1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Peter Limbourg (Director General, Deutsche Welle, Germany)
Image: DW/K. Danetzki

Freedom of speech stronger than all despots

Vera Tellmann
June 19, 2017

“I have a message for all despots, autocrats and dictators: You will not oppress freedom of speech forever. Freedom of speech is stronger than you.” With these words, DW Director General Peter Limbourg opened the GMF.


Nearly 2,000 experts from over 100 countries will be meeting at the World Conference Center Bonn from June 19-21 for the Global Media Forum (GMF), coordinated by Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. They will be discussing politics and human rights, media development and innovative journalism concepts.

“Any ruler who chokes freedom of the press will fail in the long run. People want more than prosperity and security – they also want freedom and justice. That is what we at DW are working for,” said Limbourg at the opening of Deutsche Welle’s tenth annual media conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Identity and Diversity.”

As crises and conflicts are increasing, so, too is the importance of international broadcasters, Limbourg said. Only those who are viewed as trustworthy would prevail in the long run. “This entails a growing responsibility for comprehensive, objective reporting. International broadcasters can never take sides. With only one exception: When it comes to human rights.”

Building bridges and motivating people

The task of the media is to keep people informed, and “to enable them to make better decisions based on our information, to improve their understanding of the world. To make one thing absolutely clear: The media are not the enemy of the people – we are working in the people’s interest!” said the director general of Germany’s international broadcaster.Limbourg said that the media also had to encourage the exchange of ideas and build bridges –   “even between seemingly unbridgeable positions.” 

“Those who stop the dialogue are basically capitulating. Journalists have to maintain dialogue even when the issues are neither easy nor match their own worldview,” Limbourg said. The media likewise had to admit their mistakes and respond to criticism.

In a time of turbulent world politics and a rapid technological transition, people were expecting more from the reporting of journalists, Limbourg said. “More motivating stories about what does works. About people everywhere in the world who are moving something along and bringing about positive change. Especially in Africa.”

Limbourg: “Digitalization is much more than the darknet, pools of data and propaganda. For journalists, digitalization first and foremost means the direct link to their users.”

Brigitte Zypries: “Each person has the right to a crude opinion”

In her keynote address, Germany's Federal Economic Minister Brigitte Zypries called on people to see the “opportunities of digitalization and shape them” instead of pointing out the dangers they present. “Technologically speaking, we need to be open but from a content perspective, we cannot compromise.”

The minister said the culture of information and discourse that exists in the internet posed a “danger to democracy,” when it comes to the spread of false information, and especially in regards to hate speech and insults. “Clear legal limits” were necessary, she added. 
With a view toward the notion that some might be “stuck in an echo chamber,” the minister explained that this is in part due to freedom. “Everyone has the right to a crude opinion,” said Zypries.

Monday, June 19, 2017 / Impression
Image: DW/P. Böll

Elke Büdenbender: “An invaluable educational event”

The evening before the conference opening, Elke Büdenbender, wife of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, spoke to a small group of conference participants about identity and diversity, the overarching theme of the conference. She said that the capacity to be open to other people and new situations was a matter of education. “We need to learn how to arrange the new and the different in such a manner that it is brought into harmony with that which we have seen and known to date. Or to learn how to demarcate, limit those differences which are not compatible with our value system.” The Global Media Forum is in this sense, “an invaluable educational event.”

Among the experts at this year’s GMF are the “biohacker” Hannes Sjoblad, Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, General Secretary of Amnesty International Salil Shetty, Carmen Perez of the “Women's March” initiative, and data specialist and psychologist Michal Kosinski.

Tonight: Freedom of Speech Award ceremony

One of the highlights of the first day is the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award ceremony.  This year the award goes to the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA). DW Director General Peter Limbourg will present the award to WHCA President Jeff Mason at 6:30 p.m. Gregor Mayntz, president of the Federal Press Conference, Germany, will hold the laudatio. The ceremony will be broadcast via livestream.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

People stand at the departures board in Munich airport

Nationwide German transport strike begins, major disruptions

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage