"We are all working towards the same goal – to make change happen," said Moroccan Houda Lamqaddam, winner of the 2013 BOBs Award for Best Social Activism, at this year's Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany.
Change was one of the main themes at this year's media congress hosted by Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. Entitled "The Future of Growth - Economic Values and the Media", it was the sixth of annual conferences in the former parliamentary building, now the World Conference Center Bonn, in the city that was West Germany's capital from 1949 to 1990.
The conference theme could not have been more topical, given the daunting challenges of climate change and scarce resources facing the global community, along with escalating social, political and cultural tensions.
Reflecting on the power of the people
The main auditorium was packed to the rafters when world-renowned U.S. linguist and political critic Avram Noam Chomsky spoke on the opening day on "A Roadmap to a Just World - People Reanimating Democracy". He reflected on the discrepancy between false and authentic democracy and the disparity between public opinion and policy, framing his observations against the backdrop of political history and current world events.
A consistently staunch critic of U.S. political and economic policy and of capitalism itself, Chomsky warned against further restrictions on civil liberties in his own country and other Western democracies, which he said are governed by what he termed Really Existing Capitalist Democracy - or RECD for short. "There are ways to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice and freedom," he said, paraphrasing assassinated civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., but the general public can only act when they are informed. "I would like the press to tell the truth about important things", Chomsky summed up to enthusiastic applause. Where the media are silent or even deceptive about the true objectives behind those who hold power, the perceived premises of democracy are nothing more than mythology, he argued.
Globalization of values
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle spoke on globalization, democracy and the communication of values in a keynote address and discussion with the audience. Referring to the popular unrest in Turkey, he said that demonstrations "are a sign that a civil society is maturing". Especially young people want to "take their destiny into their own hands", he said. Westerwelle noted that "we are experiencing a globalization of values" and that "only free societies give rise to the creativity needed to succeed culturally, intellectually, politically and above all economically and socially in a globalized era".
A platform for diverse opinions
Each of the three days started with a panel discussion in the former parliamentary plenary chamber. On Tuesday the focus was on "Global Governance – Blueprint for a Sustainable World Economy". On Wednesday, experts discussed "Changing Economic Values - Green Economy, CSR and Human Rights". Multifaceted debates on values took place in these sessions regarding civil society's role in political and economic processes and the notion of growth itself, which many said required a new mindset.
Indian physicist and human rights activist Vandana Shiva gave an impressive and highly regarded keynote speech at the conclusion of the conference. A Right Livelihood Award laureate, Shiva warned against a view of growth confined by economic factors, saying that this would "inevitably accelerate ecological and social disintegration and the rise of asurveillance state".
More than 2,500 participants from more than 130 countries attended the conference, sharing viewpoints and ideas in more than 50 events. DW Director General Erik Bettermann saw the issues covered "touching a central nerve". A common sentiment, he said, was the importance of citizens as the key drivers of change, but "for that they must be well-informed". During his closing speech, Betterman said it is important "to develop an internationally binding set of values - to enable a sustainable economy for the sake of the world, and for the sake of future generations". In this, he added, "the established media, and social media alike, bear a large responsibility". Social media in particular "uniquely combine information and participation – transcending borders and spanning cultures and languages", he said. With those words, the departing Director General announced the title of the next Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum from June 30 to July 2, 2014: "Challenges for the Media – From Information to Participation."