How the media report about a country has a crucial influence on its image in our minds. While Germany still enjoys a good reputation in the Chinese public, the stereotypes about China communicated in Germany are often rather negative. Media in China and Germany differ in their procedures and thematic priorities. What journalists of both countries can learn from each other and how exchanging with their counterparts from the other country influences their work was the discussion at the 6th Sino-German Communication Forum, initiated by Storymaker in Beijing and organized in cooperation with the German Centre Beijing.
Two Chinese and two German journalists, who participated in exchange programs, shared insightful details about their experiences:
The German journalists are surprised and rather impressed about the openness in China. “I proposed a list of topics I would like to work on,” tells Stephan Finsterbusch of FAZ who interns at the South China Morning Post at the moment. “I was astonished that the editors had chosen all my critical issues.” Is China rather a dragon or a panda, he was asked by the audience. “There is a lot in between,” he summarized his experiences. Also Sarah Lindner, free journalist who formerly worked for the NDR (North German TV), reported that her quite negative image of China has changed after working for CNC World, the TV channel of the Chinese news agency Xinhua. Both are currently participating in the annual program “Media Ambassadors China-Germany”. Jointly organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Hamburg Media School, this program sends German and Chinese journalists to the other country for three months. The concept is to first attend a training course at a renowned university followed by working in a national editorial department.
While the German journalists focused on the role and their impressions of the media, the Chinese journalists were more interested in Germany as a developed country. Duan Congcong, journalist for the Chinese Newspaper Global Times and alumni of the “Media Ambassadors China-Germany” Program 2009, was fascinated by the new technology of Mont Blanc: “A pen which is connected to the computer and takes your “fingerprint” when you start to write with it, that is really impressive”. And her male colleague Chen Lingshan, managing editor of the foreign news for the Chinese newspaper Beijing News, showed a photo of a typical German countryside on his iPad – forest, green, proper village. “That is life quality”, he acclaimed.
Chen Lingshan participated in the bi-national Discovery Tour Storymaker recently organized within the PR work for the initiative “Germany and China – Moving Ahead Together”. Under the motto “See my country through my eyes”, four tandem teams composed of journalists from both countries traveled together for five to seven days in each country. Chen and his German partner traveled to Berlin and Nanjing. The slogan of the tour actually came true for the tandem. “We exchanged different perspectives and discussed a lot, including critical questions”, he described.
However, Chen Lingshan – mostly interested in the Mediaspree Project in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg – was surprised by the different roles a journalist possesses in the two countries. While it was quite difficult to find interviewees for him in Berlin, his tandem partner was treated like a VIP in Nanjing. Interview arrangements and approval processes might often take longer in China, but they can be much more efficient. His German colleague Stephan Finsterbusch was enthusiastic about the editorial approach: “An article has to pass different layers in China. Several colleagues will approve it and add other angles to the story”. It made him remember previous times of journalism when the Internet did not push editors to most fast publishing. Sarah Lindner thinks the Chinese work more efficiently because they have fewer meetings: “I have so much more time than in Germany.“ She admires her colleagues for producing 30 minutes of footage every day.
That openness and freedom are two different things, Duan Congcong reflected when she visited the Online department of Spiegel’s Manager Magazine in Hamburg – and was welcomed by a Tibetan flag on the desk of the editor-in-chief. A provocation? She took it easily. Bureaucracy is often an obstacle regarding openness in Germany. And freedom is not just a right – it means hard work, risk and can be very expensive. When she was asked by the audience if there is anything specific she finds wrong about the reporting on China in German media, she answered that it seems to her a lot of articles focus on negative aspects and are not based on much research. After working as a journalist abroad, she can read critical reports of foreign media about her country more calmly. “Difference can make us cooperate”, she said.
The exchange between media representatives is an important step towards mutual understanding and cooperation. As the closing question the journalists have been asked about the next stories they would want to report about the other country. The “normal” life, students, social issues, environmental development and what we can learn from each other where among the answers. We are looking forward to that…