways to the circumstances in which the migrants in the target countries live. They contribute to the success of integration, to whether receptiveness and tolerance of the populations increases or declines.
The role of the press in a free democracy and hence the resulting basic right of press freedom, however, brings responsibility. Freedom only works if as many as possible live up to their respective responsibility. And the press will only fulfil its public function in the long run if it contributes to conveying an accurate picture of reality, thus ensuring careful, differentiated and balanced coverage as a whole.
Now competition for that scarce commodity called attention has become harder and harder with the increase of the flow of information and growing competition with other sources of information and communication, such as the internet. And in this increasingly tougher contest conformity, banality and scandalousness of information, prevailing at a certain period of time, are on the increase. In the past one could observe a stronger differentiation of the themes and subjects of the media than is the case today.
A certain amount of sangfroid, however, is important to the population in order to safeguard a feeling of security, to fight prejudice, to uphold solidarity and tolerance – and not to destroy these and others things through too much excitement and alarmism. This is what I also see as the media’s responsibility. I don’t need to explain that an overarching perception of a threat which does not correspond to reality is more of a hindrance than a help to integration. Thus it comes down to objectivity and proportionality of the reporting.
However, this is not to mean that we need to whitewash our coverage. This would be just as bad. The media does not have a custodial, educational mission but serves the opinion-forming of the sovereign. Journalists must have confidence in the maturity of the citizens and confront them with the plain truth. Unrestricted social communication is one of the prerequisites of functioning free societies. Incidentally I am convinced that one is most likely to change a problematic reality by clearly naming the problems.
The democratic state is right to be cautious when it comes to regulating and controlling the media. At a time in which the classic media increasingly competes with other forms of information transmission this caution gains in importance.
To decree sober, differentiated, balanced and sensitive reporting is something the state cannot do – even when it sometimes believes that it would be desirable in terms of public welfare. For the state is not almighty. It must not be ‑ for the sake of freedom. Therefore one always has to realise in dealing with this subject that a free and liberal state cannot achieve everything that by one way or the other one would like it to achieve.. And this is why it cannot enforce everything one would like. Imperfection is a precondition that creates spaces of freedom which people can fill one way or another, in plain language: with more or with less responsibility.
In a largely self-regulating media landscape the state can mainly only do one thing: to promote the self-reflection of the media and agitate for responsible coverage. This is also one of the aims of the German Islam Conference. Workshop 3 of the conference, entitled “Economics and Media”, deals with the media image of Islam in Germany – and shall also reciprocally deal with the reporting of Muslim countries about “the West”, Germany and the German society, although this second part is still to take place later.
There was agreement on the question that a broader public picture of the everyday life of Muslims in Germany was desirable. Honour killings are absolute aberrations in the Muslim society too. This is exactly the reason why they have news value. However, it is perhaps just as interesting that the everyday life of the majority of Muslims in our country – and there are by now over 3 million – is a lot less spectacular than some of us believe because it is normal; in the sense that the coexistence of all people in Germany is not primarily determined by cultural and ethnic or religious differences. And I welcome that very much.
Of course, the kind of media coverage ultimately depends on the people who work in the media. Freedom of speech and of the press bring a responsibility of the people involved in media production. They have been required – and they are still doing it today – to reflect critically on the emergence, effect and consequences of publications as independently acting elites.
The perception of responsibility is always also connected to the capability for self-criticism. All persons in possession of influence, power or even public authority have to muster a willingness for this. Steps in the right direction are events like the one today. I hope that you will take home with you various suggestions and new insights for your work. And I wish you and all of us that we – each for themselves and each within their remits – are aware of our responsibility for a peaceful and free coexistence.