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'Democracy didn't fall from the sky,' says Baerbock in Bonn

Henry-Laur Allik in Bonn, Germany
June 17, 2024

Talking to journalists, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock highlighted the need to protect democracy at DW's Global Media Forum in Bonn on Monday.

Annalena Baerbock (left), Maria Ressa (center) and Scovia Culton Nakamya (right) sitting next to each other
Annalena Baerbock (left), Maria Ressa (center) and Scovia Culton Nakamya (right) spoke at the Global Media Forum in Bonn on Monday.Image: Ayse Tasci/DW

A panel formed by the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, the Filipino-US Nobel-Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa and Ugandan journalist and media entrepreneur Scovia Culton Nakamy at DW's annual Global Media Forum in the western German city of Bonn, focused on the power of democracy. The participants discussed what political and social processes were needed to make societies and democracies more resilient and how diverse voices could become more visible across the media landscape.

"Democracy didn't fall from the sky," Baerbock told the audience. "We have to protect it."

Baerbock at Global Media Forum: Journalism is under pressure

She spoke about how some of the aspects of open societies that people previously took for granted — such as equal rights for all genders or abortion rights — were now being disputed by certain political actors.

She also talked of the dangers for journalists around the world. "Where press freedom is under pressure, freedom itself is in danger for all citizens," she said. 

"This is a crucial year for democracy," agreed Ressa, describing 2024 as a potential "tipping point" for the rules-based international order.  "71% of the world is now under authoritarian rule. [Democracy] is slipping, our window to act is closing, but it is still there."

Audience in a large room with the German eagle emblem on the back wall
DW's Global Media Forum 2024 kicked off on Monday with talks about democracy and journalismImage: Philipp Böll/DW

Baerbock, Ressa and Nakamya, the founder of Her Story Uganda, also spoke about online harassment directed specifically at women.

Baerbock recounted how she had had to deal with sexualized harassment online, which included faked pictures, before becoming foreign minister. She said that she had ignored it thinking this was the only course of action, but when she met other high-profile women who had been targeted similarly, she understood how insidious this kind of harassment was. 

"The yardstick of women's rights is a crucial one," Baerbock explained, adding that if women were in danger, it was a bad omen for the whole society.

Media industry under pressure

This year's annual Global Media Forum which brings together more than 1,500 political and media leaders, journalists, academics and other participants from across the globe, kicked off on Monday at the World Conference Center in Bonn.

2024's theme, "Sharing solutions," centers around topics such as the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and democracy, how to report on conflicts, how to ensure the safety of journalists, misinformation and how to combat it, as well as internet censorship, which aims to suppress quality journalism. 

"Even in dark times, optimism is the better way of handling it, because pessimists normally do not contribute to solutions. Let's share solutions and ideas and enjoy the company of great people at the GMF," said DW Director General Peter Limbourg as he opened the DW Global Media Forum's 17th edition.

In an opening video message, the leader of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst, stressed the critical role of promoting media literacy in the digital age. 

"Digitalization, with its rapidly growing and fast-evolving information capabilities, is both an opportunity and a challenge," Wüst said. "Many people find it difficult to distinguish between true and false information, highlighting the need for media literacy."

DW Director General Peter Limbourg
DW Director General Peter Limbourg opened the Global Media Forum 2024 and spoke about journalists' responsibility to use AI responsiblyImage: Philipp Böll/DW

Limbourg further emphasized the dual-edged impact of AI on the media and the importance of human agency: "Not only is the digital world changing journalism, but artificial intelligence is poised to shake it up even more. This presents a significant opportunity for our industry if we leverage technology ethically, using it as a supportive tool rather than a replacement."

He continued that true progress is not achieved when machines alone produce content or set the news agenda.

"AI can assist, but crucial decisions in journalism must always be made by humans," Limbourg said. "Human oversight is key to mitigating AI-related misinformation. As journalists, we must embrace AI responsibly to maintain public trust, ensure accuracy in reporting and support democracy." 

Additional reporting by Cathrin Schaer in Bonn, Germany.