In the ongoing pandemic, media are under tremendous pressure worldwide. The aim of a new DW Akademie/BMZ initiative is to strengthen local media and combat disinformation. A video of the event is now available to watch.
"Reliable information has rarely been so important. Disinformation and censorship are increasing worldwide and are as dangerous as the virus itself," said DW Director General Peter Limbourg at the virtual launching event on May 6. Together with Norbert Barthle, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Limbourg presented the initiative "Transparency and media freedom – Crisis resilience in the global pandemic."
As a response to the pandemic, the BMZ is funding media development cooperation with an additional ten million euros. "People need to be well informed, especially in times of crisis," Barthle said. This was not just during the pandemic, he said, "but also in the face of climate change, flight and refuge, and violent conflicts. "A crisis," he stressed, "cannot be managed without media."
Dr. Sylvie Briand, a leading World Health Organization (WHO) expert on the infodemic, underlined the importance of people's trust in the media. "Media have an incredible power and a great responsibility in dealing with information and emotion," said Briand. She concluded: "You can't eliminate an infodemic – you have to manage it."
Nearly 300 participants from around the world attended the online event. DW News anchor Sumi Somaskanda moderated the program. In a lively discussion, directors of partner institutions in Kenya, Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories discussed their approaches to challenges.
Most of the additional BMZ funding will go to 16 new DW Akademie projects. Independent local and community media in Africa and Latin America, for example, will receive support in developing innovative information formats and viable business strategies. And with the establishment of information and communication networks, government, civil society and media actors will for the first time work together on crisis management and education.
The experts stressed that in a crisis, it was especially important that journalists report at eye level with the audience. "They need to be better trained, such as in fact-checking, conflict-sensitive reporting and media law," said Dr. Njoki Chege, director of the Innovation Center at Aga Khan University in Kenya. Constructive or solution-oriented journalism also played an important role, she added.
"If we bombard people with negative reporting," Gulmina Bilal Ahmed pointed out, "they'll turn away from the media." Ahmed is the director of the Pakistani NGO Individualland, a partner in the crisis initiative. "We need skilled media professionals who can present evaluated solutions to the audience," she said, "and make them feel like they can be part of the solution."
DW Akademie is also working with its partners in the Middle East and Latin America to encourage young people to use media critically. "Media and information literacy (MIL) is essential for people to find their way in the digital age," said Hania Bitar, director of the Palestinian non-governmental organization PYALARA. The focus there is on social networks. The "MIL goes viral" project is using messenger services to teach MIL. This way, vital information goes viral – and not misinformation and disinformation.
DR. SYLVIE CHAMPALOUX BRIAND (FRANCE)
Dr. Briand is the Director of the Global Infectious Hazards Preparedness Department at the World Health Organization (WHO) and launched the WHO's Information Network for Epidemics to counter the spread of misinformation about COVID-19. She joined the WHO in 2001 as a medical officer with the Task Force on Cholera Control and headed the Global Influenza Programme during the swine flu pandemic 2009-2010. Dr. Briand is a physician and holds a Master's degree in public health and a PhD in epidemiology.
DR. NJOKI CHEGE (KENYA)
Dr. Chege is Director of the Innovation Centre at the Aga Khan University's Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi. The Centre supports media innovators from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania through training, coaching and mentorship. Dr. Chege worked for several years as an editor with the Nation Media Group (NMG). She holds a PhD and a Master's degree from the Daystar University's School of Communication, Language & Performing Arts.
HANIA BITAR (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES)
Hania Bitar is Director General and Editor in Chief of the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation (PYALARA). PYALARA is DW Akadmie’s partner with the new Media and Information Literacy (MIL) project "MIL goes viral". Hania Bitar co-founded the international Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace in 2005 and was Business Manager of the weekly newspaper The Jerusalem Times.
GULMINA BILAL AHMED (PAKISTAN)
Gulmina Bilal Ahmed is the Director of Individualland, an advocacy organization focusing on areas such as media and content development. She is a trained psychologist and has worked with the Competence and Trauma Center for Journalists at the University of Peshawar. In partnership with Individualland, DW Akademie has now also established a Wellbeing Center that offers free psychological counselling to journalists. The NGO is also promoting constructive journalism as part of the joint BMZ and DW Akademie initiative “Transparency and media freedom – Crisis resilience in the global pandemic”.