People need access to information if they are to be part of discussions and decision-making processes. DW Akademie's commitment to supporting independent media worldwide was celebrated on its 50th anniversary in Berlin.
Six out of seven people in the world have no - or only partial - access to the news, but a free media can help societies develop an open dialogue in which all voices can be heard. "DW Akademie's activities help people around the world realize this fundamental human right, and supports those who otherwise have no means of expression," German Development Minister Gerd Müller said at the 50th anniversary celebration of the DW Akademie in Berlin. He acknowledged Deutsche Welle, and especially DW Akademie, for its decadeslong involvement in media development. "We are proud that you are a partner," he said. DW Akademie had invited about 160 guests from politics and civil society to take part in the celebration, including ambassadors and international project partners.
DW Akademie director Christian Gramsch opened the event by thanking project partners and participants who over the past 50 years have been committed to media development. "We dedicate this evening to you," he said to applause. These partners include initiatives that champion women's right to be heard, journalists who fight against censorship and have the courage to speak the truth, and community radio stations that break social taboos through open dialogue.
International guests also came to Berlin to celebrate, including U Thiha Saw, the executive director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute. He spoke about his country's changing media landscape and how much it meant that, after decades of censorship, Myanmar now had its first independent press council to monitor ethical standards of reporting. He also pointed to members of ethnic minorities who are now, for the first time, establishing their own media and producing their own content. "Together with DW Akademie, we were able to train some 400 journalists on election reporting ahead of the November polls," he said.
But, with upheavals in Ukraine and Egypt, journalists are also being pushed aside, media experts said. Basma El-Oufy said many journalists in Egypt were fighting censorship and remained committed to free and independent information. "We are trying to increase the room we have to maneuver as much as possible," she said.
Oleksandr Kharebin, deputy director general of the state-run National Television Company of Ukraine, said that, with the help of DW Akademie, he was turning the station into a public service broadcaster. "We are proud of how much we've achieved," he said.
Innovation from Africa
The evening also looked at the media revolution taking place in Africa, where the digital and startup scene is booming. Young entrepreneurs in innovation centers are developing apps tailored to meet the specific needs of various regions. These include solar kiosks for charging cellphone batteries and apps for credit transfers between different phone companies.
"More than half of the African population is under the age of 24, and more cellphones are being distributed in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world," Claudia Irere, general manager of kLab - an innovations center for digital startups in Rwanda - said in her passionate keynote speech. "Opportunities for innovation and development are huge."
Irere pointed to the wealth of ideas in her country, but said international partnerships were still missing. "We spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel, but a greater exchange of know-how, ideas and infrastructure with Silicon Valley, for example, would release enormous synergy! I'm talking about North-South partnerships."
Germany's Müller emphasized the potential of innovations for global development: "For many people, especially in Africa, the Internet opens a door to the world, and a chance to participate." He said it was important to recognize the possibilities offered by digital change and to continue focusing on using media wisely and on establishing independent media. This, he said, would not only develop understanding - but could even prevent crises. "That's why we need to step up for human rights in the digital world as well," he said.
Tolerance and understanding
"Deutsche Welle, together with DW Akademie, reflect an open-minded Germany," DW director general Peter Limbourg said as he thanked DW Akademie staff, alumni, partners and sponsors for their commitment. He said that together they had made an essential and lasting contribution to a free press and freedom of information, both in Germany and internationally. As refugees continue to arrive, Limbourg said, it has become more important than ever to show tolerance, understanding and open-mindedness.
Two-time Olympic figure skating champion Katarina Witt spoke on behalf of the prominent figures and journalists taking part in DW's "We Are Germany" (Wir sind Deutschland) campaign. Her international career as an athlete had taught her one of the most important things of all, she said. "We share this planet," she said, "and we all have the same goal: to live well and peacefully together."
To round out the evening, the popular Munich hip-hop band EINSHOCH6 played an exclusive concert, fitting the insights of German rap into the celebration of 50 years of media development. EINSHOCH6's "Bandtagebuch" (A Band's Diary) is an important part of DW's language courses, and inspires fans around the world to learn German through music. "Bandtagebuch 2" will be released in spring 2016. The last song of the evening was a sing-along. After all, one can't celebrate an event like this without a round of "Happy Birthday, DW Akademie!"