Bradshaw fellowship turns lens on German democracy, history

Dr. Kathy Bradshaw, Department of Journalism and Public Relations, left the United States for Germany in June as the U.S. was gearing up for a major expression of its democracy, the conventions where each political party chooses its nominee for president.

She arrived in Germany at a portentous moment there as well, when the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union was looming and Germany was absorbed in integrating the more than 1 million Syrian and other refugees it had accepted into its society. She found some striking differences in the way each country conceived of its democracy and how each puts it into practice, she said.

Bradshaw made the two-week visit to Germany and Belgium as a RIAS Berlin Kommission Fellow. She was the only academic among 11 other American journalists from around the country and from public and commercial networks. “It was a diverse group in race, gender, age and country of origin,” she said. The news organizations they represented ranged from a small station in Las Cruces, N.M., to the TV news giant CNN. One of their stops was the headquarters of RTL television, Germany’s largest commercial network.

The RIAS organization was formerly the broadcast station in Berlin called Radio in the American Sector; it transmitted news, entertainment and information programming to serve as a counterbalance to the totalitarian propaganda of the East. Today, RIAS’s aim is to promote understanding between the two countries, especially among broadcast journalists.

Its format is successful, Bradshaw said. “Every journalist working in the United States needs to experience the RIAS Berlin Kommission Fellowship. Their participation would benefit journalism, democracy and world peace. The experience provided me with a broad, timely understanding of Germany’s politics, economics and broadcasting, placed in a historical context.

“The history is relevant for Europe and the United States. Hearing from and asking questions of experts, researchers, politicians and journalists, combined with visiting historic sites, provided me with new views and new questions about U.S. participation in the world.”

At a time when the United States is grappling with the issue of immigration, seeing what was happening in Germany was especially relevant, Bradshaw said.

“Visiting refugee centers, talking with refugees in Berlin and Erfurt, and meeting the people who are helping refugees was fascinating and uplifting. The refugees we talked with were eager to be integrated into German society and supported a process requiring refugees to learn to speak the German language. A researcher explained current thinking about how to integrate refugees. We heard from politicians and journalists about the ways in which the admission of so many refugees might affect German politics.”

No matter where the group went, she said, people were curious and nonplussed about the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the top of the Republican party. They also nearly uniformly responded to questions about why Germany had welcomed in the refugees and about other aspects of their society by saying theirs was a democracy and so it was natural to do such things.

“Although we are a democracy as well, I almost never hear a person refer to that when they’re talking about the U.S.,” Bradshaw said.

In addition to issues in Germany, her fellowship experiences also provided a deeper understating of the EU and Britain’s vote to leave it. “Subsequent news coverage of the outcome took on new meaning based on lectures at the European Union headquarters. Others explained to us the value of having a united European view in furthering world stability. That seems particularly valuable as the United States begins a presidential campaign.

“Following a career as a broadcast journalist and training as a historian, today I teach broadcast journalists. My increased understanding of politics, economics, and journalism in Germany and Europe will directly benefit my journalism students, many of whom are descendants of German immigrants to the United States. The trips to historical sites were particularly moving.”