Monday, November 9, 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner

Having just returned from a year in Germany, I became especially intrigued when Hafez began sprinkling his article on International Reporting with references to German media coverage. (I was curious about his bio and discovered he is a professor in both Germany and the UK, hence his coverage of both systems of media.)

Hafez uses the example of the Olympics to show how media coverage tends to be nationalistic. While in Berlin, my first exposure to German television was watching the 2008 Olympics and we primarily watched coverage from the European channel Eurosport. Eurosport’s coverage focused on all European teams, thus it spent much more time covering a broad range of events and participants. In addition to using these events as an opportunity to learn my German numbers (score-keeping in German took on a whole new charm), it was intriguing to experience this “global” event from a non-American perspective.

Americans can’t be completely to blame for our focus on national events, however. In comparing coverage of international events by US, UK, and Germany outlets, the US was criticized for having the lowest percentage of coverage of international news. (While I do agree that international coverage in the US should be increased, the article failed to acknowledge that in terms of proximity, Germany calling many types of news “international” is in some ways like Michigan reporting on Ohio news.) Given the existence and growing prominence of the EU, much of this international news is incredibly relevant to Germans as well. And one has to start questioning to what extent German coverage of legislative developments in Brussels is really international anymore. The similarities to news reports, for example, in Kansas about federal decisions in Washington, DC are strong and increasing.

The Germans I came to know well were intensely proud of their familiarity with foreign news. Beyond being well-versed in foreign affairs, many Germans travel extensively and gain real exposure to cultures that are different from their own. One hesitates to belabor the point that part of this capacity to learn about other countries – and to travel to them – is the close proximity (and now close political integration) of many different countries, cultures, and languages.

It is important to note that patriotism is not something that is frequently found in Germany – at least not in the way common in the US. Even my peers in their mid-30s were extremely hesitant to exhibit any behavior that indicated a nationalistic attitude. This, perhaps, is key to how they approach the issues of other nations. In a constant effort to not re-live their past, they are committed (strongly, and vocally) to the pursuit of peace – and that requires knowing about what is happening in other places. Rallying around the flag? Trusting a leader unconditionally, especially when it comes to decisions of involvement in wars? Not in today’s Germany. In reading the discussions of Americans’ responses to 9/11 and the media’s call to “support our president unconditionally,” I could anticipate the virulent reaction my German friends would have had if exposed to such pleas.


  1. In a sense, I agree with you completely. Many European news outlets cover other European issues/countries as "international news", and that might indeed account for the high proportion Hafez was talking about. However, again, just as you said, they also have a good knowledge of foreign issues and countries (they DO know the world map, at the very least), and hence the interest.
    I find it really interesting the way you used "patriotism" and "nationalism" interchangeably in your last paragraph. There are many people who would disagree with you, but I see these two concepts as essentially synonymous insofar as they feed the same attitudes and behavior. Of course, I can in no way make the claim that the American public is more nationalistic than many of the other nations (well, you just have to look at my native Caucasus, or the Balkans, for that matter); HOWEVER, what I find problematic is that this fact is NOT overtly recognized, unlike in the other parts of the world... (and well, I would hope that recognition would also mean certain measures that would deal with it.) I also cannot hope for anyone to give up their national pride, or the strong sense of national belonging... But I think it's important for one to be informed about the others as well, especially when one tries to act as a role model (not to say "the policeman") in the world. Yes, there are oceans separating the US from Europe and Asia, but what about North America itself? How often do you get coverage of Canadian affairs, for example? And that is perhaps a good reflection of the general attitude towards them among the public. The same is true of Mexico.
    I think there is a STRONG need for more 'internationally-related' education, especially as the world gets increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent. It's good to foster devotion to one's country through education, but the self-centered approach sometimes reaches an extreme disconnect from the real world out there, and ultimately results in a total lack of understanding of the others... even if they're just on the other side of the border.

  2. Lena,
    Thanks for your comment. You're right: I see a (potentially dangerous) similarity between patriotism and nationalism, one which, like the Germans I met, prevents me from being totally comfortable with flag-waving, etc. And yes, there IS a strong need for more "internationally-related" education and news, which can be challenging to accurately produce without retaining the views of the country creating the news. This is why I'm a big fan using real-life experiences like exchanges to supplement news. And why I'm so glad our class doesn't just have Americans in it!