Newspapers: Foreign News in the British Press

When I arrived in Glasgow last September, a German student on a post-graduate journalism course, I thought I would get along quite well. I had just finished a degree in English and art history, and Glasgow and Scotland were not entirely unfamiliar to me, since I had lived in the city two years ago, for four months. I even had the megalomaniac idea I would be at an advantage with all my knowledge about European politics and culture. Until I realised that nobody cared about what was going on south of the English Channel.

I started reading British newspapers the day I got here, only to remember that I had tried doing that before, during my first stay. Back then, I had given up after just one week, simply because they didn’t mean anything to me. What was on the first pages seemed to be rather marginal issues to me – local government, Tommy Sheridan, and especially nurses fighting for their right of free parking. Fair enough, I understand why hospital workers get upset about that, but why does it make the front page?

I had to realise that despite the geographical proximity of the two countries, the British and the German press are surprisingly different. Even more, what I considered to be good and interesting journalism, was regarded as old-fashioned and boring.

While in Germany, the first few pages of a newspaper are more or less reserved for international and national political news, in Britain, the trend goes towards local stories. Foreign pages are usually to be found in the probably least read part of the paper, even in the broadsheets, and
the coverage of the European Union, if it is covered it at all, results most of the time in a rant about the institution’s inability. Changes and progress, like the idea of a European constitution or a unified currency, are reviewed more than sceptical. How surprised I was in
January to read about Scotland’s fears of losing European Union membership in the
case of independence – because months of studying the papers had left me under the
impression that that might have been welcomed by both, the media and the public.

Also, the representation of Germany seems to be rather lopsided. Apart from the
important political news, what always makes the headlines here are the newest faux-pas of the German military or racially-motivated incidents. Thus, in the public awarenessm the racism problem in Germany, which is comparable to that in many other European countries, is put completely out of proportion.

Admittingly, certain foreign news, like stories about India and Africa, are better represented in the UK. They would be mentioned in Germany, but usually they would only be granted marginal importance. Obviously, historical links to the former colonies support a reasonable news coverage – which leaves me with the question, why the cultural and geographical proximity that link the British Isles with Europe does not lead to a similarly objective way of reporting?

Today, when I want to inform myself about international, meaning European, news, I go to and German newspaper websites. For the rest of the time, I try my best to familiarise myself with Scottish news culture. It took a while and there were times where I would study papers from back to front and back again, reading every bit of news, even about hospital parking. But I figured that unless British media do not suddenly discover a greater interest in European affairs, the best I can do is adapt.

Sonja Stoessel