Immigration and the Media

Article published on June 30, 2003
community published
Article published on June 30, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The presence of immigrants is an extremely new phenomenon in the long history of Europe. The media represents one of the most important means of intra-society communication. How does the media influence the integration of immigrants?

The movement of nations

Since the movement of nations there hasn´t been such a huge and succesful movement of non-european nations and tribes for very many centuries .

Great movements of European history were led through wars and violence (as in case of Arabs, Berbers, Mongols, or Osmans), despite the neccesity of cooperation with the original populations. The original population had been mixed during the time with the foreigners. But these processes took an incomparable amount of time compared with today´s integration which has already finished – more or less – in the second generation.

These processes which various parts of Europe passed through in the Middle Ages and before cannot be considered and labelled as „immigration“ as it is interpreted today.

Information society

Former enthusiastic theories of modernity and development consider the wide use of global information technologies as a way of creating a world citizenship. If everyone were to use the same technology, whose „mother tongue“ is English, than everyone would live in the same „global village“, with the same values and the same problems.

But reality has overtaken this theory. Modern means of communication do not unify society, do not connect people from various ethnic groups, nations or social levels, but in fact facilitate the fragmentation of society and make the problem of integration more difficult.

First in the eighties and, above all, in the nineties, vast development of private ethnic channels in Germany, Britain, Netherlands and France broke the idea of the principle of „one TV – one nation“. The arrival of the Internet was the second great step on this path.

The minorities have their own neighbourhoods in towns, shops, churches and clubs. They are not forced to live with the majority – they live only in the neighbourhood of the majority. For a long time society has had two main state-regulated tools of socialisation of the individual – education and communication.


The system of education could be a measure of how to evaluate the strategy of integration of immigrants. If education is universally-based, unspecialised and secular, the school gives all citizens of the state the same ground for civic consciousness and – in the ideal case – the same starting point in life. France is a good example of this principle (at present regrettably mainly in theory).

The problem with failure of this principle lies in the fact that schools are not only the system of ideas, but the system of people as well. Some schools in the suburbs of big French (or British) cities consist often of minority students in the majority. They and their parents are often happy to be „among themselves“. Parents of children from the dominant society also often have prejudices about other ethnic or religious groups.

These prejudices should be removed by mutual communication. As my native sociologist and philosopher Karl W. Deutch said, „communication is the basis for integration“. If we speak together, we lose our distrust and enmity. If schools are failing as means of communication, could mass media be a substitute?

The Media

The media could do it, but it does not because it does not want to. As I said earlier, one of the biggest problems of integration is the particularity of ethnic medias which support disintegration instead of integration of whole society. Particular media exists without ambition to be competition for universal media, their ambition is to cover the demands of the minority population and to be the exclusive mass media for the members of national, ethnic, or religious minorities. Particular medias estabilish the exclusive nation in a strange (and often unfriendly) environment instead of helping to create one open political nation.

The task of family communication is to share intimate values, the task of religious communication is to share religious values, the task of school communication is to share universal values of society. But which values should the media share?

Intimate values? That is impossible ex definitione. Religious values? The result could be „tv-evangelism“ or Usama bin Laden´s speaches. Universal values? Yes, but who can force the private media owners to do it?

An enemy among us

After September 11, one more pressing problem appeared. The second or third generation of immigrants, who live in our neigbourhoods in European cities, hates us, and although they walk through the same streets as we do, live in another world.

Their parents were more or less thankful for the given chance of new life in the West. Although they protected their original identity through cultural or religious values, they accepted political values of western democracy as a good social order. Their children and the children of their children lost the possibility of comparison with the original homeland. Dissatisfaction with their social status is for some of them the reason for searching for new explanations of world order by more familiar authorities than authorities of the official order.

Could, as my father, immam, friends and the TV chanel in my language have said, such serious „media“ change the opinion of hostile society ? The extreme form of this ideological cage is Muhammad Atta´s example…

The paradox is that contemporary society is not mass society, but – rather – a society of various masses. Immigrants should not create their own special mass, which is beyond all means of social control.