Deutsche Welle has opened its Global Media Forum, with a focus on foreign policy in the digital age, in Bonn. The conference also marked the official launch of DW's new English TV channel.
In his opening address at Bonn's World Conference Center on Monday, DW director general Peter Limbourg highlighted both the opportunities and challenges ushered in by the digital revolution. While it enables an unprecedented level of information and interaction, it also presents new problems.
The state of the media, particularly for quality journalism, is dire in many places around the world, said Limbourg. Economic pressures and a lack of knowledge of how to practice good journalism are partly to blame for this development.
"But frequently, the reasons behind journalistic impoverishment are political," said Limbourg.
In many parts of the world, both freedom of expression and press freedom are increasingly being threatened by those in power who want to control what kind of information is being disseminated, he added.
Dangers for journalists
"For journalists it's becoming increasingly dangerous to investigate, report, and share their comments - in short: to speak the truth," noted DW's director general. But citizens in many countries are not only blocked from accessing information freely, they are also being confronted with disinformation and propaganda carried out by various actors, he added:
"International broadcasters controlled by non-democractic regimes are ramping up." While their effort is reminiscent of the Cold War era, in today's digital age, the possibilities for propaganda are much greater, said Limbourg. "Writers hired by government-affiliated 'troll factories' pollute the Internet. Religious fanatics upload their videos of inhuman brutality."
To counter that trend is one of the goals of this year's Global Media Forum, explained Limbourg. With more than 2000 participants from some 130 countries attending, the three-day conference will serve as an important venue to share opinions and values.
Honoring freedom of speech
Even more than that: By honoring Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi with Deutsche Welle's Freedom of Speech Award, the Global Media Forum is "sending out a clear signal to the world that we fully defend media freedom and security," said Limbourg. "Badawi is synonymous with everyone being held in custody and suffering for expressing their opinions."
And finally, DW's new English-language TV channel as well as its overall restructuring has the clear aim "to provide more information, be more international and address people more regionally, we want to be heard - loud and clear - as the voice of freedom and peaceful cooperation," noted Limbourg.
In her keynote address, Monika Grütters, Germany's federal government commissioner for culture and the media, stated that she considered instituting the democratic rules we value in the analogue world into the digital world as the primary political objective for society today. Fortunately, added Grütters, journalists, publishers, entrepreneurs and others fight and defend freedom of speech and freedom of the press worldwide.
"That is exactly what Deutsche Welle has been doing for over 60 years now and is continuing to do amid numerous crises, for instance massive Russian disinformation, for instance in the Baltics," said Grütters. "It's good that we have DW."
"As an ambassador for our constitutional democracy Deutsche Welle, especially for many people living in crisis regions and authoritarian-governed countries, serves as a connection to the free world," she said. "I am glad that today marks the start the English-language information program DW News, which will provide a lot of people worldwide with independent, objective news and information."
Commissioner Grütters and DW director general Limbourg then symbolically launched DW's new English channel by jointly pushing a large red button.
DW's Global Media Forum runs from today, June 22, until June 24.