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Germany: Debating the Internet

Unlimited access to information vs. blocking content on the Internet. Students from DW’s Master Program met with two state secretaries to debate the issue in Deutsche Welle’s broadcasting center in Bonn.

From left to right: Marc Jan Eumann, Patrick Leusch and Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz

In mid-May, state secretaries Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ) and Marc Jan Eumann (State Secretary for the Northrhine-Westfalian Minister of Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media) were invited by DW-AKADEMIE’s International Media Studies to exchange their views on “Unlimited access to information and blocking the Internet: How can democracy, human dignity and freedom of expression be maintained on the Internet?”

06.2011 DW-AKADEMIE IMS Diskussion Internetsicherheit 2

Patrick Leusch, Head of DW-AKADEMIE's Project Development, hosted the discussion. While Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz advocated more freedom on the Internet, Marc Jan Eumann called for more restrictions and controls. With the North African political situation in mind, Leusch opened the discussion asking about the importance of the Internet in democratic movements. The BMZ state secretary Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz (Liberal Party, FDP) argued that the Internet had played a decisive role in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. “The new media were the key to freedom there,” he said, adding it was very awkward that Germany had wanted to block content on the Internet. He said the Internet was an instrument worth protecting, referring positively to a legal framework changed in April allowing sites – especially those with child pornographic contents - to be deleted instead of blocked.

Northrhine-Westfalian State Secretary Eumann (Social Democratic Party, SPD) agreed in part. “We need freedom on the Internet,” he said, but called for more self-correcting mechanisms. “The Internet needs more regulations,” he stressed. A positive example, he said, was Wikipedia where users can evaluate and question the content.

But how can content - such as child pornography - be prohibited without limiting the freedom of expression? “The garbage on the Internet has to be tackled primarily in the heads of those people and not in the media,” said Beerfeltz. The fight against content like this could not be at the expense of all citizens. Eumann, however, warned that society needed to find a careful balance. He urged users – especially children and adolescents – to become media competent. The state of Northrhine-Westfalia, he said, is currently integrating this subject in the school curriculum. As of grade three, children are to acquire an interdisciplinary license in media competence.