Amy Jo at a press briefing during the program.

Cox Center Graduate Research Assistant Visits Germany, Belgium as Part of Exchange

A Cox Center Graduate Research Assistant and 12 other American broadcast journalists and academicians spent two weeks in Europe in June learning about the political, economic, and media landscape of post-reunification Germany as well as topics under debate by the European Commission and NATO.

Amy Jo Coffey, a second-year doctoral student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, visited government offices in Berlin for a week before traveling to Brussels for meetings with NATO and the European Commission. Next the group participated in meetings in Frankfurt with the European Central Bank and Deutsche Bank.

The program concluded with three days in Leipzig, where the broadcast group observed some of the economic renewal efforts in eastern Germany. They also visited NTV, a German cable news network, and met with German journalists.

The program was organized by RIAS Commission of Berlin in collaboration with the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDA), located in Washington. Journalists throughout the United States are eligible for the German visits. German broadcast journalists also visit the United States under the program.

The James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College at the University of Georgia, has been serving as a host for the visiting German journalists each year.

Coffey, who worked professionally in television and radio before pursuing a doctoral degree, helped the Cox Center host three German RIAS fellows who visited the University of Georgia campus in October 2003.

The June 2004 program included journalists from CBS News, National Public Radio, Voice of America, the Telemundo affiliate in Dallas, Tx., and television and stations in Akron, OH, Idaho Fall, ID., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. A journalism program coordinator from Duke University also joined the group.

Coffey was the fourth doctoral student in the Grady College who has participated in the exchange, which is organized by the Cox Center.

The June 2004 program took place during a time of economic challenge for Germany, which is trying to increase productivity and remain competitive with new European Union members while maintaining the standard of living to which many Germans have grown accustomed. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is seek to trim Germany’s social welfare benefits and labor protection as a national cost-cutting measure.

In Leipsiz in the former German Democratic Republic, the group got a first-hand look at the consequences of unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Porsche has an assembly plant there, and BMW will soon be there as well. The city is demolishing and replacing its old socialist-era buildings and recently bid (unsuccessfully) to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“I didn’t meet anyone who disagreed with reunification,” Coffey said. “But because so much investment is flowing into east German cities, much of western Germany has had to wait and has not been able upgrade its own facilities. Blocks of apartments are vacant, because young Germans continue to prefer the West. It’s pretty grim.”

These concerns played into the outcome of the European Parliament elections, held during Coffey’s visit on June 13, when Chancellor Schroeder’s Social Democrat Party received 21.5% of the vote, the worst showing for the party since World War II.

The RIAS participants’ visits at the European Union and NATO in Brussels followed the expansion of the European Union by the addition of 10 new members in May, bringing its total membership to 25. NATO recently expanded from 19 to 26.

In both cases, Coffey said, the group learned that Germany and other nations are analyzing what the new members will mean for alliance-building and foreign policy. An off-the-record meeting with European Central Bank officials in Frankfurt provided an overview of the European economic picture.

“Where else would you get this kind of access to key political and economic figures in Germany and Europe?” asked Coffey. “It’s incredible. Between these enlightening and often privy discussions and the carefully crafted program organized by the RIAS staff, I can’t think of a better way to become educated about the issues. If journalists are to open the eyes of their viewers and listeners, then the journalists’ eyes must be opened as well. RIAS does this.”

From Frankfurt the group visited Potsdam, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder and Slubice, Poland, as well as the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp. They also visited a former Stasi prison in eastern Berlin.

While in Leipzig, they also met with Christian Fuehrer, vicar of the St. Nikolai Church, who is credited with launching the Monday prayer services in the mid-1980s which culminated in the 1989 Monday Demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.