New topics and perspectives

Imagine the following: an all-female panel of soccer experts analysing the game after a soccer match played between Bayern München and Borrusia Dortmund. A controversial debate about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, with a Muslim only panel. A critical article on cancelled white men without the voices of any of those supposedly cancelled white men? It’s hard to imagine, right?

But this is exactly how non-white Germans see media coverage in this country. Most debates exclude them, even when they are the subject of the debates. The media report about refugees without hearing any refugee voices. They air stories on headscarf debates, without asking women who wear them to join the debate.

Many stories, topics and perspectives are ignored

When representatives of structurally disadvantaged groups do make an appearance, they are often portrayed as problem cases, as a threat to German normality. Advocating for more acceptance for LGBTIQ* in pre-schools and schools is scandalised as "early sexualisation" and presented as a danger for children. Yet studies clearly show that children grow up best in a loving environment, regardless of whether they’re loved by mum and dad or mum and mum.

When reporting on immigration or related topics, the media tend to focus on the negative. They’ll report on violence or criminality within the communities, or on how much immigration costs the taxpayer, or on the risk of the loss of Germany’s cultural identity. The positive is rarely reported, for example that immigrants contribute significantly more money to the country’s health insurance systems (23) or that there are no studies that show any direct connection between crime and migration. We believe such stories have the same news value as articles that merely repeat common clichés.

Many in the media seem to have internalized the agenda of right-wing populists. Just think of the ridiculously high number of public talk shows that debated the alleged "refugee problem." Giving populist topics so much public attention is an indirect way of legitimizing them – perhaps without those responsible even realizing it.
Kai Hafez, Media researcher, University of Erfurt

As if Christmas is all about alcohol abuse

Reporting along stereotypical lines in a migrant society is one-sided and not particularly professional. Doing so means that the realities of many people in Germany are simply missing from the narratives, their stories are not being told, their perspectives are not being considered. And where they are, the stories tend to focus on the negative, the shortcomings, the deficits. Each year during Ramadan, the media will for example extensively report on the dangers of fasting for children, but they will rarely focus on the positive such as the spiritual and familial significance of this time for millions of families.

Now try switching perspectives and imagine similar one-dimensional story-telling about Christmas. Imagine news stories that focus on alcohol abuse and family fights, imagine editorials that lament the psychological side-effects the holiday season has on children who have to witness family feuds.

Imagine cover stories about women whose husbands become violent on Christmas Eve and talk shows with guests debating whether alcohol should be officially banned during Christmas. It’s impossible to imagine such a scenario because of course every journalist knows that there’s more to Christmas than booze and trouble. So why do these same journalists write or report about Ramadan in such a one-sided manner, ignoring so many other stories they could narrate about the Islamic holy month?

Stellen Sie sich diesen Fall vor: Sie, ein*e Deutsche*r, leben in einem anderen Land, und das Einzige, was in den dortigen Medien über Ihre Kultur thematisiert wird, sind Lederhosen, Pädophile in der Kirche, Neonazis, deutsche Überheblichkeit in der EU und Sex-Tourismus. Welche*r Deutsche empfände das als adäquat, sachlich und ausgewogen?
Sheila Mysorekar, Deutsche Welle Akademie, Vorstandsmitglied der Neuen deutschen Medienmacher*innen e. V.

For whom are we reporting?

Where is it written that media reports must constantly focus on the interests of conservative German target groups? In the pandemic summer of 2020 when foreign travel was restricted, travel reports on German holiday destinations would for example feature the impressive Sandstone Mountains in the Saxon Switzerland National Park, and show Karin, Rolf, Jens and Gerlinde raving about the magnificent landscapes. The authors of such feature stories often don’t realise they’re excluding millions of immigrants who don’t go hiking in such places.

However, a competent editorial team ought to be aware of the fact that an area where the police regularly go out on large-scale operations against organized right-wing extremists is not the area Black people or any people of colour will pick for a vacation, no matter how beautiful the mountains there may be. That's no reason not to do a feature on the Saxon Switzerland National Park, but addressing all audiences could mean also doing a travelogue about destinations where all citizens can safely spend their vacations. And it wouldn’t be just the BIPoC audience that would appreciate such reports.

If you focus on their output first, your staff won't feel threatened or left out. Diverse content then provides the impetus and leads to discussions about how diversity can also be realized within the workforce. We’re also talking about economic interests. We’re all trying to reach more 16- to 24-year-olds. They're one of the most diverse audiences we've ever dealt with. How much your content appeals to them will show in the diversity of the stories you tell and this will be reflected in your reach. Which then inevitably means you have to have people in your newsroom who understand those stories.
Miranda Wayland, former Head of Creative Diversity at the BBC

To report objectively, you need wider perspectives

Of course, media professionals can never take on every conceivable perspective and report on every subject under the sun. Journalism always focuses on selected aspects of a huger reality, with journalists making the selections. But if you don't know all sides of a story, you can’t claim to be making an informed decision. If you haven’t perceived or researched the different perspectives of a story, you can't truly claim to be reporting factually.

True objectivity is something almost impossible to achieve because we are all formed by our own backgrounds. However, journalists can try to take a closer step towards objectivity by being aware of how their own backgrounds may cloud their perspective and then taking a step back to look at a topic from different angles. Actively reflecting on the influences that shape your “objectivity” is a step to becoming more impartial.

Constantly questioning yourself and your own work may be irritating at first. After all, by virtue of their profession journalists believe that they can easily research, classify and reproduce a wide variety of facts within a short time. This can only hold true, however, if you either have experts for virtually every single topic in a global society or if you have such a diverse editorial department that the different perspectives of the team can act as a corrective. If both are missing, it’s advisable to double check your own stories; Are there traces of subtle prejudice, are you repeating stereotypes, does your story portray diverse perspectives? Checking these boxes ensures better reporting and creates space for new topics and target groups.

From NSU to Hanau

Internalized prejudices prevail throughout society and are also reflected in racist patterns in reporting. Structural racism in state agencies and editorial news desks resulted in the German media speculating and reporting on what they dubbed the "kebab murders". Instead of reporting on a series of racially motivated murders, they focussed on the “immigrant communities” for six years. Today, even though many journalists show a bit more sensitivity when reporting on such matters, they still slip back into old patterns.

After nine people from immigrant families were murdered by a right-wing terrorist in Hanau, media speculations in the first hours after the killings were about drugs and possible gang rivalry as motives for the crime. But then, remembering the NSU case, the media soon dropped that line of storytelling. Only one headline read "Shisha murders" and this faux pas was corrected within minutes. Also, this time around, the media actually used the word racism when talking of the murderer’s motive instead of explaining it away with xenophobia (page 57). Many stories focussed not only on the perpetrator of the crime, the victims were mentioned as well, and not just as anonymous immigrants but by name. Unfortunately, these names were sometimes misspelled, some who were German citizens were wrongly called "foreigners" or "migrants”, and Kurds were wrongly called Turks. As you can see, there is still room for improvement.

Good Practice: The Courage to be self-critical

National Geographic: In 2018, National Geographic magazine commissioned an independent historian to examine their stories for any traces of racism. The results were staggering. The magazine published them under the headline "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.” National Geographic was celebrated for this courage. What German medium is prepared to engage in so much self-criticism?. 

Augsburger Allgemeine: In July 2021, the two regional newspapers publicised their new guidelines on gender-appropriate language. Using the headline “How we negotiated a way through the gender debate” the newspaper also publicly shared the internal discussion process, which was transparent, comprehensible, and self-critical.

DER SPIEGEL: For International Women's Day 2021, the magazine examined around 40,000 of their own articles to find out how often men and women appeared in them. The result: 107,000 men as compared to only 28,000 women. SPIEGEL editor-in-chief Steffen Klusmann stated: "Something has got to change"

taz: In 2016, people with disabilities were asked to compile a special edition of the taz. The deputy editor-in-chief Katrin Gottschalk took the opportunity to point out that there was a lack of journalists with disabilities in her own editorial department.

Wir verstehen es als Pflicht, uns durch eine ständige, kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Sprache, Bildauswahl, Themen und der Ablehnung von stereotypischen Darstellungen zu positionieren und unsere Reichweite dazu zu nutzen, die Welt so zu zeigen, wie sie ist – vor und hinter der Kamera. Das erfordert vor allen Dingen, sich selbst immer wieder zu hinterfragen, dazuzulernen und zu diskutieren, denn es gibt noch viel zu tun.
Alexandra Bondi de Antoni, Chefredakteurin,

Good Practice: Using new topics and perspectives to attract new target groups

When LSBTIQ* are declared a threat

Newsrooms often lack knowledge and sensitivity when reporting on LGBTIQ*. This is evident, for example, when trans* people are asked questions about their genitals in the media. For good reasons, cis people are never asked such questions.

This lack of knowledge and sensitivity become just as clear when, for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex people are lumped together into a homogeneous group, when gender identity and sexual orientation are confused or when the CSD is called a "gay parade" - that's when lesbians, bisexual or non-binary people simply fall under the table.

LGBTIQ* are more than lesbian, gay, bi, trans*, intersex and queer. Their experiences are also shaped, for example, by skin colour, nationality, religion, social origin, age, or disability. Recognising and showing intersectionality prevents the reproduction of clichés and stereotypes and the reduction of LGBTIQ* to their sexual orientation/identity or gender identity.

Some media still portray LGBTIQ* as a danger to society. For example, when sensational articles warn against alleged "sex brochures" being distributed to pre-school children. They conjure up the populist myth of "early sexualisation" just because children today are being taught that relationships come in many forms.

Media bear responsibility

It’s surprising that in these debates, some advocate for the poor “normal” people, who apparently are ignored and sometimes even have to be ashamed of being heterosexual. Who these people are and when this has ever been the case remains a mystery.

Of course, such disparaging stories against LGBTIQ* ring well with certain audiences and bring clicks and thus money. Of course, the media must also present the diverse opinions that exist in society. But it’s also the media’s responsibility to avoid promoting discrimination and resentment.

Queer issues are far too often treated as 'niche topics. LGBTIQ* have serious social grievances, for example regarding family or health care policies. How hard is life for lesbian mothers? How much do trans and gender-diverse people struggle? Yet who takes the time to listen to them, to research their grievances, or to competently address their issues? Rarely does this happen, and even when it does, it’s normally dealt with rather superficially. I have heard people in newsrooms say things like 'who cares?', 'this only affects a small group of people' or 'this is identity politics'. But that is wrong. LGBTIQ* is a specialised field that often encompasses human rights issues and grievances that reach deep into family and social structures. Good journalism means avoiding sensationalism. It means reporting and portraying these subjects seriously.

Juliane Löffler, Ippen Investigativ

Guest Contribution: More than "gender reassignment" and "gay pride parades"

Of "sex changes" and "gay parades"

by Markus Ulrich

Who is represented when, how and where - and who is not? Representation is political. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people are hardly represented in news coverage, and when they are, the narratives are too often shaped by clichés and stereotypes. Therefore, it is not exclusively about visibility per se, but always also about the context of visibility.

1. Normal

People of LGBT identity usually only appear in articles or news reports when these are explicitly about LGBT people. Some editorial outlets have thankfully started to show same-sex couples and involve them in topics like partnership, family or sexuality. LGBT people are part of society and should appear as protagonists in all other everyday topics – such as health reports, articles on ageing, discussions about schools and education, migration, youth, life in suburbia etc.

2. Diverse

LGBT people are not a homogeneous group. However, their diversity is often missing in media coverage. For example, referring to CSD as a "gay parade” excludes lesbians, bisexuals, or non-binary people. Moreover, LGBT experiences are also shaped by skin colour, citizenship, religion, social background, age, or the presence of a disability. A journalist ought to show this diversity to avoid reproducing clichés and stereotypes that reduce LGBT people to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

3. Discriminatory

In reports about incidents of violence, there is often an implicit perpetrator-victim reversal. Violence, discrimination or hate crimes do not occur because the victim is trans* or because a same-sex couple is holding hands, but rather because the perpetrator is homophobic or transphobic. (In Germany) Reports on CSD celebrations are almost always accompanied by the adjective “shrill”. This adjective arouses negative associations and defensiveness. At best, the parade’s motto might be mentioned. The very concrete political statements that accompany every pride parade are ignored, although every CSD association sets them up.

It’s totally absurd when pictures of CSD parades are used to illustrate reports about the history of persecution of LGBT people in Germany or even their everyday lives. Pictures of anonymous men holding hands, shot from behind, are also very popular illustrations.

4. trans*sensitive

The use of wrong personal pronouns, former names and old photos of a person before they came out is a no-go in reporting about trans* people. Phrases such as "used to be a man" or "was born a girl" are also wrong, because they imply that the gender identity of trans* persons is not their "real" gender.

The term "gender reassignment" is also not quite right because it’s actually the body that gets aligned with the gender identity. In general, questions about gender reassignment procedures are invasive and voyeuristic. Or how would you feel if someone asked you about your genitals? To make it clear that transsexuality has nothing to do with sexuality I suggest avoiding the term "transsexual" altogether.

5. Responsible

Provocatively disparaging statements against LGBT people in social media or on the internet bring clicks and thus money. Media should and must reflect diversity of opinion, but they also have an ethical responsibility not to promote discrimination and resentment. The promotion of acceptance in nursery and elementary schools is often scandalized and defamed by using populist vocabulary such as the term "early sexualization, which implies teaching kids sexual practices, while it’s actually about teaching diversity and showing representation of different family forms and genders. Do the media do this (un)consciously?

Markus Ulrich is press officer with LSVD, the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany, the largest civil rights organisation advocating for equal rights and social acceptance of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people. He has been running the association's office in Berlin since 2014.

Disabled people are not only disabled

Media coverage of people with disabilities is ambivalent. Major events such as the Paralympics are receiving more and more coverage, but at the same time, people with disabilities still do not have a voice in the media, even when they are directly affected.

After four people with disabilities were murdered in a residential facility in Potsdam in April 2021, the facility's spokesperson, police psychologists and pastors were interviewed about the crime. The only voices missing were those of people with disabilities. But it is part of a journalist's job to talk to those directly affected.

Journalists in wheelchairs

Too often, the only thing interesting is the disability and not the person behind the diagnosis. "Life with cystic fibrosis", "My life with ALS" or "My life with chronic migraine" – these are some of the headlines of episodes of the video format TRU DOKU. Even if a video doesn’t focus only on a protagonist’s disability, the headline does.

Articles or reports in which journalists without disabilities take to wheelchairs to report on accessible cities or put on a pair of dark glasses to show blind people live are just as one-dimensional. Instead of simply talking to people with disabilities and trusting their experiences – after all, they are the ones directly affected – some reporters turn to masquerade instead of proper journalism. The results may be entertaining for some audiences, but for those affected such journalism is often demeaning.

Showing all realities of life

A programme on Deutschlandfunk Kultur avoids both: In an interview with Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, who uses a wheelchair, the focus is not on her personal diagnosis or how she navigates through the city, but on questions such as "is heaven barrier-free?" or "does God also have a disability?".

Disabled people are more than just disabled: they have interests, they are voters or consumers, just like everyone else. Their opinions and realities should therefore play a role in all issues – be it politics, the climate crisis or gender justice.

Better reporting on people with disabilities

„They master their lives bravely and courageously”

People with disabilities are often presented as people bravely coping with, "mastering" or overcoming a terrible fate. In this context, they are presented as superheroes who have accomplished a great feat. They are not shown as people living a “normal life”, since this is unimaginable. If they do live “normal” lives, this is often treated as if it were a miracle. 

The Alternative: for many people with disabilities, the disability is an accepted part of their life, which they deal with without any feeling of bravery.


Joie de vivre and the courage to face life

Being admired and praised for doing normal everyday things is something many disabled people are familiar with. Going shopping, to work, to the cinema or to a club in the evening is completely normal for them, but hard to believe for others. Those who defy their disability and enjoy their lives, instead of being bound to their homes, are seen as heroic. They are often described as having "a love for life”, a “joie de vivre” " or "the courage to face life" when their lives don’t conform to the sad existence society expects them to be living.

The Alternative: people with disabilities want the normality of their lives to be portrayed. They don’t want to be admired or glorified.


„He got the job in spite of his disability. “

"Despite her disability, she lives a completely normal life". In the eyes of many, disability is something that always stands in the way, that keeps one from living a full life, that makes one passive and dependent. Disability is seen as a negative factor in life, never as something that could be positive.

The Alternative: people with disabilities do not do things despite or because of their disability, they do things with their disability. We need to start seeing this as self-evident.


Suffering from something

"Marie-Luise Pfaue suffers from muscular atrophy". "To suffer from" is a standard phrase found in almost every text about people with disabilities. This easily penned phrase however contains a false insinuation. Whether Marie-Luise really "suffers" from her illness is something only she can know. Journalists, however, simply assume she does. But Marie-Luise is sometimes in a good mood, sometimes in a bad mood, sometimes happy or sometimes sad – just like everyone else.

The Alternative: For most disabled people their disability does not cause them permanent or constant suffering. Marie-Luise "has" or "lives with” a muscular disorder" - such formulations come closer to reality. 


Bound to the wheelchair

Even if the idea that wheelchair users are "bound" to their chairs sounds absurd, one still comes across this expression. And with it, the image of passivity, powerlessness and helplessness lives on. Yet many wheelchair users are not permanently in a wheelchair, they sometimes sit on a sofa or even walk (!) on crutches. For many, the wheelchair is exactly the opposite of "being tied down". It enables freedom of movement and participation.

The Alternative: Instead of being “bound to”, wheelchair users "use", "need" or “sit” in a wheelchair, are "dependent on it" or simply "travel" with it. If you do meet someone who is bound to a wheelchair, please untie them!


Formal and informal forms of German address

People with disabilities aged 18 and above are adults. Even if they have learning difficulties or are small in stature, being an adult means being able to expect respect and conversations at eye level. Yet often they are patted on the head like kids, called by their first names, and often only their non-disabled companions are directly addressed. Adults with disabilities ought to be given the same respect as any other adults and be formally addressed by their last names.

An Alternative: Treating people equally means taking them seriously and showing them respect. It also means addressing people with disabilities with the German polite “Sie” not the informal “Du” (you).


All the inabilities of people with disabilities …

Many people think that having a disability is when someone can't do certain things. And so, the focus lies on the supposed deficits people with disabilities have: "a sluggish gait", "a gaze that goes nowhere" or "spastically cramped hands". Portraying their "challenging life” is meant to arouse pity. What journalists often fail to report on are the abilities and a focus on what people with disabilities are capable of. These aspects lack drama and sensation and thus don’t capture the interest of the media.

An Alternative: Editors should not only focus on the deficits, but above all on what people with disabilities can do. That’s probably a lot more than many think. 

More tips for reporting on people with disabilities can be found at

Checklist for diverse perspectives

If, as a journalist, you want to avoid one-sided reporting and you want to take into account a wide variety of positions, perspectives and topics, you can regularly ask yourself the following questions:


What is my personal opinion on the subject?

Newsrooms are not equipped with automated news machines that reliably spit out objective truths when a popular world event is fed into them. The biases and internalized prejudices of journalists affect the decisions that lead to the selection of which tiny section of reality is worth reporting. Reporting professionally therefore starts by first being aware and questioning your own interests, attitudes, experiences, and preferences. Those who don’t question their own views, taking their personal viewpoints to be the only true or universal way of looking at things are going to have a hard time becoming good journalists.


Am I presenting a variety of perspectives? 

Look at each topic from as many perspectives as possible before deciding what your report should look like. Journalists sometimes tend to turn social debates into some sort of team competitions. It’s team state neutrality vs. team headscarf. But reality offers many more facets. A discussion with experts can provide new insights and broaden one's own perspective. Perhaps there is also someone in your editorial team who could draw attention to other sides of a story. If not, you should make it a topic of discussion. 


Do people whose story is being told also have a voice in the story? 

TV shows with an all-white panel discussing racism, heterosexuals talking about homophobia or people without disabilities debating about inclusion in the education system are still aired. But now they can recon with a resentful audience. With such topics, as with all other topics, the media need to portray society in all its diversity. After all, topics such as the price of gas, the covid pandemic or national pensions affect all of us.

Incidentally, some groups are ignored because they do not have the necessary resources and cannot offer professional press work with a contact person for media questions. This may make it harder for journalists to report about them but is no excuse for excluding them. Find out how to remedy this here.


Am I taking the perpetrator's perspective?

Especially in hate crime reporting, journalists often fail to clearly distinguish between perpetrators and victims. A gay couple was not attacked "because they were kissing", a wife was not murdered "because she wanted to leave", a Jew was not spat at "because he wore a kippah", a woman was not attacked "because of a headscarf". People are victims of violence because of homophobic, misogynistic, or anti-Semitic mind-sets of the perpetrators. Headlines like "She had to die because she wore a headscarf" only take the perspective of the perpetrators. You must want to do that and not do it by mistake.


Do I question clichés? 

Journalists both chronicle and shape social discourse. Especially when reporting on socially disadvantaged minorities, they must question prevailing negative viewpoints, analyse, and classify them to avoid prejudice in their reporting.

Is the story really about "large Arab families" or is it perhaps just about three teenagers in Berlin-Neukölln? Is it true at that people with disabilities always "suffer their fate"? Are bisexual people really more promiscuous than the rest of society? And why do we so often hear about career women but never career men?

Journalists are not immune to falling for clichés. But when that happens, their work no longer has much to do with professional reporting.


Do I fall for populist arguments?

Spreading clichés and untruths is the first step in creating social moods and debates that have nothing to do with reality. Often it is just a little spin that turns an insignificant event into a media uproar: Do "the Muslims" really want to ban "our Christmas" or did the statement originally come from some guy on the internet? Did the professor for gender studies really call for a ban on certain terms or did she simply make a suggestion? Is the annoying new Kindergarten brochure really worth reporting on, or might it not be better to take it up as a topic for the next parents' evening?

It is part of the strategy of populists to deliberately provoke or to break taboos in order to spread their ideology. It is part of a journalist’s job not to fall for any of that.


Do I unnecessarily polarise?

Journalists need to make themselves understood but without oversimplifying. Topics such as flight and migration, reasons for urban crime, how to make our language gender-sensitive, or reporting on non-binary identities are complex. Monocausal explanations and reporting that classifies things in the simple categories of “good” or “bad” almost always lead astray. And this, too, is a fact that you should feel free to tell your audience or readership.


Am I normalising anti-democratic, unscientific, or misanthropic positions?

Fortunately, no editor today would think of publishing a column on the "pros and cons" of women's suffrage or would seriously demand renegotiations on the Oder-Neisse border discussion. The strength of our democracy and our respect for human values is also reflected by which debates we no longer engage in. This means the media can also stop giving certain people a platform to voice their racist, sexist, homophobic or anti-democratic positions. Because the more such positions are voiced in the media, the more normal they appear to be.

Debating questions like "Should we rescue refugees in the Mediterranean?", "Are same-sex parents a danger to their children?" or "Does Islam belong to Germany?" are deliberately aimed at further marginalising already marginalised groups and making the unspeakable appear legitimate. Diverse perspectives and open debates are important, but Basic Law lays down the limits.

Should trans* people be allowed to determine their gender? Should inter-sex people be allowed to participate in sporting competitions? It is very common for feature writers or guest authors with limited expertise to express steep opinions on such subjects. However, in-depth knowledge and sensitivity are required when it comes to subjects such as minority rights. Anti- LGBTI+ sentiments are fuelled with millions of euros. Reputable media need to expose such campaigns rather than support them.
Joane Studnik, Berliner Zeitung

Am I representing diverse opinions and people?

This is something journalists and reporters can easily accomplish. And yet some social groups hardly get represented, while other positions and groups appear to be omnipresent. In 2019, for example, more people named Peter than people with any Turkish name appeared on public TV and radio talk shows. This doesn’t reflect the reality of Germany as a country of immigration. Journalists ought to remind themselves of this when putting together their lists of protagonists, experts or studio guests. 

Tips & Tools for more diverse perspectives and a wider choice of topics

External programme and paper critiques

To identify imbalances in their own reporting, editorial departments can invite qualified feedback from outside. Our organisations, for example, offer peer reviews that focus on diversity. It can also benefit representatives of other NGOs and organisations for people with experiences of racism or discrimination to write reviews. If this is something you are interested in, please contact us.


Reporting on people with disabilities in a better way

How does one avoid stereotype when reporting on people with disabilities? How does one shift the focus from the disability to a story about the protagonists? Leidmedien offer workshops for journalists and editors. The workshops show how to be more sensitive in the choice of words and images. Interested parties can contact workshop​ wenden.


Education and training programmes for reporting in an immigration country

None of us is free of prejudice but bias-free reporting is still possible with training. In practical workshops, journalists can learn to examine their biases and be sensitised to stereotype-free reporting. They can learn to recognise pitfalls and avoid these in their professional reporting.

Such training courses should be made obligatory for trainees. The Neue deutschen Medienmacher*innen offer such trainings, in which they analyse selected programmes or articles by the commissioning media organisation and develop practical alternatives together with the trainees.


Analysing your reporting

The Neue deutschen Medienmacher*innen offer to examine journalistic contributions or article series over an agreed period of time. We check content, topics, choice of images, diversity of interview partners and perspectives. The results can be used in self- critical workshop to help improve reporting. If you are interested, please contact: expertinnen​


Online courses on how to report on migration and integration

Mediendienst Integration and the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism are creating an e-learning platform which offers online courses on media, migration and integration. The courses will cover topics such as dealing with traumatised interview partners or reporting on Muslims in Germany. The Plattform has been online since the beginning of 2022.


More sensitivity reporting hate crimes

The project #ImGespräch by trainees of the German School of Journalism (DJS) and Mediendienst Integration impressively documents how survivors of the attacks in Hanau and Halle perceived media coverage at the time. The project also offers recommendations on how journalists can be more sensitive in their reporting of hate crimes and acts of right-wing terror.


Reporting on Migration and Refugees: Handbook for Journalism Educators

A new handbook for journalists  provides an overview of the most important definitions, concepts and theories on migration and flight from a journalistic perspective. The handbook shows ways to identify topics, discusses media impact and the ethical aspects involved. It also covers editorial marketing as well as collaborative approaches to reporting on migration.

Numerous international case studies from very diverse media systems and journalistic cultures from all over the world provide insights into how the media cover flight and migration.

Guest contribution: Media topic "Violence against women".

A question of professional quality and social responsibility

by Bärbel Röben

Over half of all women in Germany experience sexual harassment. Every third day a woman is killed by her (ex-) partner. The way the media address violence against women - in the news or in crime stories - can be part of the problem, but also part of the solution. Media reproduction of common gender images promotes a normalisation of sexualised assaults.

However, if the media clearly name these crimes as human rights violations and place them in the context of social power relations, this can help the prevention of violence against women and can empower those affected. Media professionals should therefore tell their stories differently. This is a matter not only of social responsibility but also a question of professional quality and ethics!

Only few media outlets call violence against women by its true name

In 2017, the hashtag movement #MeToo brought to light how many people worldwide are victims of sexualised violence. In 2018, Germany finally joined the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty to end violence against women. The media pledged to "establish guidelines and standards of self-regulation to prevent violence against women and increase respect for their dignity". The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (German Press Agency) had already banned trivialising descriptions such as "a family tragedy" or "a relationship drama" from its vocabulary in 2019.

But the Gender Equality Media association, when screening the report in 2020, still discovered trivialising terms such as "family drama" in 93 per cent of the 250 media they scanned daily. Only a few publications, among them the Schleswiger Nachrichten, reported a "femicide" in the case of a murdered woman. The results of the screening of online media are available in an interactive map that is updated monthly. According to the activists, there was more reporting on domestic violence during the covid pandemic compared to previous years.

Research shows: violence against women is downplayed as „tragic isolated cases“

Since the pandemic, awareness of violence against women has increased. However, it is still rarely addressed as a social problem related to patriarchal structures and norms. So, the idea of violence against women as a "private matter" still persists. Murders are still seen as "tragic affairs" - unless they are committed by non-German perpetrators. In which case one can protect oneself from "foreign violence" by deportations.

But reality isn’t that simple. Which is why media professionals have a responsibility to provide orientation and to report or tell stories with heightened sensitivity schützen. 

Research shows how important it is for editorial departments to change their perspectives. In July, the Otto Brenner Foundation published a working paper entitled „Tragische Einzelfälle? Wie Medien über Gewalt an Frauen berichten“ – a quantitative content analysis conducted by communication researcher Christine Meltzer.

She examined 3,500 articles that appeared in three tabloids, four national and five regional daily newspapers between January 2015 and June 2019. She compared the data with crime statistics and came to the conclusion that homicides are disproportionately reported (1% vs. 55%), although assaults are much more common (65% vs. 18%).

More media coverage for victims

While 38 percent of crimes against women are committed within relationships, these crimes account for only 23 percent of media reports. And in the reports, they are mostly presented as "tragic individual cases". Reports often mention the perpetrator’s motives, such as jealousy or fear of separation. Rarely are we told what the woman suffered at the hands of the perpetrator before the crime happened. This could either have been the result of a pathological control addiction or patriarchal possessiveness on the part of their partners. This kind of reporting ignores the structural causes of violence.

In their reporting media professionals should take a more victim centred approach, especially when the victims are women who belong to marginalised groups such as the homeless, refugees, immigrants or the handicapped. Such stories should not be presented from the perpetrator’s perspective. 

Meltzer criticises that violence in intimate partnerships "is still seen as a private affair by journalists" and has less news value than violence against women by foreigners, even though the latter occurs far less frequently. 79 % of the perpetrators in 2018 were German. In cases where the perpetrators are contextualised as “foreign or non-German”, political calls for more protection for women is three times higher than in cases where the perpetrator is “German”. Following the events on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne (the so-called Kölner Silvesternacht) such demands have increased.

Following the Press Council's anti-discrimination guideline, which was watered down in 2017, she recommends that media professionals "carefully consider whether it is necessary to mention race or origin" so that violence against women is not perceived as "an issue of others". In addition, the media should provide information about counselling services, help hotlines or women's shelters, because about ten per cent of women who are affected by violence do not know where to find help.

Media reports can re-traumatise victims

Communication scientists Christine Linke and Ruth Kasdorf come to similar conclusions. They conducted research on gender-specific violence on German television in a project funded by the MaLisa Foundation and UFA GmbH. They focussed on the violence the Istanbul Convention addresses, the one rooted in social structures and values and directed against a person because of their biological or social gender.

They examined 545 programmes representative of the offerings on German television in 2020. These were programmes aired between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on ZDF, Das Erste, RTL, RTL2, Vox, ProSieben, SAT1 and Kabel Eins. 

Gender-specific violence occurs in almost one third of all programmes in the categories fiction, information and entertainment. In the analysed programmes, 290 different acts of violence were shown - "especially in crime formats", explained Christine Linke, who went on to criticise that unlike streaming formats, the television programmes did not offer trigger warnings before brutal scenes. This could result in victims of violence being retraumatised. This fits with the finding that “the perspectives of victims and those affected by a crime are rarely the main focus". Here too, the structural dimension of gender-based violence, the possibilities of prevention and where to get help are hardly ever thematised. Often, neither are the viewpoints of people with expertise on the subject of violence against women heard, added Karin Heisecke, project manager at the MaLisa Foundation.

But there are also positive examples. Linke cites the episode "Teufelskreis" in the ZDF series "Lena Lorenz" as one such recommendable example. This episode thematises domestic violence. A young mother gets beaten up by her husband and the title character Lena Lorentz, a midwife, provides professional help, while addressing the structural dimension of the problem. Both the victim and the husband are portrayed in a multi-faceted way. While praising this episode, "sensitivity for the topic must be sharpened”, Linke concludes.

Fatal effects: Focussing on perpetrator's perspective reinforces "victim-blaming

The fact that common media representations can have fatal effects is confirmed by the study "Reception of media frames in reporting on violence against women". commissioned by the Landesverband Frauenberatung Schleswig-Holstein (Schleswig-Holstein Women's Counselling Association) in autumn 2020. In an online survey conducted with 724 participants, psychologist Mimke Lena Teichgräber gave them four variants of a newspaper article about domestic violence.

According to the study, "contextual information about the perpetrator and the victim, as well as the naming of the structural extent of violence against women" - for example by offering crime statistics or classifying the case as patriarchal violence - had the strongest influence on how the readers assessed the case. Wording such as calling the crime a "family drama" went "hand in hand with a higher attribution of responsibility to the victim and less compassion for her, which reinforces victim-blaming". Focussing on the perpetrator’s perspective leads to an "increased understanding for the crime" and to seeing the crime as a one-off case.

How media can promote change

In research they did as far back as 1995, communication scientists Jutta Röser and Claudia Kroll had already shown how things could be done differently. In their study titled „What men and women experience in front of the screen: Reception of sexism and violence on television", they got groups to discuss their reactions to two film clips which both portrayed violence against women, but in two different ways. In the first clip, the female victim is brutally strangled; in the second, she successfully defends herself against her male attacker using martial arts techniques.

The female viewers identified with the murdered woman in the first film clip because many of them had themselves experienced that feeling of being at the mercy of others. The males in the research group, however, distanced themselves from the helpless victim because they were convinced that they could defend themselves against an attack. The second film clip with the woman who defended herself, on the other hand, empowered the women. Media portrayals of violence can thus consolidate social relations of dominance or promote change. 

Even the successful “Tatort” series fails to come up with creative ways of making "the personal perspective of the victims and the harmful consequences of violence against women visible", Hannah Heinzinger concluded after she analysed four episodes of the series in 2020. "Tatort reproduces misogynous social structures by presenting women as invisible subjects or by exposing them in a voyeuristic manner, while trivialising the criminals or letting them go unpunished".

Recommendations for action: Raising awareness for professional practice and protection against violence

Recommendations for media action on how to break down misogynistic social structures rarely refer to violence against women in fictional formats. Mostly, they address the journalistic practice of reporting the facts. 

Many studies recommend using such guidelines for sensitive reporting on violence against women, as already exist in Germany, Austria, Great Britain, or Canada. 
Using these guidelines in editorial practice is more effective if they are also anchored in the established media regulation institutions, as demanded by the Istanbul Convention. The Austrian Press Council is a role model in this regard. In 2019, it called on the media to "report on violent crimes against women with more care and sensitivity and to pay attention to the privacy protection of the victims". They also add that it would be helpful to "refer to support facilities for women at the end of an article". 

Karin Heisecke mentions a similar initiative in Germany. The Landesverband Frauenberatung (regional association for women's counselling) has compiled recommendations for media professionals based on the press code. Media should report "factually and in a balanced way about violence against women". The paper contains "alternatives to terms that trivialise violence" and shows "how to report the perpetrator's and the victim's perspective in a balanced way ".

Workshops to prevent stereotype

Such strategic guidelines can improve the quality of journalism by providing professional tools to help media raise awareness for content and thus better fulfil their public mission. The same applies to fictional formats, which also have a social responsibility due to the public impact they can have. It is thus advisable for scriptwriters to seek the expertise of professionals in the same way journalists do. 

The implementation and application of any guidelines must be actively pursued, says Karin Heisecke of the MaLisa Foundation, and cites German production company UFA, which has taken steps in this direction as part of its commitment for more diversity. UFA developed guidelines with the help of people from minority groups who are underrepresented on German television. They developed guidelines "in the form of a questionnaire to help creatives look at their projects, narratives and character sketches, critically." This, Heisecke said, also involves the portrayal of gender-based violence. Next, UFA is planning workshops on material development which will reflect on stereotyped narrative patterns on sexualized violence.

Employees of media houses and production companies should be allowed to attend such workshops during their working hours. But awareness-raising should begin far earlier. It should be part of the curriculum at university journalism courses, at film and art colleges. How "violence against women" is portrayed as a symbol of social power relations should be a compulsory and cross-cutting topic - for example when teaching media ethics, interview techniques, film material development or camera technology.

Department heads bear responsibility

In addition to their regular duties, department heads also have a social responsibility for their employees. According to a survey conducted in 2020 on “Diversity in the film industry”, 81 percent of women who reported discrimination have experienced sexual harassment at the workplace on multiple occasions in the last two years. This applies to women across all professions in the film industry. This shows how urgent the prevention of gender-based violence, sexual harassment and abuse of power is, especially since employers are obliged under the Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz AGG (General Equal Treatment Act) to investigate and sanction sexual harassment in the workplace.

Or they can support the establishment of further contact points such as Themis, an independent centre against sexual harassment for employees in film, television and theatre. In the event of harassment through hate mail, threats, or physical violence, primarily directed against women and other discriminated groups, employers must protect their media employees by offering psychological and legal support or by making security personnel available. The "Code of Conduct for Media Houses" presented by an alliance of media organizations, journalists' unions and counselling institutions in April 2021 demands this. 


Karin Heisecke, head of the MaLisa Foundation, has compiled  a detailed overview with options for action, tips, and methods for dealing with "violence against women" in the media. The spectrum ranges from short and concise guidelines that are suitable as checklists for everyday editorial work to detailed analyses of violence against women – ranging from structural violence through wage discrimination to sexualised violence that ends in femicide. 

Tips & tools: How the media can become part of the solution in fighting against violence against women

How media can become part of the solution

Below you will find a collection of tips, tools, and ways to prevent violence against women. This collection does not claim to be complete. We are happy to hear from anyone who has further tips or helpful practical ideas.

Helpful for everyday journalistic work

  • Guidelines for reporting on femicides and dealing with survivors and relatives


Helpful for those working in fiction

A good example on how to deal with the topic of (sexualised) gender-based violence is the gender guide, developed by UFA as part of its diversity commitment

Sometimes, the depiction of sexism and sexualised violence may be necessary for reasons of narrative. In such cases, the following questions should be asked:
•    What is the purpose of scenes in which my protagonists are degraded?
•    What is the purpose of scenes in which people are discriminated against because of their gender?
•    Whose perspective do I take in these scenes?
•    Are the scenes with sexual content really necessary?
•    Have we consulted experts / people affected by discrimination?

UFA is also planning to take a deeper look at how gender-based violence is portrayed in its Fiction, Serial Drama, Show & Factual, and Documentary units.

Industry-wide commitments and application of existing professional standards

  • The Austrian Press Council called for responsible reporting on "violence against women" in 2019.
  • While the German Press Council has not yet done likewise, in December 2021 the paper "Press Code Applied: Reporting on Violence against Women" was published. It is based on the ethical rules of the Press Code and is intended to help journalists report on violence against women in a precise and non-biased manner. It was developed developed jointly by civil society organisations and media professionals from Schleswig-Holstein.
  • In South Africa, numerous industry representatives have signed a „Statement of Commitment for Gender Equality in South African Media“ which includes commitments to "Gender-sensitive reporting", "Un-stereotyping entertainment and storytelling" and "Creating a safe and equal space "behind the scenes". These measures are all aimed at preventing gender-based violence.

Training for media professionals

The most sustainable approach is to anchor all such measures on professional and sensitive reporting on violence against women / gender-based violence into the curriculum of journalism schools, film academies, and media and communication courses. 

This is in line with the obligations of the German education system under Article 15 of the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the “Istanbul Convention”, which stipulates that appropriate education and training be provided for members of all relevant professional groups, including media professionals.

Examples of in-depth resources that can be used in training courses and other contexts can be found below.

Protecting media professionals from gender-based violence

Every third woman in Germany has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Statistically, this means that at least one in three women in media is affected too. Prevention, victim support and perpetrator accountability apply to the media industry just as they do to all other social groups.

In accordance with the German Allgemeinen Gleichbehandlungsgesetz AGG media companies, like all other employers, are obliged to investigate and sanction sexual harassment in the workplace. In hierarchically organised corporate structures power abuse in relationships of dependency is a major risk.

More than half of the women in Germany have experienced sexual harassment. In the film industry, anonymous surveys  show significantly higher values. 

For the film, television, theatre and music industry, there is also an independent and inter-company trust centre against sexual harassment and violence. Apart from counselling victims, Themis  also offers counselling on prevention measures for media companies or cultural institutions.

Having intimacy coordinators on film sets is not only an important measure for the professionalism and quality of the production, but also an important preventive measure. More information is available here and here.

While protection from violence and threats is important for all journalists, female media professionals are even more exposed to (online) hate and threats than their male colleagues.

Addresses and telephone numbers for people seeking help

Umbrella organisations of support institutions:

Studies and scientific papers

International Guidelines and studies