CAIRO: “Our goal is to build bridges between different cultures to create a kind of dialogue, said Erik Bettermann, the director general of Germany’s international media network Deutsche Welle (DW).
“There is a need today for better understanding between cultures; and to establish a dialogue, you first need information, he told Daily News Egypt.
In a strive to open up channels of information between Egypt and Germany, Bettermann was in town early this week to inaugurate two media projects at Cairo University and the German University in Cairo (GUC).
On Monday, Bettermann visited Cairo University to inaugurate the mass media department’s new DW Corner, an audio/visual lounge where students will be able to access DW’s radio, television and internet content.
“It’s safe to say that Cairo University is the most important learning institution in the Arab world, he said, “And now students of their mass media department will know that we exist and can look for information on DW.
“In preparing for this visit, already the students have learned a lot. They will now be able to access DW as a gateway of information into Germany, which is at the heart of Europe.
Bettermann and representatives from DW were joined Tuesday by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak to launch GUC’s Digital Media Campus, giving students the opportunity to produce and broadcast digital radio and mobile TV.
The new broadcast station was developed by DW and the Fraunhofer-Institut. GUC’s core Campus Radio team completed an intensive course at DW-Akademie this past July, covering everything from program planning and research to choice of topics and music.
Bettermann rounded up his visit with a concert at the Cairo Opera House as part of the Orchestra Campus project that was developed in 2001 by DW and Beethovenfest Bonn.
“You can see through these cooperative efforts that DW is doing much more than transmitting broadcasts in Arabic, English and German to the region, he said, “Our main concern is to teach the coming generation how to use the latest developments in [media] technology. Our training program shows students how to make content that can be used via radio, television, podcasting, internet and video on demand.
“Above all, we aim to revitalize the ethics of journalism in the new technological era.
Germany has enjoyed strong political ties with Egypt, “the mother of the Arab Islamic world, said Bettermann. Egypt is also Germany’s third largest trade partner in the Arab region. Around 1.1 million German tourists visited Egypt last year, and that figure is expected to rise to two million in 2011, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Building on this longstanding relationship, Bettermann says that future cooperation between DW and Egypt will involve understanding, training and learning. “This must be a two-way street and hopefully both our journalists at DW and our Egyptian partners can learn through these cooperative efforts.
“We are doing this for your future – not my future – to enable a kind of cultural exchange, he says.
DW is a publicly funded institution and is one of the five largest international broadcasting services in the world. It produces radio, television and internet content in German, English and Spanish. Additional regional windows in other languages are also broadcast, including Arabic. The network partnered with Egypt in 2002 to transmit its television and radio programming via Nilesat to the region.
With the technological developments of today’s world, people have access to all kinds of information floating around the globe at any given moment. To produce a news piece in a digital stream, you must work with different logic, says Bettermann.
Before, the production of content was verbally oriented, but “today, the advantage of utilizing technology is that you can create a kind of non-verbal communication between different cultures around the world. More than relaying news from Germany and Europe to the region, DW’s mission statement emphasizes the philosophy of using information as a tool to building cultural understanding.
“Our mission of bridging cultures is a little bit different from other media outlets; and that is why DW’s programming gives insight into European culture, arts and sports, he says, in addition to putting current political and economic affairs into context.
“The time when European countries tried to push their understanding, their culture and music and everything on people around the world is over. Today, we have the opportunity to communicate with each other at the same level.
The development of media outlets in the Arab world is a positive step towards this common goal. But while younger media countries have developed an international presence, Egypt is yet to do so.
Egypt has a long history for producing technical media and has a highly developed radio system, he says, especially in comparison to other Arab countries. “On the other hand, these countries have been able to establish an international presence and have recognized the importance of broadcasting in different languages.
“If you look at all the Arabic television stations, Egypt is not represented like Qatar (with Al-Jazeera), Saudi Arabia (with Al-Arabiya) and the Emirates, says Bettermann, “From a professional point of view, Egypt can do it because there are enough well-educated, well-trained journalists to use these new technologies.
Asked whether privatizing Egyptian media outlets was the answer, Bettermann said, “Privatizing is not always the key to a better international presence. Germany does not have an international private station, DW is a public station but independent from the government.
“It is a question of whether the state of Egypt is interested in exporting its point of view on different issues to the world via television or radio. Then it is up to the viewers to decide whether they believe you are an independent media outlet or the public relations agency of one power or one stream.
Media outlets are also recognizing the importance of communicating their message in different languages. “Al Jazeera now has an English-language channel, Al-Hurra is an American Arabic station, BBC is developing an Arabic-language channel, Russia is expanding with Russia Today in English and Arabic. This is new, and younger media outlets are taking advantage of this diversity.
“We are proud that DW was the first European channel to feature Arabic programming. We now have nine hours of Arabic programming.
The challenge then lies in how independent the audience believes the station is. “The audience has to believe that you are as objective [and] as independent as possible. No one is totally independent, of course, because someone is always paying them. But it comes down to whether the shareholder is controlling the content, and the audience will recognize this immediately.
“Take the US as an example. There is a difference between CNN and Al-Hurra. The latter is paid for by the US government while CNN is a private company. The problem with Al-Hurra is that the Arabic world perceives it as the PR agency of the American government. While this may not be the case, and even though the journalists are doing a good job, in the end it’s up to the audience what they believe.
Germany has lived through two tumultuous centuries and has lived under several dictators, says Bettermann, and throughout “we have developed a certain understanding of journalism and a way of training journalists to be as objective as possible.
He cited the way they reported on the Danish cartoons controversy as an example. “We did not attempt to judge the reaction of the Islamic world. Instead, we gave examples of how Muslims and Christians have coexisted in Germany for a long time.
“We portrayed what it means in our society to use cartoons as an ironic instrument without supporting either position. We merely presented the reality in Germany as a country within Europe.
“If you want to bring societies closer together, then they must understand why each acts and reacts in the way they do, continued
“My dream is still that on this globe will live a society that knows much more about each other, one that interacts without arms and war. Communication is a peacekeeping instrument between people in different societies.