Journalists and media scholars from around the world flock to DW’s Global Media Forum, which opened in Bonn on Monday. Their goal: Coming to grips with how journalism and foreign policy are changing in the digital age.
Charles Moyo and Anuradna Sharma hail from different continents, but both are very clear why they came to attend Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum.
Moyo, from Zimbabwe, is pursuing a Ph.D. in media studies. He hopes the knowledge gained during the conference in Bonn will help him with his work towards his degree. "My research is forecasting on how the media is influencing EU foreign policy in Africa," said Moyo.
Sharma, from India, is a freelance print and online journalist. She wants to soak up new ideas about how foreign policy and journalism meet in the digital age. "I am hoping to find the answers to how journalism will fare in the digital age, how it will develop and grow and continue and do its essential job of reporting in keeping with the new times and technology."
For both Moyo and Sharma, the theme of the eighth edition of the Global Media Forum, with its focus on foreign policy in the digital age, appears to have struck a nerve. They are not alone. More than 2,000 participants, including some 500 journalists, from nearly 130 countries have come to Bonn to attend this year's three-day media get-together.
The event was opened by DW's Director General Peter Limbourg and Monika Grütters, Germany's federal government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. Both highlighted the opportunities and challenges ushered in by the digital revolution. Limbourg then zeroed in on the political reasons of what he called "journalistic impoverishment" – the fact that in many countries access to information is increasingly being blocked.
New channel, new app
He expressed his conviction that the Global Media Forum will provide an important venue for exchange and debate about those developments and that DW's new English-language TV channel and News App will become key tools for a growing number of global users interested in reliable and relevant information.
Grütters urged journalists and media to work towards instituting the democratic rules valued in the analogue world also in the digital world and praised DW's long-standing role as "an ambassador for our constitutional democracy."
Maria Böhmer, minister of state in the foreign ministry, and Marc Jan Eumann, state secretary for federal affairs, Europe and the media for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, seconded that assessment in their remarks. Böhmer thanked DW for having increased its activities in Ukraine in support of balanced journalism. She then had a clear message for the attendees: "Only those who enjoy their users' trust can continue to survive in the digital age."
Eumann in his speech said it was hard to overstate the importance of digital media. "It is time to rethink the concept of audience and of the public. And maybe it is time to get used to new venues for discourse," he said.
He is likely to have found a receptive audience in Charles Moyo and Anuradna Sharma.
"I am also looking forward to the workshops related to social media because the impact of social media is tremendous," said Sharma. "You are tweeting directly to presidents and to people. It's often scary the world of digital media."
To try to make sense of journalism in the digital age and its political implications, DW's Global Media Forum hosts numerous speeches and some 30 workshops which participants can sample from. Whether it's the implications of resource wars on foreign policy, or combating extremism in social media - there is a broad portfolio on offer.
Sharma said she was especially interested in a workshop on digital jihad. "Social media can be used in a good and a bad way. And, surprisingly, those who use it negatively are always ahead. I think there is a need for a counter movement. So I am interested in the workshop on counter narratives – how to counter these attempts and divisive attitudes in the world."
Charles Moyo, meanwhile, has set his sights on a workshop dealing with the question of how media drives foreign policy. "I will ask some questions and I hope to get some time to present my topic and to get a few comments from some colleagues that attend those workshops."
For his Ph.D., Moyo is researching how the media is influencing EU foreign policy in Africa. That's why the issues discussed at the Global Media Forum are extremely relevant to him. "So I think it is a very very important conference for me."