Context is everything

Most journalists have nothing at all against refugees, people with handicaps or Queer people. Such people however only become relevant for stories if they fulfil certain clichés or can be portrayed as a problem. That’s because the media mainly report when something deviates from the norm. The fact that immigrants and their descendants or trans* people live the same mundane lives as everyone else is simply not newsworthy.

There is a difference, however, and that is that the others rarely experience discrimination. When looking for a flat, Mr Kaiser’s surname doesn’t disadvantage him, whereas Mrs Abdallah’s does. A man on a bicycle is rarely reduced to his means of transportation, a man in a wheelchair always is.

The media can play a role in ensuring things stay that way. Or they can be agents of change. They can keep highlighting certain characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, or religion for certain groups (queers, trans* people, women, Muslims) without doing the same for other groups (heterosexuals, cis people, men, Christians). Or they can simply apply the same standards to everyone.

More responsibility, more normality

Part of the job of being a journalist is also dealing responsibly with the influence the media have on public opinion. Be aware of the consequences of your reporting. When immigrants only appear in problematic contexts, that’s discriminatory and the matter becomes political. Not because these stories shouldn’t be told, but because people who are assigned to them remain invisible in other contexts.

That is why journalists have a great responsibility when reporting on people with whom their average audience has little contact. Not everyone knows a Muslim, a blind or trans*person personally. Whatever images people have of groups they don’t personally know are delivered by the media.

People from a wide variety of backgrounds and lifestyles can play a role everywhere

Journalists don't just report on extraordinary subjects. They do stories on a much wider range of topics. They report on the latest developments in science and explain new laws and regulations, but they also test products like cars and appliances, bring you the latest business and fashion news, keep you up to date on celebrity news and feature vox pops.

People from a wide variety of backgrounds can appear in all of the contexts mentioned above and are increasingly doing so. We have seen a rainbow family in consumer stories on domestic energy consumption, a Black teacher talking about emergency care during the Covid lockdown, an expert wearing a headscarf in a talk show or a queer and disabled passer-by in a vox pop.

However, this is still the exception whereas it ought to be the rule in a country with such an ethnically diverse population. It’s a lot easier to achieve this kind of normal representation if you have enough colleagues in the editorial department who know how and where to contact such diverse protagonists. And to be honest, you don’t have to be the descendant of immigrants to be able to do this. You just need to think outside your box.

It's a known fact that erotic tips are click bait. The B.Z. in Berlin does it. They like to see themselves as an open-minded publication and publish well-meaning comments on CSD for example. But queer readers play no role in the erotic articles. Whether they’re offering "eight simple tricks for better sex!" or informing their readership that "60 % prefer to jump into the sack on Saturdays" - articles are dominated by a heteronormative monotony, always illustrated with a straight couple. Don't queer couples have sex? That's something the paper would prefer not to show their readers.
Kriss Rudolph, Mannschaft

50:50 The Equality Project

In the English-speaking media world in particular, various procedures have been tried and have proven to be practicable and effective. The BBC’s 50:50 Equality Project, a big collective action on increasing representation in BBC content, made unusually fast progress for more gender equality. Meanwhile, it is also achieving better representation of other marginalized groups.

How the 50:50 method works

  1. Editorial and production teams count the number of contributors they can control in any story, feature or programme. The head of state for example is not counted when giving a speech, nor is the only eye-witness to an incident, since these stories cannot be told without these people, and the media has no control over who they are. Everyone else counts – reporters, analysts, academics or experts. 
  2. Based on the total number, they set benchmarks for their chosen diversity targets: for example, 50% women, 30% BIPoC, 10% people with disabilities, etc.
  3. For each content produced, the production team monitors the numbers of contributors in that content, i.e., the people who appear in the story, feature, discussion group, etc. If a person cannot be clearly assigned, the perception is based upon that of the audience.
  4. The results are transparently communicated to everyone in the editorial and production team. Teams share and discuss results and publish them once a month for the whole organisation.

Good things about "50:50“:

1. The method is transferable to all topics and departments, from the social media editorial team to the radio orchestra.

2. Editorial and production teams participate voluntarily and each team can adapt the system to fit into their existing workflows.

3. 50:50 doesn’t come with any additional costs. All it takes is a little time.

4. Monitoring the results helps teams to identify topic areas with under-representation and directly helps increase awareness for lack of diversity.

5. The BBC discovered that thanks to the 50:50 project in addition to underrepresented groups having gained more visibility, new and more diverse stories are being told, and this has led not only to improved audience satisfaction but also to an increase in new and younger audiences.

Further information is available on the BBC Website.

Guest Contribution: 50:50 And Beyond

How fairer representation can succeed

by Rana Göroglu und Karin Heisecke, MaLisa Stiftung

Organisations and advocacy groups such as Pro Quote Medien, Pro Quote Film or the Journalistinnenbund (Association of Women Journalists) have raised public awareness on the underrepresentation of women in the field of media which has stimulated processes of change. Since its founding in 2016, our MaLisa Foundation has devoted itself primarily to the differences in gender representation in the content of audio-visual media. As a starting point for our call for more diversity, we support studies to identify possible solutions based on solid data.
Our first study on audio-visual diversity that we did in 2017 already showed that women are significantly underrepresented in all areas of German film and television, that they gradually disappear from the screen after the age of 30, and that they are rarely portrayed as experts.[1] Our most recent studies on Corona coverage in the spring of 2020 [2] and on gender representations and diversity in streamed content also show:[3] [4] The realities, distribution of roles and representation that we get today is still a long way from showing society as it actually is.

From findings to solutions

We develop solutions and monitor their implementation with the support of partners from the industry, civil society activists, and researchers. Sometimes it takes a while for research results to actually lead to processes leading to better representation and more visibility of underrepresented groups. Other times, however, results can be achieved in a very short period of time. A good example of this is the BBC's 50:50 Equality Project, which news presenter Ros Atkins started on his own initiative.

When Atkins realised how under-represented women were in his and in other departments of the BBC, he launched an action in his newsroom in early 2017. He proposed to voluntarily monitor the gender of the people who get to speak. Die Idee dahinter: The idea behind it: Having the findings right in front of you creates awareness of underrepresentation and motivates editorial departments to make a change. He called the project 50:50, and within a short time, the project showed signs of success. In Atkins' newsroom, the percentage of female contributors rose from under 40 to 50 percent within four months. Soon, other teams joined in and shared their data. Thus, a voluntary competition was born: the 50:50 Challenge.
The initiative was supported by the BBC Director General from the beginning and has become an important flagship for the public broadcaster. According to the BBC, 670 teams from all sectors are now using 50:50 monitoring, and the status is regularly published. According to the latest report female contributors accounted for at least 50 per cent of the content in almost three-quarters the data sets submitted for March 2021. And for the first time no team was made up of less than 40 percent women.

From individual initiatives to international networks

Atkins sees the key to success in the fact that the project is simple and voluntary, and measures what media professionals can control themselves. Researchers who have studied the project have come to a very similar conclusion. It has since spread far beyond the BBC: More than 100 institutions from over 26 countries are part of the global 50:50-network. Among them are many public broadcasters but also private media organisations, journalism schools, universities, and corporations.

The „BBC 50:50 Impact Report 2021“ also provides figures on international partner organisations for the first time. Of the 40 or so institutions that submitted data for the 50:50 Challenge, around half reported having a percentage of women of at least 50 per cent.

Broadcasters in Germany have now also joined the BBC 50:50 Equality Project and have set themselves the goal of a balanced gender ratio These include der Bayerische Rundfunk, die Deutsche Welle, rbb and SWR.The latter announced in summer 2021 that it would be the first state broadcaster in the ARD group to launch a station-wide 50:50 Challenge to increase the proportion of women in its television, radio, and online formats.

From gender distribution to monitoring other diversity factors

In October 2020, the BBC announced that it would extend its 50:50 monitoring to include ethnic diversity and disability. This is to support the broadcaster's aim to have 50 per cent women, 20 per cent 'Black, Asian and minority ethnic' (BAME) and 12 per cent people with disabilities represented on screen, and in leading roles across all genres. According to the BBC, more than 220 teams have already committed,to using this enhanced monitoring method.
It should be noted that measures such as the 50:50 Equality Project aiming for more "diversity in the media" are currently focussing on one aspect - a more representative distribution of journalists and other key players in media reports and products. Other aspects such as more women in top-level positions or better working conditions all round, or salary disparities are other aspects that still need attention. However, projects like the BBC's are an important step in the right direction. Such projects help to raise awareness and bring on change.

Karin Heisecke is the director of the MaLisa Foundation, which works to promote social diversity and overcome limiting role models in media and culture. She is an expert on gender issues and has worked in Germany and for international organisations for more than two decades in the areas of communication, policy advice and implementation. 

Rana Göroglu Göroglu was communications and projects officer at the MaLisa Foundation. Previously, she worked as editor, managing director and project coordinator at Mediendienst Integration. She has also worked as a journalist for radio, TV, print and online media. In her work, she focuses on diversity in countries of immigration and the transfer of knowledge at the interface of research, media, and civil society.

Tips & Tools: Monitoring content digitally

Some newsrooms now use software to analyse their content in order to promote the representation of social groups:

  • Since 2018, the Australian ABC has been using its own „"Story Tracker“ tool to measure the proportion of eyewitnesses, spokespeople and experts from different backgrounds in the station's programmes.
  • At the Financial Times, the „Janet Bot“ continuously scans all reports for gender ratio. If the percentage of men is too high, it automatically informs the responsible editors.
  • Many media in Scandinavia use the „Gender Equality Tracker“. In addition to the gender ratio, the tools also track the ratio of "Nordic" to "international" names in media reports. The „Diversity Dashboard“ software measures the percentage of women in audio-visual media.
  • „EqualVoice-Factor“ measures the visibility of women in articles by Ringier and Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland. The EqualVoice-Factor has two indicators. The” Teaser Score" evaluates the visibility of women in pictures, headlines and titles, and the "Body Score" shows how often women and men are mentioned in the actual articles.
  • „“, „“ and „“ are tools that help to measure the frequency of people by gender, age, and nationality in publicly available texts. With these free tools, The Guardian, for example, was able to search through over 70 million user comments on its website, and Hillary Clinton's campaign team found out that most of her campaign contributors are female.
  • The start-up „Ceretai“ supports media companies with diversity and inclusion strategies. Among other things, it offers a tool to monitor the airtime of women and men as well as certain age groups in films, TV shows and news programmes.

Note: Using computer algorithms to monitor diversity is not a very precise method. For example, such tools usually only survey men and women, but not non-binary persons, and experiences of racism cannot always be recognised. To be really sure where you stand in terms of diversity, you will still need careful evaluation. As an editor, you should therefore always take the results of digital tools with a grain of salt. 

Checklist for diverse voices

Do you want to showcase new voices and faces and portray society in a more diverse manner? Nothing could be easier. Just ask these three questions and make them a part of your daily editorial routine: 

What criteria did I use to select my protagonists?

Like everywhere else, many unconscious factors play a role in the selection of protagonists, experts, analysts etc. In our male-dominated society, for example, women appeared in less than 20 % of all Tagesschau reports in 2020 – Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission not included – the number of protagonists with disabilities or with a non-white ethnicity was even lower.

Is that what we want? Do we want to continue flipping through our contact lists and inviting the same experts, analysts, academics, celebrities, over and over again, or is it time to reach out to new and more diverse protagonists? Do we pick those with the most expertise or those who are more likely to answer our phone calls? Do we pick those with the best stories, or those that best fit the standard story we choose to tell?

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.  Just 26 percent of all experts who had their say in 2020 were female. 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. 

Who gets to say what, how often, how long and when?

Media professionals must take a self-critical look at how much space they give to different people in their reports. Are the different actors in a social debate given the same amount of airtime or space for their arguments, or does one perspective dominate? Are dangerous, anti-democratic positions given too much attention, thus elevating them to the same level as legitimate human rights concerns? How is a topic introduced, who speaks first and who is given the important last word? In short, which aspect of the story will resound with readers, listeners and viewers?

Tips & Tools: Ideas for diverse voices

  • is a free database for media professionals. Hundreds of experts from all fields reflect the most diverse expertise in Germany.
  • The website offers a form which with media professionals can use to request for experts with disabilities.


In-house address databases: Some editorial offices simply compile their own diverse address databases in which they list good interview partners, analysts and experts who are not white, not heterosexual, not male or disabled.

Diversify your feed: Another place to get in touch with experts from different backgrounds is your own social media feed. Media professionals should consciously follow institutions and people on Instagram and/or Twitter who represent new perspectives and topics and are part of a community with which they have had little contact.

Guest article: ProQuote Medien’s #Coronaexpert

by Edith Heitkämper

For almost two years, the Covid crisis has been explained to us mainly by men. Male experts have been voicing their opinions in the media. We've had enough! We want to see more female virologists, infectiologists, epidemiologists and intensive care specialists classify and explain the pandemic. We want to hear and read from more female social scientists, philosophers, educationalists, economists to analyse the social consequences for us.

The days of men explaining the world and women dutifully nodding ought to be long gone. It isn’t good to see such structures being repeated during the covid crisis. The fact that the media have mainly interviewed male experts shows that we are still a long way from achieving the kind of gender equality we had hoped for.

Campaign for more female experts

ProQuote Medien has therefore launched a campaign for more female experts in the public sphere. Under the hashtag #Coronaexpertin, the association is collecting names of female specialists in social channels. Editors often complain that it is impossible to find a woman for an interview, that there are simply not enough female experts in this field. It is true that in many scientific faculties, men dominate the top positions. But if you look, you will also find women there. We would like to support editorial offices in finding these female experts. We are sure we can find more women to voice their opinions on the covid crisis.

ProQuote Medien specifically asks hospital directors and research institutes to name female experts from the fields that are currently in particular demand. Journalists can then contact these experts for research or possible reporting. The search for further female experts is also supported by ProQuote Medizin and the Association of Women Doctors. Only a joint effort can change this deplorable state of affairs and allow more female voices to be heard. For a fairer representation of women in the media!

#Coronaexpertin you can find here. 


Edith Heitkämper is chairwoman of ProQuote, an organisation that advocates for a 50 per cent quota for women in media management positions. She also works as an editor for the TV health programme Visite on NDR television and writes about medical and social issues for Stern, Brigitte and Psychologie Heute.

Mentioning race and ethnicity in criminal reporting

While migrants and their descendants are underrepresented in many contexts (e.g., as experts, parents, pensioners), they appear particularly often in one particular context, and that is in crime reporting.

It used to be a journalistic understanding that a person’s ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or other sensitive information such as shoe size, weight or chronic disease was only mentioned if it was crucial to the story. Obviously, no one breaks into a house because they are Bulgarian, no one goes rioting because they are Greek, and so on. That's why the German Press Council adopted the first guideline against discrimination in 1973 and, until a few years ago, recommended that a person’s ethnicity only be mentioned if there is "a justifiable factual reference” between it and the topic being reported on. The guideline has always been the subject of controversial discussions; tabloid newspapers tended not to adhere to it, while more sober media usually did.

Unfortunately, it has since faded into the background. In 2017, as a result of the debate following the mass assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve [5] the Press Council amended the corresponding guideline on "Discrimination". Now, a "genuine public interest" is sufficient reason to name a person’s origin or ethnicity. So, many media outlets have moved to almost always mentioning ethnicity, skin colour or nationality, especially when reporting on crime. Because of lack of visibility in other contexts, this leads to a distortion of reality.

Why mentioning race or ethnic origin is discriminatory

The new press code guideline requires media to handle the naming of origin responsibly so that it "does not lead to a discriminatory generalization of individual misconduct." We know that frequently mentioning ethnicity or origin of suspects in crime reporting fuels prejudice and is discriminatory. Many crimes are only widely reported if the perpetrators happen to be immigrants, refugees, Muslims, or People of Colour.

At the same time, many people in Germany get their information about minorities from the media rather than from any personal experience. The opinions, images, and impressions they have about immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Romani, or Afro-diasporic people are often shaped by journalists. And when these groups - unlike white Germans - are disproportionately portrayed as criminals, it is precisely this misperception that sticks with the public and leads to further discrimination. 

There are, of course, cases where it is important to know the origin in order to understand the story. For example, when reporting on skirmishes in a border region that involves criminal gangs entering from a neighbouring country. Or when a senior citizen robs a bank to pay for the transportation of her dead husband’s corpse to Senegal. These are exceptions, normally, there is no necessary reason to mention a person’s ethnic origin.

Die Praxis der Herkunftsnennung in Medien und bei der Polizei wird in Frage gestellt

A dialog project of the Institute for Journalism and Communication Research at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media (HTMTM) is currently bringing together different actors for an exchange on public and media handling of information on ethnic /national origin. Among them are journalists, press officers and executives of security authorities, civil society organizations and academic researchers. They will discuss when it’s ok to name a person’s origin and when it’s not necessary, and will draft new recommendations on the subject. Disclaimer: The Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen are part of this dialog project.

Complaints are no reason for mentioning race or national origin

Indeed, there are people who accuse editorial teams of covering up and who criticize it when criminals or suspects are immigrants, and this fact is not mentioned in a report. When journalists omit mentioning a person’s race or ethnicity in their reports it’s not because they want to be "politically correct", but mostly because this has no bearing on the story. If readers or audience ask, this can easily be explained. In many cases, repeated audience complaints do not come from regular viewers or paying subscribers, but from organized right-wing groups feigning indignation from loyal fans.

Good Practice: These guidelines in reporting ethnicity apply at the New York Times

The "ethnic" affiliation, i.e., whether someone is a Person of Colour or Black (race), should only be mentioned if it is relevant and the relevance is clear for the reader.[6] This affiliation is clearly relevant in the case of victims of hate crimes or criminals on the run, where a full physical description of the person is essential. For a person convicted of any other crime, mentioning race is irrelevant, unless the crime is a race-related hate crime, in which case the connection should be explained.[7]

The race of a political candidate is relevant if it is used to solicit votes. The ethnicity of a person wanted by the police can be an essential part of a description of that person. Die Herkunft einer von der Polizei gesuchten Person kann ein wesentlicher Bestandteil einer Personenbeschreibung sein. But the race of a person convicted of a crime is not relevant unless the case has "ethnic implications", and these must be explained in the article.[8]


Tips & Tools: Recommendations for naming race or ethnicity in crime reporting

Editors should ensure that decisions for or against naming race and ethnicity are made on an informed, comparable, and transparent basis, so that they do not convey a distorted picture of criminality in Germany. Do note that frequent and unfounded mention of race or other characteristics of socially disadvantaged groups can lead audiences and readers to nourish prejudices against such groups. To avoid this, we recommend the following:

Generally irrelevant

Germany is a diverse country. It is not surprising, then, that criminals have diverse backgrounds. So why mention race or ethnicity only when the perpetrators are perceived as “non-German”? Race or ethnicity can never serve as an explanation for criminality. Being a criminal is not innate to a particular ethnicity. Other factors apply. So, in their reporting, journalists must make sure they do not create connections that do not exist. As a rule, therefore, characteristics such as origin, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics of structurally disadvantaged criminals or suspects should generally not be reported.

Don’t mention race in petty crime reporting

In the case of petty crime reporting based on police reports (to be found usually in the mixed news sections) the race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation of the offenders should not be mentioned at all, because they are irrelevant to the crime and for the story. Moreover, such short reports allow no room for in-depth explanations and these petty crimes are of such minor importance, that there is no justifiable public interest in releasing such details within the meaning of the Press Code.

Exceptions are the exception

In some exceptional cases, characteristics such as nationality or ethnicity of offenders or suspects may have a clear link to the story. For example, if a suspect has fled abroad, if the biography is of decisive importance in a court case or if it is about Islamist-motivated terror. However, creating a connection between race, religion and other characteristics and the crime in question should always be based on facts relevant to the story and not on speculation.

Spectacular cases, or extremely serious or unusual acts that receive a lot of attention are another exception. Here, journalistic logic dictates that any information about the alleged perpetrators is newsworthy. This could be a psychologist’s report or information on a suspect’s nationality or race. But here, too, the decisive factor is how often and in what manner these things are mentioned. Mentioning such information in the body of an article has a different effect than putting it in the headline.

Mention race and origin the right way

If nationality, race, or other characteristics of marginalised groups are decisive for a story, the article must explain why they are important and how they are related to the criminal act. They can be supplemented by classification and weighted appropriately in terms of language, without claiming that origin per se is relevant to the crime. Sensitive information should be used judiciously. In the eyes of the audience and readers, every piece of information has a meaning, otherwise it would not be in the report.

Best results can be achieved in longer features, where connections can be explained, and biographical information is often part of the overall picture. But even in short reports, mention of race or origin can be implicit if it is important for an understanding of the story. An example: "The suspect Gavriel H. was arrested at Frankfurt airport yesterday. The 38-year-old is said to be one of the leading heads of the largest Colombian drug cartel and the coordinator of illegal trafficking in northern Europe from his base in Frankfurt. According to Interpol...".

  1. 1 Vgl. „Audiovisuelle Diversität? Geschlechterdarstellungen in Film und Fernsehen in Deutschland”, Studie der Universität Rostock (2017), gefördert und unterstützt durch ARD, FFA Filmförderungsanstalt, FFF Bayern, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, MaLisa Stiftung, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, ProSiebenSat. 1, ZDF; Kurzversion (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021)
  2. 2 Vgl. „Wer wird gefragt? Geschlechterverteilung in der Corona-Berichterstattung“, Ergebnisse zweier Studien zur Berichterstattung in der TV-Berichterstattung und in den Online-Auftritten von Printmedien im Auftrag der MaLisa Stiftung (2020), in: MaLisa Stiftung (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021).
  3. 3 Vgl. „Geschlechterdarstellungen und Diversität in Streaming- und SVOD-Angeboten“, Studie der Universität Rostock (2020), gefördert und unterstützt durch Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, MaLisa Stiftung, ZDF (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021).
  4. 4 Vgl. „Geschlechterdarstellungen und Diversität in Streaming- und SVOD-Angeboten“, Studie der Universität Rostock (2020), gefördert und unterstützt durch Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, MaLisa Stiftung, ZDF (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021).
  5. 5 Nach 1.304 Strafanzeigen wurden drei Täter wegen sexueller Nötigung verurteilt:
  6. 6 Vgl. Siegal, Allan M./ Connolly, William: The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative News Organization, 5. Aufl., New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2015. Laut Auskunft der New York Times an den Mediendienst Integration von Januar 2021 wurde das interne Regelwerk um die genannten Richtlinien zur Herkunftsnennung in der Berichterstattung erweitert.
  7. 7 Englisches Original: Race should be cited only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. The race of a victim of a hate crime or the subject of a police search is clearly germane, an essential part of the person’s description. But the race of a person convicted of a crime is not pertinent unless the case has racial overtones; if it does, the overtones should be explained.
  8. 8 Englisches Original: Ethnicity should be mentioned only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. The ethnicity of a candidate is pertinent if she uses it to appeal for votes. The ethnicity of a person sought by the police may be an essential part of a person convicted of a crime is not pertinent unless the case has ethnic overtones that are worth describing in the coverage.