Why do people support biased media reports

Media policy

Joachim Trebbe

Dr. Joachim Trebbe is Professor of Journalism and Communication Studies with a focus on media analysis at the Free University of Berlin. In his research he deals, among other things. with the topic of migration, social integration and media, television program research in German-speaking countries as well as method development and data analysis.

Sünje Paasch-Colberg

Dr. Sünje Paasch-Colberg is a research assistant at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at the Free University of Berlin. Her research includes: the topics of elections and mass media, media impact research as well as migration, social integration and media.

Problems of migration and integration should not be taboo, but they should certainly not be dramatized. Are these topics presented in a balanced way? What about the use of the media by migrants?

Migration became one of the main news topics during 2015. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Introduction and terminology

The large numbers of refugees in Germany and Europe brought the issue of migration and integration back into the public eye by summer 2015 at the latest. In this context, the question of the role of the media in the migration and integration process is asked again and again. In this article, this question is to be raised in a differentiated manner and confronted with some current results, as far as there are already published social science studies. For this, three priorities are set:

In the section "Media use by people with a migration history", the connection between migration, integration and media use is described in more detail as a first focus. Here it goes, among other things. to the questions
  • which media have what significance for migrants at which point in the migration process and
  • what effects media can have in social integration processes.
In the section "Media Representation of People with a Migration History" we have compiled research results and studies that deal primarily with the participation of people with a migration background in and in the media:
  • How do members of ethnic minorities, people with a migration history and migrants from diverse cultures appear in the mass media?
  • How are they reported and what role do they play e.g. B. In movies, shows and TV series?
Finally, it deals with the questions
  • how diverse the editorial offices of German mass media are and
  • to what extent they represent German society in their composition ("Diversity in German editorial offices?").

As an introduction, a word on the use of the terms "migration background", "immigrants", "ethnic minorities" and "foreigners": The official statistics have known the designation of "people with a migration background" since around 2003. Since 2005 it has appeared in official population statistics of the Federal Statistical Office and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. At that time, the main concern was to provide a more appropriate description alongside the undifferentiated and narrowed term "foreigner". It should make the diverse immigration and residence contexts of people who were not born as Germans with German parents in Germany, more comprehensively portrayed. Today in official German statistics there is a definition in the narrower and one in the broader sense for people with a migration background:

Definition of the Federal Statistical Office

Population with a migration background

“The population with a migration background in the narrower sense includes all those who immigrated to Germany after 1950 and all foreigners born in Germany Parents or one parent live in the same household because only then is the parent information that is decisive for the assignment available. The population with a migration background in the broader sense also includes those Germans with a migration background who have had their German citizenship since birth and not (no longer) with their parents live in the same household. They can only be identified as people with a migration background through the additional questions asked so far only in 2005, 2009 and 2013 on the migration status of parents who do not live in the household ".

Press release no. 402 v. November 14, 2014 by the Federal Statistical Office



Central term "identity"

In the various scientific disciplines and also in public discussion, there are also many other attempts to define and describe people and communities who are affected by migration, i. H. the migration between different origins and arrival contexts are marked. From ethnic minorities, some of which are based on historical migration movements, through cultural, language and religious communities to the description of the reasons for migration (flight, asylum, displacement, work). From a social science point of view, the concept of "identity" is central. Identity describes the feeling of belonging of a person or group to a social community and thus, in contrast to external attributions by others, places the feelings of those affected in the foreground.

Media use by people with a history of migration

At the beginning of the 1990s, media use by people with a migration background came more into the focus of public discussion. At that time it was of particular interest how people with foreign roots put together their personal 'media menu'. Do you (once you have learned the language) use the German media or watch, read, listen to TV programs, newspapers and radio programs from your home countries? A number of studies were subsequently carried out. For different groups of origin, they have shown that, especially from the second generation onwards, the majority are those who combine both media worlds. On the one hand, they stay in touch with relatives and acquaintances at home and, on the other hand, they are kept up to date on daily life in Germany [1].

With regard to German-language media usage, there were hardly any migration-related media usage patterns. In particular, the surveys of adolescents and young adults showed high rates of support for the new digital media (social media, mobile phone use, gaming), but these were primarily influenced by the individual living conditions in Germany and not so much by their migration history. The last individual studies on media use by people with a migration background (e.g. the ARD / ZDF study "Media and Migrants" [2]) are no longer up-to-date; they come from another phase in the history of immigration in the Federal Republic of Germany, which was mainly characterized by European internal migration and refugee admissions from the Balkan states.

Media use by refugees

Child from Syria in a cyber cafe. (& copy picture-alliance, NurPhoto)

The strong immigration of refugees, among other things. from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and African countries in 2015 and 2016 is still too fresh for well-founded scientific findings - science takes time. But there is already evidence of an interest in the media behavior of the refugees in the media.

The internet-enabled mobile phone (smartphone), for example, is part of the appearance of many and is indispensable as an individual, social and media communication medium in the escape, migration and integration process. Scientific studies on the use and handling of refugees with digital and / or social media were e.g. B. carried out in France and Australia. The main results are that the Internet and smartphones are used to stay in contact with family and friends and to send signs of life: The exchange with family members helps to deal with the emotional stress of the refugee situation. In addition, the Internet is important in order to obtain inexpensive information about the situation in the country of origin and the country of arrival. In the new environment, the Internet and new media also help with settling in and learning the language [3].

There are also initial results from Germany: With the use of digital media (Internet, computers, cell phones, smartphones, online services such as social networks, Skype, YouTube, etc., as well as apps) before, during and after the escape of unaccompanied people Underage refugees are involved in an exploratory (researching) cooperation project carried out in 2015 between the University of Vechta and the German Children's Fund [4].

As part of the project, 17 guideline interviews with male refugees under age as well as a group discussion with five young people in different cities and federal states were carried out [5]. The results illustrate the central role that digital media have for young people in escape situations: On the one hand, Internet access is assigned a wide range of functions for coping with the escape situation. Apps like WhatsApp, Skype or Viber and social media (especially Facebook, and also YouTube [6]) are used to
  • keep in touch with family and home country,
  • organize the escape (e.g. through contact with smugglers, digital maps and navigation apps),
  • to exchange relevant information about the escape
  • or to send distress signals.
  • But the Internet can also make a contribution to social participation after arriving in Germany, learning the German language and education in general, for example with apps for learning German.
However, the respondents were not aware of specially created, professional online offers for information on topics such as the asylum procedure in Germany.

In addition, the survey also reflects the specific phase of life of the young respondents and the significance of digital media that is typical for them. The young refugees surveyed use apps such as WhatsApp and social networks - primarily Facebook - like other young people in Germany: to exchange messages in everyday life, to document leisure experiences, to share and comment on photos and videos or as part of hobbies.

The authors of the research report consider the fact that children and adolescents in the reception facilities are only given limited access to the Internet or computers as problematic. They therefore have to spend a large part of their money on keeping in touch with the family. Because the use of digital media also includes problematic sites such as B. has data protection, the authors also demand a specific promotion of media skills of unaccompanied, minor refugees.

A transnational study by the Open University and France Médias Monde emphasizes that smartphone use also has questionable aspects for people on the move. Refugees in France were interviewed [7]. The researchers come to the conclusion that the respondents often have to fall back on unchecked and dubious sources and that smartphone use leaves 'digital traces' behind. Respondents also expressed fear of being located and monitored, e.g. B. by the government or by the non-state actors from whom they fled.

Media offers for refugees

From the point of view of the providers, the refugees represent a new target group: Some media have published offers specifically for newcomers to Germany. On its website "News for Refugees" (http://www.swr.de/international/refugees/-/id=16250052/pd8jk2/), the SWR offers current news and technical information for refugees in Germany - in Arabic , Dari, English and German. On this page there are also short explanatory videos on the political system in Germany ("What are state elections?") And on practical questions of everyday life (e.g. "How is rubbish properly separated?", "How do you buy travel tickets on Deutsche Bahn machines? "). Other videos provide information about educational opportunities in Germany (training, university) and their requirements.

Funkhaus Europa (WDR in cooperation with RBB and Radio Bremen) broadcasts "Refugees Radio" (http://www1.wdr.de/radio/funkhauseuropa/programm/refugee-radio/) every day at five to twelve messages for refugees in English and Arabic.

Zeit Magazin in a German-Arabic version (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The print media have also published one-off bilingual supplements: at the end of May 2015, z. B. ZEIT magazine in a German-Arabic version, which focused on the everyday life of refugees in Germany and living together (http://meedia.de/2015/05/27/zweisprachig-zeit-magazin-erscheint -in-German-and-Arabic /).

Range and odds measurement

In the description and analysis of the target groups in the German media, the increased proportion of people with a migration background has meanwhile been reflected. For a long time, the definition of the population as "German resident population" was used to measure reach and audience quotas for radio, press and television. Thus, until the first decade of this century, large parts of the media audience in Germany were excluded from recording media usage.

In 2010 there was a change to the "German-speaking resident population" for the survey of press and radio reach by the Working Group Media Analyze (AG.MA) and the Working Group TV Research (AGF) also had its research system for recording at the beginning of 2016 the TV viewing participation rates and market shares were converted to the "German-speaking population in private households" (regardless of nationality) [8].

In these surveys, the immigration status of the respondents has not yet been recorded and, for technical reasons, the surveys are limited to people in private households. The studies therefore do not provide any identifiable comparative data on the media usage behavior of migrants and exclude, for example, refugees in reception facilities from random samples.

Media representation of people with a history of migration

There are now numerous studies on the representation of ethnic minorities and people with a history of migration in the media. For example, the following is examined
  • how ethnicity is addressed in reporting [9],
  • In which roles and with which behavior people with a migration background are depicted in fictional media content [10] or
  • how members of different ethnic minorities perceive the representation of their own group and other ethnic groups in the media and assess it with regard to their social identity and integration [11].
The background of the research area are various theoretical models on the role of mass media for the social integration of a society:
  • One of these models says that an adequate representation of minorities in the social majority can lead to tolerance towards the minorities and that the members of the minority feel that they belong to society.

  • In addition, there is also a model that falls back on a democratic theoretical background; According to this model, in a democracy all social groups with their issues, arguments and opinions should be visible in the media. In this way, the individual can form a comprehensive opinion and make informed, political decisions.

  • Another model takes v. a. the long-term effects of mass media in view and the fact that media content in the long term cultivates the audience's ideas about norms and values ​​[12].
The question of how the mass media portrays ethnic minorities concerns researchers in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and other immigration countries. Which research questions are specifically pursued and which social groups are the focus of the research depends heavily on the specific migration history and situation of the respective country. Accordingly, the results from different countries cannot easily be compared with one another. Nevertheless, these studies often come to quite similar results, which can be summarized in three 'patterns':


A synopsis of empirical studies from different countries shows that topics such as ethnicity and migration or social minorities are generally rarely present in news reporting. So-called key events such as the attacks of September 11th or the publication of the book "Germany abolishes itself" by Thilo Sarrazin repeatedly led to an increase in media reporting and commentary on migration and integration issues [13].

Further findings from television analyzes are that certain ethnic groups are underrepresented in fictional programs or often appear in background roles. In a US study z. B. examines how different ethnic groups are represented in America's prime time.One result is that Latino characters are underrepresented in the television programs analyzed compared to their actual frequency in the American population [14].

For non-fictional content, it was found that ethnic individuals, compared to non-ethnic individuals, appear less often as moderators or sources of information (with such research questions, of course, the question of a suitable benchmark always arises). In some studies, such as the aforementioned study by Monk-Turner et al., So-called reality indicators are used and z. B. the official, statistical population share of a certain ethnic group compared with their percentage of characters in the programs.



News factors

As to why certain events and topics get noticed on the news and others not, has spawned various theories. A theory that is very well established in European communication science is the news value theory: According to this theory, the selection decisions of journalists are primarily due to so-called news factors, which together make up the news value of an event or topic. News factors can be understood as characteristics of events or as journalistic assumptions about these event characteristics (cf. Schulz 1976). The news factors include e.g. B. Reach, harm, controversy, aggression / conflict, prominence, continuity and proximity. It is assumed that events with a large news value are more likely to be discussed in the news and that those aspects that correspond to the news factor are emphasized. Studies on news selection on the audience side have shown that news factors are general perceptual criteria that control human information processing.

Source: Eilders 1997.

Negative tendency

People with a history of migration are often reported in negative and conflict-prone contexts, e.g. B. in connection with crime. Migration is more often presented as a danger in the reporting and less often addressed as a social or economic opportunity. Often, an overrepresentation of minorities in negative thematic contexts is even found, initially apparently contradicting the above-mentioned finding of marginalization.

Early studies came to these results, but more recent content analyzes also show this negative tendency in the media. A comparison of the reporting of two local newspapers on ethnic minorities in 1996 and 2006 showed that in 2006 the negative and positive articles "offset" each other: 30% of the articles examined portray people with a migration background negatively and 30% of the articles portray them positive; the remaining 40% fall out of neutral. In almost a third of the articles, people with a history of migration are portrayed as criminals or offenders (30%); in 41% of the articles, on the other hand, they are discussed as part of society, as neighbors or fellow citizens [15].

A comparison of the jacket and local sections of the newspapers showed that in the local section the positive articles outweigh the negative, while in the jacket section it is the other way round. The 1996 data showed that the negative articles outnumbered the positive articles in both newspapers; that in 1996 in 42% of the articles people with a migration history were thematized as criminals / offenders and only in 19% as part of society / neighbors / fellow citizens. In 2006, a more positive picture was drawn of people with a migration history. Based on these results, the author draws an ambivalent conclusion:

Source text

Depiction of migrants

Ethnic minorities are still portrayed as criminals or offenders in around a third of all reports [...]. Nevertheless, compared to the situation in 1996, the picture has brightened noticeably. Both media - but in particular the Westfälische Rundschau - made contributions to the active acceptance of ethnic minorities in 2006.

Source: Fick 2009: 265-266

The project "European Day of Media Monitoring" shows that the negative contextualization of ethnicity is apparently not a phenomenon of certain countries: A central result of the study is that media content related to ethnic minorities is more negative than other content and that migrants as well ethnic minorities are often discussed in negative contexts (such as crime). [16] In part, these findings can probably be explained by the fact that news coverage has been investigated and that news is selected according to certain criteria (see info box "News factors").

Especially after September 11, 2001, the issues of migration and integration seem to be more of a topic in the media than before in connection with terrorism and religious extremism. The project "European Day of Media Monitoring" examined the print and television reporting on the topics of ethnic relations, migration, asylum and discrimination in the then 15 EU member states on a reference date in November 2013. One result of this study is that news about the frequently refer to religious fundamentalism / extremism and religious identity or religious practices (16% of all news items [17]). Qualitative group interviews in Switzerland with migrants from Turkey and North Africa also support these results: The respondents often see their group in the reporting after September 11th in context with Islam (with a predominantly negative connotation) [18].

A study of the two East German local newspapers "Nordkurier" and "Volksstimme" shows that Muslims were presented in the majority of the articles examined in 2008 in a so-called "cold and damage frame" [19]: In 160 of 243 articles examined Muslims are viewed as coldly and negative consequences of their actions for others are discussed. The majority of these articles appeared in the "Foreign Policy" section. In 83 articles - i.e. a good third - the author states a competence frame: In these articles Muslims are assessed competently and positive consequences are attributed to their behavior. This frame of interpretation occurs most frequently in the sections politics, features and sport; the Muslims represented are often celebrities. In both frames, Muslims appear predominantly as objects of reporting - so they do not have their own say. The author assesses both 'reporting models' with regard to adequate media representation and successful media integration of Muslims as "worthy of criticism and in need of change" [20].


The comedian Kaya Yanar plays with prejudice, especially against the Turkish population. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

People with a migration history and ethnic minorities are often portrayed as stereotypes (see information box "Stereotypes"). For a long time, American research was mainly devoted to the representation of African American in television entertainment. Recent studies investigating increasing the representation of other ethnic groups such. B. the Latinos and Asian Americans. Many studies come to the conclusion that ethnic characters more often assume negatively connoted roles and show negatively connoted behavior. However, some more recent research projects have also been able to demonstrate approaches to "counter-stereotyping", ie the attempt to break common stereotypes about certain groups in fictional content.

While it z. If, for example, there is a long tradition in the USA of investigating the representation of ethnic minorities in television entertainment [21], German research has only recently devoted itself more intensively to these programs. Because fictional programs in particular are given a special potential to implement the issues of migration, integration and coexistence in the immigration society in a diverse and creative way: Journalistic selection criteria (such as the news factors, see info box) do not come into play in entertainment programs and the duration of a feature film or film. the format of a series allows a more intensive development of themes and characters.




In everyday life, a stereotypical representation is often equated with a negative representation. In the literature, the term stereotype means a differentiated concept: In general, a stereotype is understood to be a generalizing image of an individual that is not based on the characteristics of the individual, but on belonging to a group. In other words, an individual is placed in a category based on the fact that they belong to a certain group. Different dimensions of stereotyping can be distinguished:

Categorization: This means the assignment of individuals to a group. This aspect of stereotyping is considered a normal cognitive perception mechanism. People apply it unconsciously and automatically to do justice to their complex social environment. And this mechanism can also be found in mass media communication; he even has to, because the reduction of complexity is seen as an achievement of the mass media. Categorizations will therefore be found in the reporting on all social groups.

Value-neutral generalization: The second dimension of stereotyping relates to the attribution or naming of certain properties, roles or behaviors. This leads to a value-neutral generalization of individual characteristics that are transferred to the entire ethnic group. This dimension of stereotyping can also be called prejudice. Negative generalization: Stereotyping can also mean that individuals and groups are assigned negative characteristics, roles or behaviors.

A stereotype is culturally bound and changes over time. It can refer to any social group and does not necessarily have to be aimed at minorities. In addition, stereotypes often overlap and relate e.g. B. on ethnicity and gender. be studied scientifically mainly stereotypes of majorities over minorities, and between different ethnic minorities or groups, although of course there are stereotypes about the majority.

Source: Trebbe et al. 2016.

A study published in 2012 examined how people with a migration history are represented and portrayed in the crime series "Tatort" [22]. To this end, 100 randomly selected "crime scene" episodes from the years 1970 to 2009 were examined. The results show that migrant characters are present in the "crime scene": In 69 out of 100 randomly selected episodes there is at least one actor with a migration history; Overall, 214 actors with a history of migration play a role in the episodes examined. A little less than half (44%) of them appear in episodes in which the criminal case is not related to the issues of migration or integration. In other words: Figures with a migration history belong to the "crime scene" - "everyday life". Over the course of time, the figures with a migration history gain numerical importance.

The "crime scene" also uses its specific potential to provide insights into their professional and private world and to present them predominantly as well integrated. For example, "Tatort" repeatedly presents economically successful characters with a migration history, especially in the more recent episodes; only 1% of actors with a migration background are portrayed as unemployed. The linguistic competence of the actors was also examined in the study: If an actor with a migration history has his or her own verbal contribution in "Tatort", he or she is almost always able to speak German. And in the more recent episodes (2005-2009), most of the actors with a migration history speak German without an accent. Of course, the "crime scene" also depicts migrant roles with negative connotations (perpetrators / accomplices or suspects), which is not surprising for a crime series.

Diversity in German editorial offices?

The number of editorial and freelance collaborators in the German media is largely unknown. In Germany - in contrast to the USA as a classic immigration country - there are no systematic surveys on the migration status of employees in the radio and in the press. However, it is fairly certain that this proportion is far below the proportion of people with a migration background in the total population. In some older, non-representative studies [23], the authors assume proportions between 1 and 4% - with a proportion of more than 20% in the total population. In a comparison between Sweden and Germany, major differences between electronic and printed media are pointed out [24].

In the meantime, people with foreign roots are increasingly visible in front of the camera. In addition, many private and public broadcasters explicitly encourage people with a migration background to apply for their internship. Nevertheless, the field of journalism is still an example of a lack of representation and integration of people with a migration background.



Initiatives: Migration and Media

One initiative that advocates more diversity "in front of and behind the cameras and microphones" is the "New German Media Makers", a nationwide and independent association of journalists and media professionals with different ethnic and cultural roots. The network offers such. B. offers a mentoring program for young journalists with a history of migration, has created a glossary with wording aids for differentiated reporting and offers media professionals a diversity finder - a platform that helps experts with a history of migration for topics outside of migration and integration can be contacted (www.neuemedienmacher.de).

The "Media Service Integration" campaigns for a differentiated debate on the topics of migration and integration: The information platform provides media workers with free research and statistics on the topics of migration, integration and asylum in Germany. In addition, experts from science can be placed. The media service is run by the "Rat für Migration e.V." (mediendienst-integration.de).

In this context, a current media survey in North Rhine-Westphalia has shown that large parts of those responsible in the media still need to be sensitized to this problem and that the "special skills that migrants could bring to journalism (...) from those responsible are disregarded in comparison to the traditional skills "[25]. Especially for people with their own migration experience and German as a foreign language, the ability to express themselves is often an argument against taking greater account of immigrants when filling moderator, editorial and reporter positions.

Finally, another point should be mentioned that is often criticized by those affected in this context: Once journalists with a migration background have found their place in an editorial office, they are often assigned this role or their background professionally. In other words: This person is then (almost) exclusively responsible for reporting on migrant, ethnic, refugee, asylum and migration-related topics. In such cases, too, of course, one can hardly speak of successful integration into the journalistic work process.

Conclusion / outlook

The research field "Migration, Integration and Media" shows that the media fulfill important functions in an immigration country like Germany:
  • for the social participation of migrants and their children and grandchildren
  • and, ideally, for mutual perception and acceptance of different groups and thus social cohesion.
Both in media usage research and in journalism, developments can be observed to take greater account of a changed, diverse social reality. These developments should be closely monitored in the future: There are still major research gaps in science. Long-term studies on the media representation of social diversity and methodologically appropriate comparative data on media use by religious, linguistic-cultural and other minorities are lacking. We in Germany also do not yet have sufficient information about how diversity is presented in various media types and media offers, broadcast formats and genres. Broader, cross-media media analyzes could provide information here.

The demand to take a closer look at the personnel structure of the editorial offices and production companies in Germany with regard to their diversity and differences is correct and important. From a scientific-analytical perspective, such data provide the basis for a broad social discussion about diversity and the social integration of migrants.

In addition, initial studies show that the dissemination and use of mobile, social media opens up completely new perspectives on the potential of individual and social communication. For those who are in the process of migration or who have to assert themselves in a new cultural environment, new opportunities for social interaction open up. For people on the run, they can become vital.

Identity, representation and participation of people with migration experience can no longer be understood and analyzed separately for the areas of media production and media reception. Media content and media use are combined in the new media to form completely new forms of communication that will have little to do with conventional ideas about the public, journalism and mass media.