Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media: How Migrants
Perceive Their Representation in Swiss Public
Joachim Trebbe &Philomen Schoenhagen
Published online: 19 April 2011
#Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract Communication research highlights deficiencies in the media’s representation
of migrants. The study at hand analyzes these deficiencies from the perspective of the
migrants concerned: How do they perceive their representation in the media, especially
on television? And how do they assess the perceived situation with regard to immigrant
integration? This topic has been examined in a qualitative pilot study based on six group
discussions amongst migrants and Swiss citizens with an immigration background in the
German-, French-, and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland. The results show a high
discrepancy between the desire for more presence and participation on the one hand, and
the wish to stand in the spotlight less often, on the other hand.
Keywords Migration .Integration .Perception of representation .Media portrayals .
The perception of the other is a core aspect of the integration of ethnic minorities
and immigrants. It includes the perception of one’s own ethnic group and the feeling
of being a part of it; group identity and stereotypes are important terms in this
context (Nordquist 2001). The perception of one’s own group and other groups is not
only based on interaction and face-to-face communication, but also on the perception
of representation in the mass media (Friedland and McLeod 1999). Thus, the
exposure of particular population groups as, e.g., migrants by the media and their
recognition respectively interpretation of the media’s content play a fundamental role
with regard to group identities (Viswanath and Arora 2000). Moreover, represen-
Int. Migration & Integration (2011) 12:411–428
J. Trebbe :P. Schoenhagen (*)
Department of Mass Media and Communication Research, University of Fribourg, Bd de Pérolles 90,
CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
tation in the media is vitally important for the social integration of ethnic minorities.
Being represented in the media and having the opportunity to express oneself in the
public sphere—which is nowadays mainly created by the media—is a fundamental
basis for the integration of all groups into society (Schoenhagen 1999). Since social
reality is permanently constructed in a collective process of communication (Berger
and Luckmann 1966), being excluded from this process means also being excluded
from the collective construction of social reality. From a normative point of view,
deficiencies in representation hinder social integration and may influence the
affected members of society in a negative manner—ultimately having an impact on
everyone (McQuail 1994). Academic publications in communication science
regularly highlight deficiencies in the representation of migrants in media coverage,
in studies mostly based on content analyses (ter Wal 2004). Furthermore, research
findings suggest that the perception of such deficiencies by migrants themselves
influence their group or ethnic identity and their identification with the majority
(Jeffres 2000) as well as their media use (Trebbe 2009).
Against this background, the study presented below
focuses on the presence and
representation of ethnic minorities on Swiss television, on the opportunities of said
minorities to have their say, and on the coverage about them—from the perspective
of the migrants concerned and the members of ethnic minorities. How do they
perceive the media’s representation of their own group, and how do they evaluate the
situation? Due to the generally scarce research from that perspective and the fact,
that so far no results on the migrants’perception of media representation in
Switzerland exist (Trebbe 2009), a qualitative pilot study was conducted. For this, a
total of six group discussions amongst migrants and Swiss citizens with an
immigration background were held in the German-, French-, and Italian-speaking
parts of Switzerland.
Deficiencies in Media Representation and their Perception
A lot of literature exists regarding the representation of ethnic minorities in the mass
media based on content analyses of media coverage respectively news reporting (ter
Wal 2002,2004), fictional television programs (Wright 2002) or even commercials
and advertising (Bang and Reece 2003). Overviews and synopses on this research
are not in short supply either (Cottle 2000; King and Wood 2001; Downing and
Husband 2005; Mueller 2005; Ruhrmann and Demren 2000; Bonfadelli 2007). But
the results of the different studies are difficult to compare because of varying
research objects (media types), samples, time backgrounds, and affected ethnic
groups (asylum seekers, immigrants, national ethnic minorities). However, they all
identify certain deficits related to the representation of immigrant groups and ethnic
minorities. These “syndromes”(Merten 1987)or“biases”(ter Wal 2004) are
descriptions of differences between routine media coverage and the coverage of
news stories with an ethnic dimension. Three dimensions or types of syndromes
occur repeatedly: (1) underrepresentation or marginalization: the representation of
ethnic minorities in the mass media does not correspond to the percentage of
The Swiss Federal Office of Communication funded this research.
412 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
population they represent (Bonfadelli 2007); (2) labeling and stereotyping: members
of ethnic minority groups are much more often object than subject of medial
communication, they are described with generalized characteristics and not
recognized as individual personalities (D’Haenens and Bink 2007). Ethnic groups
are divided into categories of good (useful) and bad (not useful) foreigners
(Ruhrmann et al. 2006); (3) negative contextualization or framing: media coverage
on negative issues dominates stories and programs with an ethnic dimension in
comparison to non-ethnic stories (ter Wal 2004).
We will not go into the details of these content-based analyses. Our focus is on
the perception of these deficiencies by the members of the affected ethnic minorities.
To avoid misunderstandings: this is not about self-perception of an (ethnic) social
group, but about perception of and reflection on mass media coverage by the objects
of said coverage.
Members of different ethnic minorities in different countries with distinct media
surroundings do perceive representation deficiencies. Greenberg et al. (2002) give an
overview for the USA. Sreberny (2005) did the same for Great Britain with results
from several qualitative surveys; Christiansen (2004) cited studies from Sweden,
Denmark, and Germany. D’Haenens et al. (2000) presented the dissatisfaction of
several minorities in the Netherlands with their portrayal in the mainstream media.
Mahtani (2008) described perceived mis- and underrepresentation of Iranian and
Chinese minorities in the Canadian English-language media. Hafez (2002)
interviewed members of the Turkish minority in Germany and they were also
concerned with the inadequate and stereotyped depiction of the ethnic group in the
German mainstream media. In another recent study about media use and integration
among young Turkish immigrants in Germany, the participants of focus groups
complained about the coverage of the Turkish minority (Hammeran et al. 2007).
They turned away from this kind of media coverage because they did not find
themselves portrayed accurately. According to Deuze (2006), this is one of the main
reasons for the upcoming and exponential growth of ethnic minority media in
Europe and the USA. It is suggested that the perceived negative coverage causes the
rejection of the media used by a major part of the society and results in a growing
attention for the minority’s own media, the so-called ethno media and—via Internet
or Satellite—more use of radio, television and press from their countries of origin
(Maurer and Reinemann 2006; Sreberny 1999,2005; Weber-Menges 2005).
In addition to this, a shift from ethnic to religious discrimination can be observed.
There are some studies of media audiences, in which the members of immigrant
populations found themselves not being labeled and discriminated as “Turkish”or
“Arabic”but named as members of the Muslim community respectively the Islamic
minority (Schiffer 2005;D’Haenens and Bink 2007; Ates 2006; Zft 2006).
The representation deficiencies in general and the last point in particular are
affecting the identity of ethnic minority group members. Do they, as a
consequence, loose (or fail to develop) the feeling of being part of the country
they live in? Or are underrepresentation, marginalization and negative portrayal
leading to marginalization and separative acculturation strategies and social
disintegration (Berry 1992;Gerbner1993; Signorielli 1984;Sreberny1999;
Christiansen 2004; Weber-Menges 2005; Deuze 2006)? A bad representation of
ethnic minority groups will probably not foster the feeling of being at home in a
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 413
society and the willingness to make a contribution to social integration (Jeffres
2000; Maurer and Reinemann 2006).
The special case of Switzerland generates some additional perspectives, especially
when comparing the perception of immigrants from neighboring countries who
cannot be described as ethnic minority groups because they are in general part of the
same cultural region and population (language, religion, habits, etc.), to migrants
with a more exotic background from more remote countries. There is some evidence
for the existence of hierarchies of perception of ethnic groups in larger and
traditionally more multicultural societies (Hagendoorn 1995). It will be explored if
this is also true for different groups of migrants in Switzerland.
Hardly any studies about the representation of ethnic minorities in Swiss media
have been published so far (Bonfadelli 2007), although social integration has been
an important subject due to the four different language regions
regardless of any streams of migration. The reasons for this are the specific media
landscapes of each language region, their strong cultural identity, and last but not
least language itself. Furthermore, Switzerland has one of the largest percentages of
migrants in Central Europe (approximately 20% of the population), and in each
language region different ethnic groups have settled and developed independent
cultures and forms of social interaction. In order to avoid complicating this complex
situation any further, we will now focus on Swiss television as the most important
and most popular mass medium in all these regions (Mediapulse 2009). Besides,
Swiss Radio and Television Law contain a supervisory regulation to ensure the
representation of each Swiss language region and guarantee the inclusion of foreign
and ethnic minority of the population (RTVG 2006).
As explained above, this analysis focuses on the perception and estimation of the
representation of ethnic minorities on television by the people concerned. The main
research questions are the following: How do the persons concerned perceive the
representation of their own group and of other groups of migrants? Which
characteristics of the media coverage do they observe and consider being particularly
important and maybe problematic? What relationship between ethnic minority and
majority do they perceive in television coverage?
In addition to the perception of the media’s coverage, the discussants’evaluation
of their own observations is important for the purpose of the study. Do they feel that
what is shown or not shown on television is relevant for their own or their group’s
identity? Does television, in their opinion, have a potential for constraining or
stimulating, starting or stopping the integration of ethnic minorities in Switzerland?
Language regions in Switzerland are German-, French-, Italian- and Retoromanic speaking. They are
rather compact, geographically, i.e. the language groups mostly live separated from each other (Blum
1999). Out of the 26 Swiss cantons, 17 have German as their official language, four French and one
Italian. Three cantons are bilingual; one is trilingual (Kuehne 1997). According to Blum (1999), the
German-speaking parts of the country make up 65% of the population, French-speaking 19%, Italian-
speaking 8%, and Retoromanic-speaking 0.5%.
414 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
The discussants’contributions to these questions are bound to be related to their own
mass media use.
The answers to these questions will replenish the findings, which are firmly
assured on the side of media content, with the audience’s point of view. This means
that the results should provide indications for the importance of television in the
context of social integration and highlight which dimensions of representation in the
media are particularly relevant in this context. Due to the pilot character of this
study, it has to be emphasized that the results can only serve as first references and
must not be generalized. They may be seen as a first step of a future project of a
standardized and representative research on ethnic minorities, their mass media use
and their degree of integration—all of which are serious research deficiencies in
In order to get a first idea of the migrants’perception of their portrayal in the media
in different language regions of Switzerland, a total of six group discussions were
held in the three major Swiss language regions.
As recommended in methodological
literature, each group should ideally “consist of between six and ten people; more
than 12 has been found to inhibit discussion”(Payne and Payne 2004: 105). A
core criterion for the choice of participants was their origin. Persons with an
immigration background were primarily asked to discuss the way they perceive the
depiction of migrants in Swiss television programs. These individuals were not
necessarily born outside of Switzerland. The term ‘immigration background’also
applies to people whose parents were born abroad. For each language region, one
group discussion with people sharing the same national immigrant background
(homogeneous groups—‘A’) and one group discussion with persons from various
countries of origin (heterogeneous groups—‘B’) were planned. We chose homogeneous
and heterogeneous groups, as with the former the collective experiences of a certain
subgroup of migrants (with a common cultural background) can be the focus, whereas
with the latter the general experiences of migrants and potential differences in media
perception between migrants with different origins can be evoked (Baker 1999;Stewart
and Shamdasani 1998). The homogeneous groups were to be based on one of the
largest immigrant groups of the respective language region. The participants were
recruited through adverts in the mass media, as well as announcements at central
public locations and mouth-to-mouth propaganda.
The preconditions mentioned above were met, with one exception (group A2).
The largest groups of migrants in the German-speaking part of Switzerland originate
from former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro,
and Serbia), Italy, Germany, and Turkey. The homogeneous group (A1) was
composed of eight persons with a Turkish immigration background living in the
Zurich area. The project management decided on discussants with a Turkish
background as a couple of surveys from other countries dealt with this ethnic group
and a comparison with their results was aimed for (Hammeran et al. 2007; Hafez
For detailed documentation on the methodological design, see Trebbe and Schoenhagen (Eds.), 2008.
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 415
2002; Christiansen 2004; Sreberny 1999; Millwood Hargrave 2002). Group B1 was
composed of eight migrants with different national backgrounds. The homogeneous
group of migrants in the French speaking part of Switzerland (A2) was supposed to
consist of persons with a Portuguese background, as they represent the largest group
of migrants in this language region. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible to
recruit enough people with Portuguese origins, despite various efforts; hence, we
decided on a group of migrants originating from former Yugoslavia, which is the
second largest group of migrants in French speaking Switzerland. Regrettably, only
three men showed up, one of them accompanied by a person with an African
background (all living in the area of Geneva). The moderators spontaneously
decided on forming a group with these four participants, hence no homogeneous
group discussion was conducted in French-speaking Switzerland.
results need to be considered carefully, as the suggested group size of six to ten or 12
participants was not respected—although some authors concede that “it can work
with a few more or less [than six to ten] either way”(O’Sullivan 2003: 121). Group
B2 was composed of eight migrants with various backgrounds. Group A3, in the
Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, consisted of seven persons with an Italian
immigration background—the largest group of foreigners in this part of the country.
Group B3 included 11 persons with various immigration backgrounds. Overall 46
individuals (of the 67 that had been contacted) participated in the six discussions.
Since the focus groups should not conduct “a freewheeling conversation among
group members”but have “a focus and a clearly identifiable agenda”(Stewart and
Shamdasani 1998: 511; see also Payne and Payne 2004), the thematic focuses of the
group discussions were defined in a discussion guideline or “topic guide”(Gaskell
2000: 40) that had been assessed in two pretests. Each focus group was moderated
by one person with the assistance of a “second interviewer or scribe”(Payne and
Payne 2004: 106), in each case communication and media scientists from the
Universities of Fribourg and Lugano. Besides the usual opening, warm-up, and
closing procedures, the discussions consisted of five parts wherein the following
topics were focused on by the moderators: attitudes towards their country of origin
and towards Switzerland, the role of Swiss television in the participants’lives, the
representation of their population group in Swiss television, the way migrants in
general are depicted in Swiss television, and the impacts of media coverage as well
as modification proposals. The group discussions, all held in spring 2007, lasted
between 60 and 100 min. All discussions were videotaped and transcribed in full
afterwards, then analyzed by means of a qualitative content analysis with categories
that were partly deduced from theory and former research, as well as partly
developed based on the transcriptions (Nawratil and Schoenhagen 2008).
It should be obvious by this point that this kind of methodological design does
not claim any degree of representativeness in a statistical sense. The aim of this
qualitative approach is to identify the basic dimensions of the perception within
different ethnic groups in Switzerland and not to make quantitative statements about
distributions of certain opinions within these groups or linguistic regions of the
Due to a restricted time schedule, it was not possible to replace this group discussion with another.
416 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
In the following, the results of the group discussions are presented in sequence of the
discussions with regard to the most crucial observations made by the participants of
the different groups.
Regarding the participants’attitudes towards their culture of origin on the one hand,
and towards the Swiss society on the other hand, most of them pointed out that they
feel very well integrated in Switzerland.
I visit Germany once a year, as I have friends and family there. But go back?
No, never! I’ve been living here for 45 years and feel good about it. I feel quite
Swiss. I am also in the German Club. I feel good. (Margret M., B3, 102–104)
As I’ve lived here in Switzerland for quite a while and have grown up here I
thought I’d go and get myself a flag, a Swiss flag, and I then put it up on my
balcony on the national holiday. (Kübra H., A1, 167–169)
The majority of the respondents expressed that they feel like they have a positive
double identity and feel rooted in Switzerland as well as in their country of origin.
I feel at home in both worlds, I can be Swiss and Turkish at the same time. I
spend most of my time in Switzerland, but I visit Turkey twice a year. (Fatih
A., A1, 47–75)
This includes the ability to speak both languages, having circles of friends in both
cultures, the participation in local festivals, and the maintenance of traditions from
the country of origin.
Me, I’ve grown up here, I also feel Swiss in general but have a Kosovarian
background. I think it’s nice to have both, this way I get to know the two
cultures. (Nazmi B., A2, 33–34)
Participants belonging to the second generation of migrants show slightly weaker
ties to their home country. They often do not speak its language perfectly anymore,
and the traditions are kept up less intensively.
The kids, I mean the second and third generations, are well integrated, they’ve
become Swiss. It’s good it has happened this way. We old ones still feel
nostalgic, we feel more connected to Italy. (Giuseppe B., A3, 395–397)
Persons of Muslim faith (e.g., Turks and North African people) seem to have a
stronger determination to maintain culture and religion of their home country than
migrants with a Christian background (e.g., from Italy, France, Germany). In spite of
their very ‘Swiss’lifestyle in many respects, Muslims of the second generation often
wish for a partner belonging to the same circle of ethnic culture.
All names in the quotes have been changed. The discussions were taped on video, transcribed and partly
translated into German. Here, we present an English translation. The numbers indicate the group and the
lines within the original transcript.
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 417
The choice of partner is also very important. And if I’d be looking for a partner
now I wouldn’t care if he was Swiss or had some other nationality. It’s religion
that counts for me. Something has to match. I’d never consider a Swiss
Christian. But I am sure that there are Swiss Muslims, converts for example,
with whom I could imagine having a relationship. Then there’d be a basis to
start from. But if Christian faith becomes part of it things become more
difficult. (Zehra F., A1, 194–199)
More than a few participants are citizens both of Switzerland and of their country of
origin and enjoy the freedom of movement granted by both passports. Whereas
persons belonging to the second generation generally consider themselves Swiss, the
first generation of migrants regards Switzerland as a kind of ‘adoption country’.
[…] to me Algeria is my country of origin but Switzerland is my adoption
country […] And although I feel at home here, something is missing. I visit my
home country every four, five months and feel at home there, too. (Abdel B., B2,
Regular journeys to the country of origin are important for this generation. However,
their members often stated that they do not necessarily see themselves as a part of
this society of origin any longer, or that they are partly considered Swiss by relatives
and friends living there.
When returning to my village I feel like a foreigner. Just like back when I
emigrated. I go there and don’t know anyone. Just some people who are the
same age as me. But there’s still some nostalgia left. (Mario D., A3, 60–62)
As the citations above show, although permanently returning to the country of origin
is unthinkable for almost all participants, they maintain contacts to their culture of
origin and care for it. From their point of view, integration does not exclude
maintenance of their native language and their own culture. This result is consistent
with an integrative strategy of acculturation as established by Berry (1992) who
described the attitudes towards the social context of origin and the context of the
(new) majority as independent dimensions.
The reaction to the question on the observations concerning the representation of
migrants on television was identical in all group discussions: it was stated that they
are not present on screen at all. Many migrants feel like they are being marginalized
in the media and thus are not being recognized as a part of the society.
I’d like to say that there have been different nationalities for ages. This really
needs to be said, there are Croats, Serbs, Turks. […] but on TV they don’t talk
about them, not at all. (Katja S., B2, 482–484)
In this context, some Italians complained that in contrast to other groups they no longer receive (state-
aided) opportunities to maintain their roots.
418 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
However, this ‘non-existence’has to be looked at in a more differentiated way: well-
integrated migrants who have adopted the Swiss way of life and have been living in
Switzerland inconspicuously for many years (sometimes already in the second or
third generation) feel particularly under-represented on television.
Yes, we’re just no sensation because we’re ordinary, because we integrate
ourselves or are integrated. That’s why we’re just not of interest for the media.
(Fatih A., A1, 602–603)
For instance, in the view of several participants, Italians or the Italian ‘Communità’are
no longer a topic on the public agenda in the canton of Ticino. But at the same time,
many discussants with Italian roots spoke about the Italians in the third person, so they
do no longer consider themselves to be foreigners or Italians. This presents a certain
paradox, because on the one hand these individuals feel under-represented as members
of the Communità, but on the other hand they seem to feel more like Swiss citizen.
The participants specified that migrants only seem to be newsworthy when they
attract negative attention: they observed that people showing deviant behavior made
the headlines, and that their potential ethnic background was particularly
TSI [= Italian-speaking Swiss TV, JT/PS] shows ethnic groups, but only in
connection with incidents, like when drug deals are connected to a specific
ethnical group etc. If there’s a knife attack somewhere it was caused by a
member from this other specific ethnic group. (Karen F., A3, 472–474)
If a Kosovar is caught selling drugs on a train these days it’s clear that the
headline will say that ‘a Kosovar has been selling drugs’, that’s for sure.
(Nazmi B., A2, 163–164)
In the view of the discussants, foreigners are only portrayed in a selective and little
differentiated manner. Thus, migrants seemingly only attract attention when the
political parties put immigration related topics up for discussion during election
campaigns, in order to court the voters. Even in Geneva, which was described as
multicultural by the discussants, migrants would only rarely be represented in the
media, according to their observations. New groups of migrants, e.g., the Brazilians,
felt they were settling there almost without getting any attention from the media.
Participants called it typical for Switzerland to dull down everything, which could be
a reason for the poor representation of migrants in the media.
In contrast, celebrities with an immigration background, e.g., sportsmen and
sportswomen, are seen as getting particular attention from the media. It has been
evoked during the discussions that the situation of migrants in Switzerland is
sometimes put up for discussion due to these successful stars. But for most
participants, successful athletes do not stand for their country of origin, and
consequently do not represent it, but are a particular species incorporating something
international or global, often being on the road and rootless.
An athlete is not national, he is international. Today he plays in England,
tomorrow in Switzerland, the following day in Germany, then somewhere in
Tallinn, in Spain. He has got no roots, he is based nowhere, he is somewhere in
the air. (Nikola G., B1, 323–325)
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 419
The Yakin brothers and Kubilay Tuerkyilmaz (soccer players originating from
Turkey), who grew up in the canton of Ticino, are mentioned as examples, as well as
soccer players with Italian origins and a boxer from the Balkan region. Furthermore,
the former German Formula One racing driver, Michael Schumacher, who now lives
in Switzerland, was mentioned by female German immigrants in the canton of
Framing and Stereotyping: Religion, Delinquency, and Asylum Abuse
In the eyes of the discussants, the topics in the context of which immigrants are
mentioned in the media can be reduced to a few recurrent fields. For instance, the
immigrants of Turkish origin, as well as the North Africans, felt like they were
consistently depicted in connection with Islam.
Since September 11th it has been Bin Laden [who is often depicted as a
representative of the Islamic world]. It has almost become some kind of a
nightmare. […]We’re always singled out, in the positive, as well as the
negative sense. It’s always talked about. (Amina B., B3, 353–356)
They said that in most cases, the image of Islam carried negative connotations
reaching from fundamentalism to women’s oppression and religious fanatics.
Furthermore, Turks pointed out that they were frequently depicted in connection
with the building of minarets. Sometimes the media equated Turkish immigrants
with fundamentalists in connection with the coverage of the ‘Grey Wolves’
(Turkish extreme nationalists). The participants see North Africans and Turks as
consistently being associated with the debate about the Muslim headscarf. Turks
cannot identify a very positive image of their home country in the Swiss media:
in their opinion, it is affected by the unsolved problems in Cyprus and Kurdistan,
as well as by the Armenian Genocide. Other immigrants, e.g., Africans, felt that
they are being represented in connection with asylum seekers or (drug)
delinquency. According to the participants’perception, people from the Balkan
region are frequently presented in articles about speeding, drug abuse and
trafficking as well as other offenses; nationality is being mentioned explicitly by
the media, in this context.
Now it’s the Albanians. Many extreme examples are shown in this context. Of
speeding. (Ergin N., A1, 611–612)
As mentioned above, the discussants experienced that migrants of Italian origin are
no longer a sensation in Switzerland and only make the headlines in relation to
political affairs in their home country, for example. As a consequence, Italy is
depicted in a clichéd manner on Swiss television occasionally, sometimes also
having the image of a vacation spot in the media. It was mentioned in the
discussions that the Swiss had adopted pizza and pasta from Italian immigrants, but
that this group was not newsworthy any longer, unless its members were celebrating
slightly too loudly and being too noisy when Italy won the last soccer World Cup.
Also, migrants from other neighboring countries mostly noticed that they hardly
were the subject of media coverage, that the media focus on the (Far) East more
often—on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine—and that there is hardly any time left to
420 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
cover topics from the West. People from France, Belgium, or Germany thus feel
under-represented on television.
We think that this is a specific consequence of the geo-cultural situation of
Switzerland. Migrants from all neighboring countries (Germany, Austria, France,
Italy) speak at least one national language and are generally familiar with the culture
of the respective part of the country they are emigrating to. Thus, they cannot be
easily identified as foreigners and maybe do not experience social exclusion in the
same way as migrants from more remote countries.
Discussants of all immigrant groups were convinced that the media prefer
extreme examples and mainly show negative aspects of immigration.
They have a tendency of giving veiled extremists that are being discriminated
against a platform, rather than the regular people. (Erika Z., B3, 337–338)
They [TSI] really value the negative; it’s always been that way. The bad is
talked about, the good isn’t. If there were a place where we could voice our
opinion, the result would be positive. (Romana A., B3, 259–261)
Even if the discussants see people of foreign origin as rare subjects of media
coverage, they identify with the way their country of origin is depicted in the Swiss
media—and they perceive this picture as undifferentiated.
Objects Rather Than Subjects
An important accusation against the media made by the participants is the
depiction of migrants as objects: The media would talk about them instead of
allowing them to speak for themselves. Debates with the participation of foreigners
were felt to be very rare in the media; politicians would rather prefer setting their
topics in the election and to run immigration or integration topics without giving
the people affected the floor. They would only be asked if something has to be
The foreigners are [only] allowed to speak if they have to defend or justify
something, for instance 9/11. (Amina B., B3, 314–315)
Another possibility to be heard would, according to the participants, be by attacking
a politician directly. This was, for instance, the case when ‘Stress’, a rap singer from
the French-speaking part of Switzerland with Estonian origins, disparaged Federal
Councilor Christoph Blocher.
A further point of criticism was that well-known people from abroad often
have their say in the media instead of local experts with immigration
background. If migrants living in Switzerland were allowed to speak at all in
the media the same people would be interviewed over and over again. During
television shows, people with immigration background in the audience would
never be called on or contacted at home in case of a live transmission. The
discussants felt that the Swiss determined the topics; the migrants’needs or
interests would be ignored.
They talk about the people, but not to them. Very few people [migrants are
meant] are on television. (Belkis K., B1, 270–271)
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 421
I think there aren’t enough debates. With foreigners on television. That’s
something I’ve hardly ever seen. (Malik F., A2, 485–486)
Another reproach is the under-representation of migrants or colored people on and
behind the screen. In German-speaking Switzerland, the participants of both group
discussions could not name a single person known from Swiss television who is
obviously not of Swiss origin. In contrast, other countries are considered to be more
progressive in this regard. Especially in Great Britain, colored presenters appear on
MTV, in Germany there is a news anchorwoman of Turkish origin, and some
broadcasts in Italy, France, and Spain are specifically aimed at migrants.
A black or dark-skinned woman can hardly be seen in a publicly visible
position. (Amina B., B3, 330–331)
A Hierarchy of Presenting Ethnic Minority Groups in the Media
We identified indications for differences in the perceived portrayal of various immigrant
groups as found in the literature review and stated above. Participants recognized
different portrayals of migrants from neighboring countries in comparison with migrants
from countries further away. They perceived a distinction between good (useful) and
bad (less useful) foreigners and were aware of a hierarchy of ethnic groups in the Swiss
society mirrored by television programs, as mentioned above. In fact, all participants
agreed that the coverage of their immigration group and of the migrants in general was
incomplete and that no ethnic group was depicted in a positive way: “They highlight
only one side of the coin and nothing else”(Fatih A., A1, 586–587). But some
immigration groups would come off particularly bad in the media. People from former
Yugoslavia, especially Albanians (from Kosovo) and Serbs, would be presented most
negatively, followed by Africans and Turks. Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian people
appeared in a slightly more positive light, but in the past they had suffered from the same
stigmatization in the media as the Balkan people today. According to their perception,
migrants from outside of the EU are generally depicted more negatively than migrants
from the neighboring countries and other EU countries.
The Italians certainly come off better [in the media] than the Turks. And I
would say that the Albanians, or Kosovars, are even worse off. (Sevinc B., A1,
Furthermore, they experience that Muslim people are generally being presented
in a negative way: whereas the depiction of Turks could be considered as neutral,
for example, Turkish participants still felt discriminated against by the negative
and undifferentiated image of Muslims in general. But it was noted in this
context that Muslims from the Middle East come off worse than, e.g., Muslims
Especially immigrants originating from the ethnic groups particularly affected by
negative tendencies in media coverage suffer from their image in the media, and call
it painful and offending.
When there’s something (…) about the Turks, like for instance about the
headscarf, Cyprus or on another political topic, you will get bothered and
422 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
insulted on the street the next day. And then it’s supposed to be our fault
because the TV channel didn’t explain things properly. (Kübra H., A1, 350–353)
Discussants from neighboring countries partly showed their solidarity with the
people concerned, but did not feel like they were being stigmatized in the media
themselves. Some people also manage to distance themselves from unpleasant
Before […] you always read in the ‘crime’section or elsewhere: a Yugoslav
did this or that, then it became a ‘citizen of former Yougoslavia’. I don’t feel
affected, I still am a Croat. (Katja S., B2, 478–480)
However, several migrants, two persons belonging to the first generation of
immigrants from former Yugoslavia in particular, sympathized with Swiss media.
Moreover, the Swiss media in general enjoy a good reputation among the
participants of the discussion groups who acknowledged their performance. They
also admitted that the existence of ‘good’and ‘bad’migrants could not be
denied; and feeling well accepted, they did not want to criticize Switzerland in
A Demand for Options to Participate
For the conclusion of the discussion rounds, the migrants were asked about the
impact of the foreigners’image presented by the media on the Swiss population in
general and about their own experience in this context. They were asked to turn their
criticism into suggestions for the Swiss television in order to improve the current
situation. The participants agreed that the presented image of migrants most
probably has an impact on the viewers’perception. The migrants reported that they
are confronted with statements which match the media image on a daily basis and
that they have to take a position on this; however, they also detected a lot of
ignorance among the majority of the Swiss.
Yes, people are stubborn and once they’ve seen something on television it must
be the truth. One time I was approached concerning those arranged marriages
and asked if I’d be married to someone, someone of my father’s choice. (Zehra
F., A1, 814–816)
The interviewed migrants expressed the need for action on different levels, and their
discussion proved that there is no lack of good ideas.
Why not go to a Turkish or Albanian wedding, for instance and just look and
listen […] Hear what their visions are, […] what plans they’ve made for the
future. (Nikola G., B1, 679–683)
In the absence of direct contacts between natives and migrants, the media are said to
have a key role in building bridges. In the participants’eyes, simplifying and
superficial articles about migrants therefore endanger the coexistence of natives and
immigrants. The migrants’most important request is probably the demand for active
participation in the media, i.e., they would like to help creating the program in front
of and behind the camera.
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 423
Finally, it should be noted that we could not observe an avoidance of Swiss
media in favor of the media from their home countries as a reaction to the scarce
representation of ethnic minorities among our participants. In spite of their criticism,
they seem to have strong ties to the local media landscape. This is partly contrary to
the various research findings mentioned above. However, they refer to other
countries than Switzerland. Maybe this finding can be explained by the small size of
Switzerland and the cultural regions of German-, French- and Italian-speaking
populations: a nationwide public sphere hardly exists in Switzerland—political and
public agendas are mostly built up in regional and local media. The amount of
language bound regional television programs is much higher in larger countries with
just one language. The only existing quantitative survey of media use by foreigners
and migrants in Switzerland was conducted in 1995 and does not give any clues
about relationships between media use and the perceived portrayal of ethnic groups
(Anker et al. 1995).
Additionally, we have to keep in mind that we do not have any representative data
and a very arbitrary selection of discussion group members—we cannot make any
reliable statements about the typical media use habits within the ethnic minority
groups of Switzerland.
It is very interesting to see that the observations made by the discussants with regard
to the representation of migrants or ethnic minority members in Swiss television
show strong parallels to the results of some previous, similar studies from other
countries (Mahtani 2008; Deuze 2006; Sreberny 2005; Christiansen 2004; Hafez
2002). Moreover, there are many aspects mentioned in the focus groups that
resemble the results of numerous content analyses conducted in different countries
like Great Britain, Sweden, or Germany—even if comparisons have to be cautious
because of the big differences between the particular situations of migrants and
social integration policies in these countries.
Such parallels can be drawn with respect (1) to marginalization and underrepresen-
tation of migrants in the media, (2) to the passive role migrants generally play in the
media, as they are mostly depicted as objects, and (3) to the over-representation of
migrants in the problem-oriented coverage and their under-representation in the non-
problem-oriented news as well as in fictional genres. These deficiencies of media
coverage thus are not only an observation on the part of many researchers, but also part
of the recipients’perception and experiences—in Switzerland as well as in other
A second basic finding refers to the mutual perception of different immigration
groups or ethnic communities: the discussants unanimously detected a certain
hierarchical structure in the media coverage about migrants with different origins:
the more foreign the people, the more negative their representation in the media.
This is firstly congruent with the perception of ethnic group hierarchies in bigger
countries with a larger diversity of ethnic groups (Hagendoorn 1995), and secondly
can be traced back to the discrepancy between language respectively cultural and
national borders. Migrants from neighboring countries are mostly part of the same
424 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
cultural region and able to speak at least one of the national languages of
Switzerland. It can be assumed that migrants from nearby are portrayed and
perceived as more familiar than migrants with a different cultural background. So, in
Switzerland, located in the heart of Europe and having one of the largest percentages
of migrants compared to neighboring countries, a strong influence of geographical
and cultural proximity has become apparent.
Furthermore, it was interesting to discover that, although the deficiencies
mentioned above are attributed to the media, the migrants in our focus groups
expressed a certain understanding for the mechanisms of mass media: negativism,
sensationalism and personalization were mentioned as basic characteristics of media
coverage in general and therefore seen as unavoidable—although scientific results
show that these mechanisms play a bigger part in stories with an ethnic dimension
(ter Wal 2002).
Ultimately, the participants of this Swiss study show that there is an important
discrepancy between the desire for more presence and participation in the media, on
the one hand, and a desire to stand in the spotlight less often, on the other hand. The
participants of almost all ethnic groups feel marginalized in the depiction of
everyday life and culture on television. In contrast, they feel over-represented when
they are shown as migrants, when they are consistently depicted in connection with
the same thematic frames, when they are described by means of generalizations and
prejudices, and especially when they are presented as a problem. The denomination
of these poles shows quite distinctly that the deficiencies cannot be solved either by
a more intensive discussion about integration issues or by a higher presence of
famous migrants on television. Normality in this respect is likely to be attained only
in a slow process and by raising awareness in journalist education, political debate
and scientific discourse.
To sum up, we found clear similarities between documented findings for other
(bigger, more multicultural and traditional immigration) countries and Switzerland
regarding the perception of media coverage on ethnic groups by migrants. In
particular, we have found some indications for the perception of general
underrepresentation and negative contextualisation of migrants on Swiss television.
These findings seem to be phenomena that are generally present in European
countries and the USA. However, we also found some specifics that can be
explained by the particular geo-cultural situation of Switzerland. This applies to the
high significance of the local media for the migrants as a consequence of the relative
small size of the country. Furthermore, we identified a perceived hierarchy of
immigration groups connected to linguistic and cultural proximity. Based on the
results of this research, it would be beneficial to conduct a representative survey in
order to collect more reliable data regarding the relationship between social
integration, media use, and perception of ethnic minority groups in Switzerland.
It is crucial for the social integration of ethnic minorities to treat them not as
cause of social problems or only in the context of social issues such as religion.
Migrants should be involved in all social and political debates and have their say
as fully-fledged members of society and the public sphere. In the case of
Switzerland with its particular linguistic and cultural situation, it would be
sensible to support local ethnic media to develop a Swiss part of the hybrid
identity for members of ethnic groups.
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 425
Anker, H., Ermutlu, M., & Steinmann, M. (1995). Die Mediennutzung der AusländerInnen in der Schweiz:
Ergebnisse einer schriftlichen Umfrage in der ganzen Schweiz vom März/April 1995 [Media use of
foreigners in Switzerland: Results of a written questionnaire in all swiss regions in march/april 1995].
Bern: SRG Forschungsdienst.
Ates, S. (2006). Das Islambild in den Medien nach dem 11. September 2001 [The image of the Islam in
the media after 9–11]. In C. Butterwegge & G. Hentges (Eds.), Massenmedien, Migration und
Integration: Herausforderungen für Journalismus und politische Bildung (pp. 153–172). Wiesbaden:
VS Verlag Sozialwissenschaften.
Baker, T. L. (1999). Doing social research. (3rd Edn.) Boston et al. McGraw-Hill College.
Bang, H.-K., & Reece, B. B. (2003). Minorities in children’s television commercials: New, improved and
stereotyped. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 37(1), 42–67.
Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. Garden City: Doubleday.
Berry, J. W. (1992). Acculturation and adaption in a new society. International Migration, 30 (special
Blum, R. (1999). Sprachenvielfalt und Foederalismus [Diversity of Language and federalism]. Zoom
K&M, (12/13), 50–55.
Bonfadelli, H. (2007). Die Darstellung ethnischer Minderheiten in den Massenmedien [Representation
of ethnic minorities in the mass media]. In H. Bonfadelli & H. Moser (Eds.), Medien und
Migration: Europa als multikultureller Raum? (pp. 95–116). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fuer
Christiansen, C. C. (2004). News media consumption among immigrants in Europe. The relevance of
diaspora. Ethnicities, 4(2), 185–207.
Cottle, S. (2000). Introduction: Media research and ethnic minorities: Mapping the field. In S. Cottle (Ed.),
Ethnic minorities and the media: Changing cultural boundaries (pp. 1–30). Buckingham: Open
Deuze, M. (2006). Ethnic media, community media and participatory culture. Journalism, 7(3), 262–
D’Haenens, L., & Bink, S. (2007). Islam in der Presse der Niederlande unter besonderer Beruecksichtigung des
Algemeen Dagblad [Islam in the Dutch press with special reference to the Algemeen Dagblad]. In H.
Bonfadelli & H. Moser (Eds.), Medien und Migration: Europa als multikultureller Raum? (pp. 71–93).
Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fuer Sozialwissenschaften.
D’Haenens, L., Beentjes, J., & Bink, S. (2000). The media experience of ethnic minorities in the
Netherlands: A qualitative study. Communications: The European Journal of Communication
Research, 25(3), 325–341.
Downing, J. D. H., & Husband, C. (2005). Representing ‘race’: Racisms, ethnicities and media. London:
Friedland, L. A., & McLeod, J. M. (1999). Community integration and mass media: A reconsideration. In
D. Demers & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Mass media, social control, and social change: A macrosocial
perspective (pp. 197–226). Ames: Iowa State University Press.
Gaskell, G. (2000). Individual and group interviewing. In M. W. Bauer and G. Gaskell (Eds.), Qualitative
researching with text, image and sound. A practical handbook (pp. 38–56). London et al.: SAGE.
Gerbner, G. (1993). Women and minorities on television: Casting and fate. A report to the screen actors
guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. Philadelphia.
Greenberg, B. S., Mastro, D., & Brand, J. E. (2002). Minorities and the mass media: Television into the 21st
Century’. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 333–
351). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
Hagendoorn, L. (1995). Intergroup biases in multiple group systems: the perception of ethnic hierarchies.
European Review of Social Psychology, 6, 199–228.
Hafez, K. (2002). Tuerkische Mediennutzung in Deutschland: Hemmnis oder Chance der gesellschaftlichen
Integration? Eine qualitative Studie im Auftrag des Presse—und Informationsamtes der Bundesregierung
[Turkish media use in Germany: Obstacle or chance for social integration? A qualitative survey on behalf
of the german govermental office for Presse- und Informationsamtes]. Hamburg and Berlin, Germany:
Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung.
Hammeran, R., Baspinar, D., & Simon, E. (2007). Selbstbild und Mediennutzung junger Erwachsener mit
tuerkischer Herkunft: Ergebnisse einer qualitativen Studie [Self-perception and media use of young
adults of turkish origin: results of a qualitative survey]. Media Perspektiven, 3, 126–135.
426 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen
Jeffres, L. W. (2000). Ethinicity and ethnic media use: A panel study. Communication Research, 27(4),
King, R., & Wood, N. (Eds.) (2001). Media and migration: Constructions of mobility and difference.
Kuehne, K. (1997). Die viersprachige Schweiz [Quadrilingual Switzerland]. In A. Geerlings-Diel & G.
Sander (Eds.), Kulturen und Sprachen von Minderheiten in Europa. Deutschland, Italien, Schweden,
Schweiz, Spanien (pp. 57–74). Rheinfelden and Berlin: Schaeuble.
Mahtani, M. (2008). Racializing the audience: immigrant perceptions of mainstream Canadian english
language TV news. Canadian Journal of Communication, 33(4), 639–660.
Maurer, M., & Reinemann, C. (2006). Medieninhalte: Eine Einfuehrung [Media content: An
introduction]. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fuer Sozialwissenschaften.
McQuail, D. (1994). Mass communication theory: An introduction. London: Sage.
Mediapulse. (2009). Jahresbericht. Band 1: Allgemeine Daten [Annual Report, vol 1, General Data].
Bern: Mediapulse AG.
Merten, K. (1987). Das Bild der Auslaender in der deutschen Presse [The image of foreigners in the
german press]. In Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung (Ed.), Auslaender und Massenmedien:
Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektiven. Vortraege und Materialien einer internationalen Fachtagung
vom 2. bis 4. Dezember 1986 (pp. 69–78). Bonn: Franz Spiegel.
Millwood Hargrave, A. (2002). Multicultural broadcasting: Concept and reality. London: Broadcasting
Mueller, D. (2005). Die Darstellung ethnischer Minderheiten in deutschen Massenmedien [Representation
of ethnic minorities in German mass media]. In R. Geissler & H. Poettker (Eds.), Massenmedien und
die Integration ethnischer Minderheiten in Deutschland: Problemaufriss, Forschungsstand, Bibliographie
(pp. 83–126). Bielefeld: Transcript.
Nawratil, U. & Schoenhagen, P. (2008). Die qualitative Inhaltsanalyse: Rekonstruktion der
Kommunikatonswirklichkeit [Qualitative content analysis: Reconstruction of communication
reality]. In H. Wagner (in collaboration with P. Schoenhagen, U. Nawratil and H. Starkulla),
Qualitative Methoden in der Kommunikationswissenschaft (pp. 333–346). Muenchen, Germany:
Nordquist, J. (2001). Gender and racial images/stereotypes in the mass media: A bibliography. Santa
Cruz: Reference and Research Services.
O’Sullivan, Roger (2003). Focus groups. In R. L. Miller and J. D. Brewer (Eds.), The A–Z of social
research. A dictionary of key social science research concepts (pp. 120–123). London et al.: SAGE.
Payne, G. & Payne, J. (2004). Key concepts in social research. London et al.: SAGE.
RTVG (2006). Bundesgesetz ueber Radio und Fernsehen [Radio and Television Law]. Available from:
http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/7/784.40.de.pdf. Accessed on: 7 December 2009.
Ruhrmann, G., & Demren, S. (2000). Wie Medien ueber Migranten berichten [How the media cover
migrants]. In H. Schatz, C. Holtz-Bacha, & J.-U. Nieland (Eds.), Migranten und Medien: Neue
Herausforderungen an die Integrationsfunktion von Presse und Rundfunk (pp. 69–81). Wiesbaden:
Ruhrmann, G., Sommer, D., & Uhlemann, H. (2006). TV-Nachrichtenberichterstattung über Migranten—Vo n
der Politik zum Terror [TV news coverage about migrants—From politics to terror]. In R. Geißler & H.
Pöttker (Eds.), Integration durch Massenmedien: Medien und Migration im internationalen Vergleich
(pp. 45–75). Bielefeld: Transcript.
Schiffer, S. (2005). Die Darstellung des Islams in der Presse: Sprache, Bilder, Suggestionen; eine
Auswahl von Techniken und Beispielen [The portrayal of Islam in the press: Language, images,
suggestions; a selection of techniques and examples]. Wuerzburg: Ergon.
Schoenhagen, P. (1999). Der Journalist als unbeteiligter Beobachter [The journalist as detached observer].
Publizistik, 44(3), 271–287.
Signorielli, N. (1984). The demography of the television world. In G. Melischek, K. E. Rosengren, & J.
Stappers (Eds.), Cultural indicators: An international symposium (pp. 137–157). Wien: Verlag der
Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Sreberny, A. (1999). Include me in. Rethinking ethnicity on television: Audience and producer
perspectives. London: Broadcasting Standards Commission.
Sreberny, A. (2005). ‘Not only, but also’: Mixedness and media. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,
Stewart, D. W., & Shamdasani, P. N. (1998). Focus group research: Exploration and discovery. In L.
Bickman & D. J. Rog (Eds.), Handbook of applied social research methods (pp. 505–526). Thousand
Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media 427
ter Wal, J. (Ed.). (2002). Racism and cultural diversity in the mass media. An overview of research and
examples of good practice in the EU member states 1995–2000. Wien: European Monitoring Centre
on Racism and Xenophobia.
ter Wal, J. (2004). European day of media monitoring. Quantitative analysis of daily press and TV
contents in the 15 EU member states. Utrecht, Netherlands: European Research Centre on Migration
and Ethnic Relations.
Trebbe, J. (2009). Ethnische Minderheiten, Massenmedien und Integration. Eine Untersuchung zu
massenmedialer Repraesentation und Medienwirkungen [Ethnic minorities, mass media and
integration. A study of mass medial representation and media effects]. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fuer
Trebbe, J., & Schoenhagen, P. (Eds.). (2008). Fernsehen und Integration. Eine Studie zur sprachregionalen
und ethnischen Repraesentation in der Schweiz [Television and Integration. A study of regional and
ethnic representation in Switzerland]. Konstanz: UVK.
Viswanath, K., & Arora, P. (2000). Ethnic media in the United States: An essay on their role in integration,
assimilation and social control. Mass Communication & Society, 3(1), 39–56.
Weber-Menges, S. (2005). Die Wirkung der Praesentation ethnischer Minderheiten in deutschen Medien
[Effects of Presentation of ethnic minorities in German mass media]. In R. Geissler & H. Poettker
(Eds.), Massenmedien und die Integration ethnischer Minderheiten in Deutschland: Problemaufriss,
Forschungsstand, Bibliographie (pp. 127–184). Bielefeld: Transcript.
Wright, T. (2002). Moving Images: The media representation of refugees. Visual Studies, 17(1), 53–66.
Zentrum für Tuerkeistudien (ZfT) (2006). Islam in Deutschland. Einstellungen der tuerkischstaemmigen
Muslime. Religioese Praxis und organisatorische Vertretung tuerkischstaemmiger Muslime in
Deutschland [Islam in Germany, Attitudes of Turkish Muslims. Religious practices and organisational
representation]. Essen, Germany: Zft.
Joachim Trebbe is full professor for Mass Media and Communication Research at Fribourg University in
Switzerland. His domains of research and teaching are contents of television programms, mass media and
integration, communication research methodology especially content analysis.
Philomen Schoenhagen is full professor for Mass Media and Communication Research at Fribourg
University in Switzerland. Her special domains of research and teaching are journalism research and
theory, mass communication theory, mass media and integration, online communication, media and
communication history as well as qualitative methods in mass media and communication research.
428 J. Trebbe, P. Schoenhagen