An Indian View of Germany

Are topics from Germany interesting for Indian journalists? G. Sampath from the Indian newspaper The Hindu is spending a three month stay in Germany. In the interview, he tells how the German and Indian media landscapes differ and why he finds the topic of refugees fascinating.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | June 2016
[DE Copy] images_w450/Sampath_6678_450.jpg
Björn Hänssler

Media ambassador G. Sampath

What opportunities does the German organic food market offer India? What are the effects on German society of the current debate regarding the acceptance of refugees or the surge of right-wing influences? What is the current status of Sanskrit research in Germany?

Eight Indian journalists, at present participating in the program Media Ambassadors India-Germany, have been looking into these questions. Prior to this, they took part in an advanced training seminar at the International Media Center (IMC) of Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and received a compact introduction into the current debate in Germany: from A for automobile to Z for zeitgeist.

The interview

In the interview, media ambassador G. Sampath tells how the German and Indian media landscapes differ and why he finds the topic of refugees fascinating. Sampath works for The Hindu, India’s third-largest English-language daily newspaper, and examines, above all, sociopolitical topics. During his stay in Germany, he is spending some time at Spiegel.

What are the main differences between media in Germany and India?

Firstly, there are far more resources to news gathering in German than Indian publications. This is reflected in the depth of coverage and the time journalists can devote to pursue any given story. In India we are more driven by the daily news cycle. It doesn’t happen really often that somebody puts a reporting team together to do a three-month investigative story.

Also the German media has been more successful in maintaining a high standard of ethics because you have more effective self regulatory mechanism. There is a German press council and you have a very strong and effective obliged broadcasting system. ZDF and ARD lay down the line in terms of objective and responsible reporting and you cannot deviate too much from the standards they set. I wouldn’t say that we have a similar standard in Indian media where media outlets can get away with stories and broadcast which border on tendentious and mischievous kind of reporting. And also the ownership patterns: In India you have newspaper and television channels owned by business men who might also own a mining or a packaging company. In this situation economic and political interests interfere with the editorial work. This makes it difficult for the editorial work to be insulated from external factors influencing the coverage.

What did funnel your interest in the topic of refugees in Europe?

An immediate trigger of course was the photograph of the drowned child on the coast which was splashed across all front pages. That was my immediate trigger to work on this particular theme. But I have been interested in issues of social justice and social empowerment for a long time. In India I have been writing on labor, on human rights and on the caste system.

Here I would like to get more into a deeper understanding of the refugee theme. The entire refugee debate is an issue of social justice at an international level. Refugees are an outcome of national policies which sometimes are decided within borders and sometimes by powers that decide on a transnational basis. I want to put a name and a face to the numbers and the abstractions. I also want to know more about the integration process, which doesn’t imply only cultural but also economic aspects: how are refugees integrating into the labor market in Germany? Unless you have a job and unless you don’t have to live on some kind of state support you cannot really be integrated.

What were your experiences so far, discussing matters related to refugees and migration with German people?

It has been very interesting for me discussing this with people in Germany, because my understanding only was at a macro level and now, it is a little bit more nuanced. I did not know for example that the opposition to the refugees coming in is more pronounced in Eastern Germany and not the West so much. This is something which I came to know here.

I was also not aware what a tough time the German media has had in covering the migrant issue in a responsible fashion. The whole Lügenpresse-phenomenon is very revealing to me because both in my opinion, the German media by large as well as the chancellor have been on the right side of history in the way they have covered and welcomed in a way the refugees. But the reactions of the German population were not very positive. And that’s how I imagine you got this whole Lügenpresse-phenomenon. In the face of such pressure to carry out journalism in a responsible fashion is a tough challenge. And this is something which I only understand after coming here thanks to this whole program.

What are the benefits from the media ambassador program?

One benefit is the exposure to the media environment which is very different from India... But since I have spent all my professional life in India, the cultural exposure is another big benefit from the program. It will affect the way you think, the way you make decisions. The more so, I am happy about the exchange with Germany because most cultural exchanges in India happen within an Anglophone framework. This is because we have a long history with the British. So to be able to get here to the main continent is really a big thing. And that is something that I really value.