Development minister Gerd Müller experienced shared values and goals and a whirlwind 'tour of the world' during a recent visit to DW Akademie. He also reaffirmed the longstanding media development partnership.
Gerd Müller (left), German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development with Christian Gramsch, DW Akademie Director
What do the 14 year old host of a student-run radio station in the Palestinian Territories, the chairman of the Myanmar Press Council, app developers in Uganda and volunteers at citizen radio projects in Bolivia and Namibia have in common? They are examples of the diverse partners around the globe with whom DW Akademie is working to promote greater freedom of expression.
The German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, recently toured DW Akademie to gain deeper insight into these and other projects financed by his ministry, BMZ. All of the projects share a clear and common objective, said DW Akademie Director, Christian Gramsch on the occasion of the minister's visit. "Six out of seven people around the world don't have free access to information and aren't able to freely express their views," Gramsch said. "Therefore all of our activities need to be directed towards enabling access to information."
For his part, development minister Müller confirmed that Germany should foster democratic values, such as freedom of expression, worldwide. He said DW Akademie was the BMZ's "favored partner in this endeavor," adding that DW Akademie's work was of "exceptional cultural, economic and political importance."
Mobile telephones outnumber toilets
Who does DW Akademie reach with its projects? Verena Wendisch introduces 14 year old Ahmad, a participant in a DW Akademie media competency project in the Palestinian Territories
With the partnership between DW Akademie and BMZ set to continue, Müller said new projects need to primarily focus on digitalization issues. In Africa, one in two people own a cell phone while far fewer people have access to clean toilets.
"Many African states are leapfrogging decades in their digital development," the development minister said. "We are still laying cables here while much is transmitted via satellite there - and we need to work together to respond to this development."
Müller underlined that he supported DW Akademie's strategy of taking rapid technological changes into consideration when designing individual projects. This was a perfect starting point to familiarize the minister with an online citizen's platform in Uganda, the first of six projects Müller encountered during his 'tour of the world' while visiting DW Akademie. The Ugandan project saw DW Akademie support the development of an Android app which helps citizens send information directly, and easily, to local broadcasters.
Natascha Schwanke, deputy head of Africa, presents an overview of DW Akademie's engagement in Uganda
Using information to combat world hunger
he project shows how mobile telecommunications in Africa can be harnessed to promote freedom of expression and press freedom, Director Christian Gramsch said. "The general public can now receive information that they wouldn't have found about just a few years ago," Gramsch said.
Development minister Müller also emphasized that improving access to information was necessary to rid the world of hunger. "This is the only way people in these countries can find out the going price for seeds, for example, or how to correctly use fertilizer."
In Myanmar, DW Akademie is helping to create an independent press council, a body dealing with complaints against inaccurate or misleading reporting in the media. Complaints currently need to be sent via a letter, although an online complaint form is in planning. The Press Council received around 70 complaints in 2014, which DW Akademie's country coordinator for Myanmar, Andrea Rübenacker, called a "truly unique development in a country where expressing criticism has long been forbidden."
A shared passion for radio
On another stop along his world tour, the minister learned more about community radio in Bolivia where indigenous groups are in charge of programming at local stations, giving them a voice. It is an excellent example of how DW Akademie uses its projects to target communities and media makers outside of urban centers - groups whose participation is otherwise extremely limited.
A morning radio show in a Palestinian school that encourages young students to take an active role in public discourse served as another example. "This program illustrates how important media skills are for children and young people in these countries," explained Verena Wendisch, DW Akademie country coordinator for the Palestinian Territories. "Due to the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the media are often misused for propaganda purposes."
It turns out the development minister shares this passion for making radio. Müller talked of his role as a radio pioneer in the 1970s when he helped found two radio stations in the early days of private radio. "So naturally I am thrilled with your activities and the opportunities your projects offer," he said.
The minster noted that the DW Akademie and BMZ had significant points of overlapping interest, which would merit closer cooperation. Whether about language, freedom of information, journalism training, digitalization or climate change, "conversations about global topics are taking place in almost every village in the world today," Müller said.
Those present all agreed that future projects should be directed by the overarching strategy of providing every member of any given group or community with unrestricted access to public debate.