30 September 2011

Medien.Messe.Migration - The fair on media & migration

Stall featuring the Medien-Servicestelle Neue Österreicher/innen (Media Service Point New Austrians, a portal for journalists) and some other media

As an avid blogger and great fan of media use in development settings, I was super excited about attending the media fair on migration in the Wiener Stadthalle (a venue comparable to the Earl's Court Exhibition Centre that also is THE venue for international performing artists). In its third year, the fair has attracted some combined 3500 visitors (according to their own counts). Having all major broadsheets as well as the British Council and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce as its main partners, the event provides a magnificent platform for representatives of "ethnic" newspapers and magazines.

Particularly fascinating is to learn how media is used to communicate, discuss and negotiate identities, how migrants are represented and portrayed in mainstream media and how these images shape public discourse on migration and integration in Austria.

Bummedia who specialise in "ethnomarketing"

I attended two panels. The first presented the results of a media analysis by Florian Laszlo from Observer GmbH (an Austrian press monitoring company) which tracked the number of times the German terms for "migration" or "migrants" occurred in Austrian mainstream online and print media within a time frame of three months. This was then further broken down into more detailed statistics on the contexts in which these terms were mentioned and, if they referred to individuals as compared to say, articles on law reforms or about the level of integration of labour migrants, the names of those individuals were also recorded (usually public figures in national politics or from the Vienna city council which funds and develops extensive integration projects). The study was commissioned by the diversity management department of the Chamber of Commerce and you can read up on it here.

Pre-panel buzz (the guy with the laptop is Helga Fahrnberger, the woman Margit Wolfsberger)

The second presentation, entitled "Kritische Medienbeobachtung – damit MedienkonsumentInnen nicht verblöden" ("critical media monitoring – so that media consumers don't dumb down"), was even more interesting as the panel consisted of Helge Fahrnberger, professor at the University of Vienna's Department of Communication and founder of media watch blog kobuk.at (co-run with his students) and Margit Wolfsberger, from the Initiative Teilnehmende Medienbeobachtung (Participant Media Observation Initiative) who is an anthropologist from the Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology, also at Univie. Using examples of misrepresentations of facts in the press which were busted on his blog, he illustrated how media present and spin facts that portray migrants in a bad light. For example, something that happens quite a lot is the criminalisation of "foreigners" by revealing the ethnicity of the (alleged) perpetrators whenever a crime is reported in the news - which obviously suggests to the uneducated reader that foreigners are dangerous. Newspapers do things like these for several reasons: Naturally, they want to increase circulation by playing into the readership's prejudices and/or fears or they want to intentionally create controversy (i.e. stimulate readers to comment on online articles and involve online communities). Sometimes it is also laziness, ignorance or lack of knowledge of the editor. It can also be lack of time to research facts under pressure to meet a deadline. In any case, kobuk.at usually contacts the editor and if they get a response and the consent to do so, they publish that response on the blog (apologetic and defensive statements alike).

To demonstrate how shockingly deceiving newspaper articles can be, take the example of their post, "Wie die Kronen Zeitung das Volk verhetzt (Update IV)" ("How the Kronen Zeitung incites the people"): An article was published by said Austrian tabloid with the headline:

"Moslems fühlten sich gestört, weil sein Gesang wie der Ruf eines Muezzin klang: Geldstrafe für jodelnden Steirer"
("Muslims felt bothered because his song sounded like the call of a Muezzin: Fine for yodelling Styrian")

According to the article, a man from the state of Styria was allegedly sued by his Muslim (Styrian?) neighbour for yodelling in his own garden. As a brief call to the Muslim's lawyer revealed, the Austrian had been harassing his neighbour by yodelling repeatedly on Fridays and during prayers and in sometimes quite creative ways. And apparently, it was actually the police officer who eventually filed suit because he got fed up with the yodelling neighbour himself! You can read the article here.

The Initiative Teilnehmende Medienbeobachtung is a team of (media) anthropologists, mainly from the University of Vienna, which aims to challenge stereotypes and wrong facts purported in Austrian media by sending out op-eds and letters to editors.

Loads of networking at the stalls

Among the exhibitors of the fair were many larger foreign dailies like Hürriyet and Zaman but also large transcultural magazines like Kosmo and my personal favourite, Biber. I discovered Biber a year ago when my aunt and uncle were living in Vienna's diverse 10th district and was instantly taken by the intriguing articles written by editors from migrant communities about topics that would interest other people with multicultural backgrounds living in Vienna. Great stories were the success of skiing trips in schools that have high numbers of kids from migrant communities. I should explain that skiing trips are almost institutionalised in Austrian secondary education. Clothes and equipment hire are expensive though, as is accommodation which is why the school portrayed in the article decided to reduce the usual week-long trip to a one or two day trip. It's not like some of the kids hadn't skied before, after all there are also skiing resorts in Slovakia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Turkey). In any case, I told the guy from Biber enthusiastically that I had ALWAYS wanted to meet someone from Biber and also that – I wish it had been around when I was a teenager (I just really wanted to tell them how much it means to me to be able to have a magazine that talks about the kind of issues that I am familiar with from my mixed environment and that I feel really 'gets' me. And of course, I suggested they feature some Filipinos or Asians in general (the magazine mostly focuses on (South) Eastern European communities and the Turkish community) and he pointed out to me that as an 'insider', perhaps I would like to contribute on that topic and made me aware of the Biber Academy, a summer academy for young journalists that also tries to place you with a major newspaper or magazine at the end. A fantastic idea for capacity building in general and for fostering the development of a generation of media professionals from migrant communities! There are only a handful of places every year, so I suggest you guys sign up early for next year's! The link is here and here you can find their latest issues (or sign up for a FREE subscription!).


The whole event was organised by M-Media - Diversity Media Watch Austria, an organisation that has the following commendable aims:

  • Create training opportunities for migrants in Austria and abroad as well as their organisations
  • Editorial assistance for intercultural media and communication items from for and with migrants
  • Media consulting for migrant organisations
  • Increased cooperation with the Austrian media in order the quality of news about migrants and to facilitate and promote migrants' access to mass media
  • Involvement of migrants in Austrian mainstream media as well as promotion of migrants in mainstream media companies
  • Organising symposia, seminars, talks as well as...
  • … workshops for migrants and media professionals
There is a whole list of foreign and migrant media links sorted by ethnic community on their website too.

A great event open to anyone and best of all - it's free! Hope to see you all there next year and that this post will hold up to the scrutiny of any media watch organisations that visit to check who linked to their website!