Grady Graduate Student Edwards Visits Germany, Belgium In RIAS Broadcast Exchange Program

A University of Georgia doctoral student was among 19 American journalists and journalism instructors who participated in RIAS Berlin Commission's summer fellowship exchange program in June.

Heidi Edwards, a third-year doctoral student in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, spent two weeks in Germany studying topics ranging from the intricacies and issues of the German government to the introduction of the euro currency to debate on biotechnology ethics.

The group spent a week in Berlin, followed by a brief visit to Brussels for meetings with NATO and the European Commission, and back to Germany for stops in Frankfurt, Weimar and Wittenberg.

Ms. Edwards' participation in the exchange was organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research. Ms. Edwards, who worked professionally in television and radio before returning for graduate studies, helped the Cox Center host three German journalists who visited the University of Georgia in October of 2000.

The RIAS Fellowship program is sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission and the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation. Journalists throughout the United States are eligible to apply for the German visits. German broadcast journalists can apply to visit the United States.

The June 2001 program in which Ms. Edwards participated included journalists from National Public Radio and CNN, local television stations in Denver, Knoxville, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Oklahoma, and radio stations in Jefferson City (MO), Nashville, and Seattle. Other participants were journalists from Bloomberg Radio, Living on Earth, and Marketplace, and professors from Brigham Young University and University of Southern California.

Cox Center Research Assistant George Daniels, also a doctoral student in the Grady College, participated in the RIAS exchange in the summer of 2000.

Timing of the 2001 two-week visit coincided with the commemoration of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Little of the Wall exists today, except in areas where it was carefully preserved for historical purposes. The RIAS group was given a tour of a Wall memorial by Hartmut Richter, who was an escape agent, captured and sent to jail for helping East Germans escape to the West.

Now 12 years after the collapse of the Wall, Berlin is still rebuilding and renovating, bringing the two sections of the city-and nation-together. RIAS fellows spoke to participants at an international conference marking the 40th anniversary of the building of the Wall. As many of the speakers noted, the construction in the city is symbolic of the continuing process of building relationships between residents of the former east and west.

The Deutsche Bundestag, or parliament, opened its doors to the RIAS fellows, offering insight into the legislative body and the structure of the German party system. A common theme throughout the visit was the "transparency" of government, as German officials attempt to alleviate the public's fears linked to past governmental action. The clear glass dome of the renovated Reichstag Building, which houses the Bundestag, is conscientiously symbolic of the efforts toward transparency in German government.

As Germans continue to manage reunification, they are now preparing for the unified monetary system of the European Union. Beginning January 2, 2002, Germany, along with 11 other European Union member states, will officially switch to the euro currency. While the euro has existed for exchange purposes since 1999, physical euro currency will take the place of national currencies like the German mark. The European Commission has launched a massive public relations campaign to encourage people to accept and use the new currency.

RIAS fellows spoke to many of the people involved in the switch to the euro, including the executive director of the Berlin Mint, a European Commission spokesperson, a researcher and euro expert for Deutsche Bank Research, and a member of the board of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Officials were optimistic about the changeover, despite some concerns about the strength of the euro against the dollar and member nations' abilities to maintain competitive economies. Even Germany, where the mark was notably strong, faces economic challenges, especially in the former East, where unemployment rates are very high.

In addition to government and economic issues, the RIAS group engaged in a discussion about Germany's stance on biotechnology - specifically, cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells for research. Like much of the world, the German government is being cautious about allowing stem cells to be used for research. In particular, Germans are especially aware of their heritage and are extremely wary of genetic experiments and cloning.

"One of the many highlights of the program was the interaction between the American and German journalists," Ms. Edwards said. "We learned from each other some of the challenges of working as news professionals in different cultural and political environments, and how German and American experiences are similar and different."

The RIAS group visited SAT1 and ZDF, a commercial and a public television network. Journalists engaged in discussion about the differences between American and German journalism and the "Westernization" of German programming. A SAT1 representative said their more sensational style of news/entertainment programs were gaining popularity against the more staid, traditional programs of ZDF and ARD (whose images are also beginning to reflect a more American style of programming).

While the RIAS Fellowship agenda was crowded with officials and discussions about political issues, the group also had time to enjoy some of the German culture. In Dessau, the group toured The Bauhaus, Germany's famous avant-garde art and design school, originally founded in Weimar. Bauhaus design and architecture are known worldwide. They also enjoyed a gondola tour on the lakes and canals of the historic Worlitz Garden Realm.

In Weimar, RIAS participants were treated to lunch with the Weimar Director for Culture, Dr. Lutz Vogel. Weimar is noted for its cultural and intellectual heritage, but it must also contend with a history linked to Buchenwald, a former concentration camp beside the city. The group experienced the two sides of the city with a guided tour of the culturally rich town and later a visit to the Buchenwald Memorial. The trip ended with a visit to Wittenberg, famous as the birthplace of the Protestant movement, where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church doors.

In October 2001, the Cox Center will again host three German broadcast journalists participating in the exchange program.