22 February 2013

Gambia: Two Gambian Media Executives Visit Germany Tour of Media Establishments in Germany

Two Gambian Journalists, Mr. Pap Saine of The Point and Mr. Sam Sarr of Foroyaa were the guests of the Goete Insitut, on behalf of the Federal Government of Germany, from Sunday 10 February 2013 to Friday 15 February 2013.

During their visit the two media heads visited and met with representatives of media outlets, journalist associations, printing presses, political foundations,

media NGOs, academicians, the federal foreign office, press and information offices and witnessed a federal press conference.

The first meeting of the visitors was with Ms Eva Worner, Deputy Press Officer of the German Journalists Federation (DJV) at their offices in Berlin. She stated that DJV is Europe's largest journalist association with a membership of 37,000 with more than half from the print media. She noted that though it is not the only journalist association in Germany it is by far the largest with its members comprising more than half the total number of full time journalists numbering 73,000 (including photographers and press officers). She explained that the DJV is both a trade union and professional organisation. She added that they lobby for employed and freelance journalists from all branches of the media.

She lamented the tendency of big firms to advertise in the internet and the economic crisis, leading to closure of newspapers and journalists losing their jobs, numbering 1200 in the past year. The membership fee is €25 and subscription is graded according to income. Membership is open to all in the media, including publishers.

Mr. Saine and Mr. Sarr also visited the offices of the German section of Reporters without Borders (RSF) in Berlin. They met Mr. Jens-Uwe Thomas, Emergence assistance and refugee work and Mr. Cristoph Dreyer, Press relations officer. Mr. Dreyer explained how the RSF in Germany operates and its scope of action concerning freedom of expression and the media which includes sensitisation of the German public. Mr. Thomas explained how they assist refugee journalists mainly from Eastern Europe.

The two editors also had a discussion with the Dominic Johnson editor (Africa) of die tageszeitung (taz) an independent daily newspaper for critical reporting and social commitment with a circulation of 60,000. It is cooperative owned, emerging from the midst of a progressive movement in the 1970s. Its main focus has been current politics and societal problems.

The press and information office of the federal government foreign security and development policy division was also visited and the duo was received by Dr. Karl-Gerhard Laub, deputy head of division.

The press and information office of the Federal Government fulfils two key functions: it supplies information to the public on the work being done by the federal government and it supplies information to the government so that the latter can do its work well. Externally, the federal press office inform the general public and the media of the federal government's policies- of measures taken, laws passed, as well as background information on policies. Internally the office informs the federal government and the German Bundestag (Parliament), the federal chancellor (head of government) the federal press and their staff of the latest news in Germany and the world.

More interesting was the visit to the federal press conference (BPK) in Berlin and the observance of a press conference organised by BPK. The BPK is an association of full time journalists that was founded by parliamentary correspondents in 1949. It organises press conferences with leading representatives of politics, business and culture. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday the Chancellor's office and the Ministries are routinely invited to a press conference convened and chaired by BPK. The press conference is normally attended by the press spokesperson, but occasionally when important and controversial issues arise Ministers or even the Chancellor attends.

The questions are asked spontaneously by members only. The press conference witnessed by the visitors was attended by a dozen spokespersons who answered questions from journalists whenever they put up their hand and one is identified by the chair.

Questions raised on that day included reaction to President Obama's state of the union address, the planned visit of the chancellor to Norway, the horse meat scandal, to name a few.

The architecture of the BPK building is quite symbolic. It has a large window overlooking parliament and the chancellor's office, portraying the idea that the media as the fourth estate is watching over the government and parliament and holding them accountable to the people. To emphasise transparency the office of the chancellor is built with glass.

A structure was observed on top of parliament and according to the guide it symbolizes that the people are above the parliamentarian who should serve them.

At Hamburg, the visitors were received by Ms Britta Samberg Senior Foreign Editor and Jam Puhe, foreign editor Africa department of Der Spiegel. They explained the operation of the media outlet which has three units-weekly magazine with a circulation of 900,000; online website with more than three million clicks per month and production of tv programmes which they sell. They lament a drop in circulation from 1 million to 900,000 and advertisements in the case of the magazine which is their main source of revenue. The online is enjoying increasing revenue but what they make from it is not as high as in the magazine. Its offices occupy 13 floors housing 1200 employees.

The visitors were also received by Dr. Christoph Rybarczyk, Politics Editor, The Hamburger Abendblatt a daily newspaper, founded in 1949 in Hamburg. The paper focuses on news in Hamburg and environs, and produces regional supplements. 80 percent of its publication is distributed through subscription. Apart from the newspaper, it has an online and smart phone edition. Its circulation is 220,000 and staff number 180. The Hamburger Abendblatt is published by Mel Springer company, the largest publishing house in Europe.

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