Media and Politics in Times of Fake News – the Example of Migration. KAAD Seminar in Berlin

In times of globalization and digital communication, migration is not only a fact, but also a political mega-topic. At the centre of the seminar on October 22nd to 25th, 2019 was the question of intended disinformation (“fake news”) for the purpose of political agitation and how this can be dealt with. Prof. Dr. Marcus Maurer (Mainz University) spoke as a representative of communication science with a focus on political communication. By means of presenting findings of social research projects he was able to show which role social media play in the formation of opinions. However, he also stressed the finding that (contrary to common perception) the traditional media (TV, radio, print) maintain a strong role in this process. As a concrete example for the action against disinformation the project “Hoaxmap” of the free journalist Karolin Schwarz was presented. As a means of “fact checking”, this website informs users in different places of Germany about false reports about migrants and how this fake news were unmasked by means of fact checking.

How federal government and members of parliament communicate their own political content became vivid during visits to the Federal Press Office and the Bundestag. A highlight was the conversation with Dr. Ing. Karamba Diaby, Member of Parliament for Halle/Saale and Integration Representative of the SPD group in the Bundestag. In the middle of a busy parliamentary sitting, he took time to answer the questions of the KAAD scholars and to talk about his own biography and political work.

So-called “mainstream media” and major newspapers are increasingly suspected of only being allowed to or only wanting to report what the liberal or left-wing parties present. At the seminar, the participants got a concrete insight into the actual work of an editor at a large German daily newspaper. While visiting the “Tagesspiegel”, Andrea Dernbach reported on her challenging journalistic work. The world of print media is subject to strong structural and economic change. She was ready to report about these challenges and about principles of serious journalistic research and fact checking. The participants had a lot to contribute to this discussion and the questions she was asked seemed to go on and on.

The seminar topic of migration and the social interaction with this phenomenon was finally looked at also by means of a guided tour. The motto of the tour through Berlin’s multicultural Kreuzberg quarter was “Weltstadt Kreuzberg – From immigrants to natives”.

The spiritual program consisted of celebrations of Holy Mass. One was held at the Church of the “Katholische Akademie Berlin”, the other one consisted of the group’s participation in the semester opening of the Catholic Chaplaincy (KHG) Berlin. In these Eucharistic celebrations, the large variety of the participants’ cultural backgrounds was very much visible. The same holds true for the presentations which the several participants had prepared. These provided insights into the societies of Brazil, Russia and the Philippines: Classical and “new media” play their very own roles in the opinion-forming process, especially before elections. This role relates to a continuum between truthful reporting and directed political propaganda.

Through the 39 participants, 21 countries were represented at the seminar. Each of those countries finds itself confronted with very different circumstances and yet it became clear that many communication structures and related problems are similar all over the world. The examples from Berlin/Germany and from the countries of origin discussed at the seminar showed: Intended disinformation and the spreading of lies is by no means a new phenomenon, but is becoming more and more prevalent due to the Internet-based “social media”. Journalists in their professional role as well as every individual communicating daily through different channels have to deal with this special challenge of our time.