Debating growth, economic values and the media | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.06.2013
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Debating growth, economic values and the media

Economists to environmental experts, Cologne to China: DW's annual Global Media Forum in Bonn traditionally draws an eclectic crowd. This year, 2,000 participants will be discussing the limits of economic growth.

How do we want to live? Seriously - can we really go on like this? Our economic system has little to do with fairness; instead, it's all about growth. Many people believe that our planet.simply cannot sustain much more.

The media has a vital role to play in this debate. Europe needs to be informed about those who are suffering under the prevailing world order - people in Bangladesh, for example. We need to get information to garment factory workers in South Asia: they need to know what the rest of the world thinks of their working conditions, or about the floods that regularly devastate their countries. If the media do this work properly, then with a little luck something might start to move - and here, too, the media can help, getting people to exchange ideas, maybe even find a solution.

Venue: the former Bundestag

How do we actually want to live and how should we run our economy? These are the questions that the participants of the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) in Bonn will be seeking to answer at the conference from June 17-19.

"The GMF is essentially a platform where we bring together people from different professions," says DW's Director General, Erik Bettermann. "These are people who wouldn't otherwise communicate directly with each other - people from the worlds of media, business, politics and development cooperation."

Renowned Jewish-American scholar and political activist Noam Chomsky speaking during a lecture in 2010 (Photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images)

The renowned American linguistics professor Noam Chomsky will give the opening speech

The Global Media Forum program facilitates this kind of exchange. The aim is that it should be as open as possible, Bettermann says.

"As organizers, we've avoided setting the content in stone. Instead, we have a great many work groups where all those involved will have an opportunity to present their positions. This is probably the thing that makes it so special."

Dr. Elke Holst, an academic from Berlin who is taking part in the GMF, agrees. She's looking forward to the sessions, where she says "different cultures come together, and you can see what different preferences and situations prevail in different countries."

There are more than 50 items on the agenda and 40 of them are work groups for a specific topic. Plenty to discuss, then, for the 2,000 or so participants who will be attending this 6th Global Media Forum. The venue was once the plenary chamber of the German parliament in Bonn, the former German capital, and the (anglophone) conference is taking place under the heading: "The Future of Growth: Economic Values and the Media."

Is growth really necessary?

The limits of economic growth first became a major topic of discussion in 1972, when the association of influential thinkers known as the Club of Rome published a seminal study on the subject. 40 years later, the study remains as explosive as ever. Many people think that these limits have already been reached, even overstepped. In the introduction to the conference program booklet, Erik Bettermann poses the question: "Do we necessarily have to have growth in order to increase our prosperity?"

Should growth be "green," as the Mayor of Bonn suggests in his words of welcome? How high a price will we all have to pay for growth? On Wednesday morning (19.06.2013), the GMF will be trying to answer these questions, with speakers including the director of environmental and social standards from the textile company Puma and the founder of the Alternative Nobel Prize, Jakob von Uexkull.

Li Chengpeng in China in 2012 (Photo: Li Ruihe)

Li Chengpeng from China has won a Bobs Award for online activism

An American researcher and a Russian economics journalist take a very different approach on Tuesday afternoon: Is it still appropriate to focus on Gross Domestic Product, and thus on economic growth, as a measure of success? Or is it time to introduce other benchmarks - "Gross National Happiness," for example?

Also on Tuesday afternoon, researcher Elke Holst will be speaking about the gender aspect of growth. "It's very important," she says. "The people in decision-making positions - who are therefore also the ones debating what direction growth should take - are usually men." Holst is convinced that if executive boards had more members with "different everyday realities" - women, for example, or members of ethnic minorities - both growth and the economic world itself would look very different.

Desertification experts meet Chinese dissidents

Other speakers, however, are not questioning growth per se. "The more healthy and strong people are, the more they are able to contribute to economic growth" is the premise for one of Monday's sessions.

Another discussion on Monday addresses energy supply and economic growth. The speakers will be a Catholic priest from Nigeria and a researcher from India: an encounter that epitomizes the spirit in which the organizers of the GMF have structured their forum: A specialist in telemedicine from the Philippines meets a human rights activist from Chad. The chief press officer of a business group meets the Minister of State for Culture. A young woman senator from Kenya meets a star linguist from the United States. A desertification expert meets a Chinese dissident.

The passenger boat on the Rhine during the GMF in 2011(Photo: Copyright: DW)

The boat trip down the Rhine is always a popular element of the program

For DW's Director General Erik Bettermann, two groups are particularly deserving of mention.

One is the representatives of the rebroadcasters - the nearly 5,000 TV and radio stations that rebroadcast DW content. It's very important to get their feedback, says Bettermann.

"For us, as Germany's international broadcaster, the GMF is a very important meeting place where we also stop to think about what our specific function is. It provides us with stimuli and helps us decide on new priorities."

Bettermann is also looking forward to the winners of the Bobs Awards, DW's prize for online activism, which will be presented on Tuesday evening.

And if people don't manage to chat to everyone at the conference itself, they'll have plenty of opportunities to do so during the boat trip down the Rhine. "Everyone's on board, and there'll be a chance to talk to everybody," Bettermann says. "It's one big communication forum. I don't think there's ever been a time when someone's come up to me at the end and said: I wanted to meet this or that person and didn't manage to do it."

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