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Unbias the News Meet-up at be’kesh

Last week in Berlin, Unbias the News authors Wafaa Albadry, Qian Sun and Asma Abidi read from their chapters of the book and had an intimate conversation about diversity in the German media.

The event took place at be’kesh, Berlin’s first “anti-café,” a warmly decorated event and co-working space in Wedding that hosts cultural, social and entrepreneurial events while offering delicious coffees, cakes, soup and more.

The authors all had quite different themes but were able to relate the subjects of their chapters to the experience of working in a German media field that can sometimes be othering to people from different backgrounds.

Albadry’s piece, “Update Your Dictionary: What Comes After #MeToo,” discusses the aftermath of the #metoo movement and the different ways that power dynamics must shift in order to address the root causes of misogynistic harassment and violence in the workplace. Using many examples from headlines and sources, Albadry notes that just removing the individual perpetrators of workplace harassment is often not enough. “We say change the power dynamic, not the people in power.”

Sun’s piece, “Viewing Privacy Through Another Cultural Lens” recounts her experience as a Chinese journalist working in Germany, which has a totally different cultural connection to privacy than her home country. As a journalist, Sun notes, she must be aware of her cultural background and its inherent bias- something she has been forced to do, confronted with a totally different cultural context. But do people from the majority culture here in Germany consider how their own cultural bias can interfere with how they report on things like tech? Stereotypical portrayals of countries like China would suggest: not often enough.

Abidi read from her piece, “Starting Over: Making Space for Migrant Journalists”, which reflects on her own struggles trying to find opportunities in Germany after moving here from Tunisia with significant work experience. This owes, in part, to a lack of diversity more generally in Germany media, she writes. “The fact is that Germany was and still is an immigration society… but the media do not reflect this very genuine diversity.” Issues like language barriers are often presented as an obstacle, she said, but the fact is that there are a variety of jobs at any news organization and plenty of opportunities to use the skills brought to the table by experienced journalists from different countries.

After the three read from Unbias the News, a discussion with the audience followed that touched on many topics, including advice for newcomer journalists as well as ideas for improving the status quo. One point that was raised was the difficulty of balancing a desire to work with an equally strong urge to not want to be “tokenized.” In other words, Journalists of Color can often be pigeon-holed into writing about their own community, gender, or world region rather than the more general news that they would be capable of. At the same time, if given the opportunity to work in a precarious environment, how can you turn such opportunities down? “I want to speak for myself, not for all North African women,” said Abidi. Sun acknowledged that her Chinese background could be advantageous for working in relation to Chinese news, but that it was a tricky balance. Ideally, noted Albadry, people from different backgrounds could be considered experts in a variety of areas. Right now, it’s often a one-way street, with Western academics or journalists presented as experts on formally colonized countries, but rarely is it vice- versa.

All three journalists agreed that major structural changes could be needed in the German media eco-system to make it more inclusive of and penetrable by people of different backgrounds. But having conversations that bring attention to the bias and discrimination that currently exists is one of the first steps to making the necessary changes.

Read Albadry’s, Sun’s, and Abidi’s full pieces in Unbias the News: Why Diversity Matters for Journalism, available now from Hostwriter and Correctiv!

For more information on be’kech and to see a list of upcoming events, please visit their webpage.

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