Barbara Thomass (ed.): Migration und Vielfalt im öffentlichen Rundfunk [Migration and Diversity in Public Broadcasting] reviewed by Petra Herczeg

Barbara Thomass’ book started life as a student project on diversity in the media and diversity management at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, as the Professor for Media Systems describes in the foreword. The students wrote the texts on the topic of ‘caught fire’ and for their final dissertations on diversity. Now published in an anthology, the articles examine the overarching question of how media in six European public broadcasters can contribute to promoting cultural diversity.

Thomass emphasizes how important it was for this project that the authors chose different theoretical and methodological approaches in order to examine example programs and analyze how the broadcasters view their role and conduct their staffing. The editor argues that the role of public broadcasters is to ensure plurality in their programming and to promote diversity mainstreaming at every level of the company (cf. p. 20). On behalf of all the authors, Thomass uses the introduction to define the term ‘diversity’ theoretically, providing both normative and pragmatic interpretations. She also examines the extent to which difference can be understood as a workable concept in itself, as well as the factors that must be associated with it, such as diversity as normality. But this introduction is as far as the discussion goes. To get the criticism out of the way early: Barely a single article addresses theoretical approaches, uses or quotes literature, or mentions the current status of research, and many take a very casual approach to formulating research questions or forming hypotheses. Despite this, it is an interesting compendium that provides important research insights.

In her paper “Entdecke die Vielfalt”?! – Migranten im Westdeutschen Rundfunk [“Discover diversity”?! – Migrants in West German broadcasting], Anika Keil examines the question of whether WDR can be considered a “pioneer and paradigm in dealing with this topic” (p. 36). The content analysis contains no reflection on the categories and features used to “identify” migrants (p. 40). Instead, the author merely writes that “most players with a migration background [were classified] based on visual, i.e. physiognomic features such as skin color” (p. 40). She could at least have addressed the problem that this method throws up, namely that migrants are reduced to certain characteristics that, in turn, are perceived as criteria for differentiating between ‘us’ and ‘the others’. In her analysis, Keil is consistently positive about WDR, concluding that, despite some deficits, WDR “is rightly seen as a model among public broadcasters” (p. 52).

Irini Kapouniaridou builds on this investigation by looking at Diversity-value im ZDF – Zwischen assimilierender Whiteness und der Integration kultureller Vielfalt [Diversity value at ZDF – Between assimilatory whiteness and the integration of cultural diversity] (p. 56-78). The author evaluates the data available in this field, before analyzing the format of the former Saturday evening show Wetten, dass..?. This analysis is conducted at a very descriptive level, without any closer investigation of the model or intercultural integration touched on before, nor of the whiteness concept. As a result, the study reads more like an essay than an academic paper, with an explorative, referential style. No reasons are given for the specific “Wetten, dass..?” episodes chosen; Kapouniaridou merely states that multiple shows were used in order to enable “units that recur regularly across episodes and that provide meaning to be found” (p. 69). Ten episodes from 2012 to 2014 are used as examples. Although the author does identify some cultural, hegemonic attributions in the sense of the whiteness concept, her approach is rather devoid of ideas.

Francina Herder’s paper looks at cultural diversity in British public broadcasting. Some of her remarks at the beginning are somewhat redundant, for example her two references to the foundation of the BBC (cf. p. 81; p. 84). No research questions or hypotheses are set up for the content analysis, the author instead choosing to describe the depiction of ethnic minorities on the BBC using the popular soap EastEnders as an example. The BBC’s staff quota system is judged a positive example of how to deal with cultural diversity (cf. p. 97).

Bearing the somewhat brief title Niederlande [Netherlands], Thomas Gruppe’s paper is an abridged version of the author’s master’s dissertation. It could have used a proof-reader, with various grammatical errors evident in the text (cf. p. 105). A description of the Dutch broadcasting system is preceded by a brief historic survey of migration, migrants and migration policy. The broadcaster NOS, whose portfolio includes various formats from current affairs to sport, is selected for the content analysis. The results show that migrants are not given a voice and are often judged negatively. In addition, there is a hierarchy to the way countries of origin are assessed, with a difference between Eastern Europeans and Africans, for example. A clearer distinction of precisely which African countries were named in the programs analyzed is needed here. Furthermore, the discussion of results does not refer back to any research literature – the author merely mentions that he has based his work on the study by Heinz Bonfadelli et al. on “Migration, Medien and Integration” [Migaration, media and integration] (2008).

Kathrin Langen’s paper bears the detailed title Vielfältig beitragen – Migranten im öffentlichen Rundfunk der Schweiz: Analyse der Personalpolitik und der Nachrichtenberichterstattung am Beispiel der Formate Tagesschau und 10vor10 [Contributing diversely – Migrants in public broadcasting in Switzerland: Analysis of staff policy and news reporting using Tagesschau and 10vor10 as examples]. This paper (p. 128-151) is also based on Bonfadelli’s content analysis and examines how reporting on migration has developed over time. Here, too, the results are presented with no more detailed reference to further studies. On the one hand, they clearly show that reporting focuses on policy on foreigners and criminality. On the other, they demonstrate that, despite a certain sensitivity to the issue of migration at a staff policy level, no strategic measures are anchored in corporate policy.

Ricarda Lalla’s article bears the succinct and descriptive title Migration und Vielfalt im ORF [Migration and diversity at ORF]. Her analysis focuses on the representation of migrants in Austrian television’s fictional detective show Tatort (p. 152-182). Beginning with a quantitative content analysis of “seven Tatort episodes relevant to the issue” (p. 167), she goes on to take stock of the roles of migrants in the criminal cases, whether they appear as victims or perpetrators, and their socio-economic status. The author then uses this as a basis on which to compare the social reality with data from the Migration and Integration Report 2013. This approach appears a little peculiar – after all, fictional formats are subject to different aesthetic and dramaturgical considerations whose very nature means that they do not necessarily attempt to represent reality. Unfortunately, there is no reference to further academic sources that might have provided some context for the research work. Nor is the fundamental significance of television entertainment and integration discussed, even though this would have provided a theoretical framework to underpin the paper.

Sabela Losada Barro’s paper Repräsentation und Darstellung ethnokultureller Vielfalt im spanischen öffentlichen Fernsehen. Inhaltsanalyse einer Programmwoche der Sendern [sic!] „La 1“ und „La 2“ [Representation and depiction of ethno-cultural diversity in Spanish public television. Content analysis of a week’s schedule on channels “La 1” and “La 2”] is in need of careful editing to avoid the errors evident even in the title. It examines the weekly schedule of two Spanish public full programs in order to investigate the question of how “ethno-cultural diversity is generated through in-house productions by TVE” (p. 183; TVE stands for the business division Televisión Española). After introducing public broadcasting in Spain, the author goes on to analyze two Spanish public channels and to address the question of how media professionals with particular ethno-cultural backgrounds are presented in the programming (cf. p. 189). There is absolutely no critical reflection on the selection criteria used to name the affiliation of media professionals and migrant players, even though these criteria could also be considered discriminatory, including as they do surname, appearance, accent or “explicit mention of their ethnic affiliation” (p. 190).

The very casual approach to statements such as “Most media professionals were identified as members of ethno-cultural diversity based on their surnames and speak without accents” (p. 195) is a cause for concern. This is clearly an evaluation that could be seen as prejudice – why should members of ethno-cultural groups not speak without an accent? There is absolutely no attempt to address the issue of frames, which play a considerable role in this context. Different group relationships are largely written about at a descriptive level, with no theoretical contextualization.

To sum up, the key weakness of all the critically evaluated papers lies in the fact that most lack theoretical discourse and a presentation of research findings, nor do they employ the academic practice of backing up statements with sources. Although the individual texts are interesting in themselves, they do not live up to the publication’s title. The country reports are enthusiastic descriptions, but provide no more detailed examination. The introduction by editor Barbara Thomass is the only section to deliver a refreshing, sophisticated view of the topic.

Comparative perspectives are important, indeed essential – a fact that Thomass refers to in her closing comments on each article. Although the case studies used are wide-ranging, however, only limited comparisons can be made and are documented in this publication.

This review first appeared in rkm:journal.

About the reviewer

Mag. Dr. Petra Herczeg is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. Research focuses: Migration and media; journalism research; intercultural communication. Selected publications: Diversity Kompetenz und Migration: Kommunikationswissenschaftliche Aspekte. In: Genkova, Petia; Tobias Ringeisen (Hrsg.): Handbuch Diversity Kompetenz: Perspektiven und Anwendungsfelder. Living Edition. Wiesbaden [Springer Fachmedien] 2016, p. 1-11; Diversität und Radio. Repräsentanz und Framing von MigrantInnen in österreichischen Radionachrichten. In: Medien Journal, 2, 2015, p. 53-73 (with Cornelia Brantner).

About the book

Barbara Thomass (Ed.) (2016): Migration und Vielfalt im öffentlichen Rundfunk. Analysen aus sechs europäischen Ländern. Bochum [Westdeutscher Universitätsverlag] 234 pages, EUR 19.90.


Translation: Sophie Costella