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Global Media Forum kicks off

Kathleen Schuster
June 13, 2016

Three days of lively debate about the press, politics and the public have begun at the worldwide media event, hosted by DW in Bonn, Germany. Political tensions with Turkey dominated the opening.

Bonn Global Media Forum GMF 01 | Opening Ceremony
Image: DW/K. Danetzki

Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum kicked off on Monday in Bonn with a nod to global crises currently dominating public discourse in the European Union and in Germany in particular: the plight of migrants and refugees, the rise of right-wing populism and attacks on freedom of speech.

The theme of this year's event - the ninth installment of the Forum - is "Media. Freedom. Values."

Following an impassioned performance by Syrian pianist Aeham Ahmad, DW Director General Peter Limbourg opened the ceremony with a call to consider the relationship between democratic values and a free media.

Political efforts to silence journalists have caused the World Press Freedom Index to fall around the globe, including in Europe, in recent years.

"The end of the freedom of expression is also the beginning of the end of democracy," Limbourg told the audience. "When this point is reached, each and every one of us is called upon to demand freedom of expression loud and clear."

Bonn Global Media Forum GMF 02 | Award Ceremony Aeham Ahmad
Syrian pianist Aeham AhmadImage: DW/K. Danetzki

Fortifying the fourth estate

More than 2,000 experts representing over 100 nations flocked to the highly-anticipated congress - Germany's sole media conference - which offers a lively three-day forum on media, politics and society.

Against a backdrop of wars and the rise of extremist views in stable nations, this year's program includes discussions about the future of democratic values and consensus.

"No political order can remain stable in the long term if it systematically violates the rights of its citizens," said Germany's Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth.

"The free media need to do justice to their role as the fourth estate."

Gauck speaks to the DW Global Media Forum

Echoing these sentiments, the vice president of the European Parliament, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, emphasized the need to strengthen consensus among voters given the main threats undermining journalists: the trend of authoritarian governments running public broadcasters; organized crime; and the growing distrust among the general public of the traditional media.

Turkish politics takes spotlight

Diplomatic relations between Ankara and Berlin have been strained by an EU agreement this year. Under the pact, Turkey helps stem the influx of migrants into Europe by receiving deportees from Greece.

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel contend that this deal is the reason behind her cautious stance on the Turkish president's attacks against freedom of speech - not only in his own country, but in Germany as well, with satirist Jan Böhmermann the target of a lawsuit. Attacks that Limbourg said Germany doesn't want and would like to see stop.

Against that backdrop, Sedat Ergin - the editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Hurriyet - was awarded Deutsche Welle's Freedom of Speech Award on Monday. His reaction was one of "mixed feelings."

Bonn Global Media Forum GMF 02 | Award Ceremony Limbourg, Ergin und Diekmann
Bild publisher Kai Diekmann (left) and DW Director General Peter Limbourg presented the Freedom of Speech Award to Ergin, whom they described as "courageous"Image: DW/M. Müller

"Receiving an award for freedom of expression is not such a happy occasion because the troubling state of freedom in my home country is inevitably highlighted. A slight bitterness hangs over my feelings," Ergin told the audience.

Ergin also used the opportunity to exercise his own freedom of speech on German soil, expressing disappointment about the German parliament's decision to recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide. That could hinder reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia, Ergin said.

The Turkish journalist has been on trial since March for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said going to court not as a reporter but as a defendant "gives one a very different feeling."

The headquarters of his newspaper also came under attack twice last September by members of President Erdogan's AK Party.