In an interview with DW Director-General Peter Limbourg, to open this year's Global Media Forum (GMF), German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned against complacency both within politics and the media.
In his opening remarks, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier highlighted the importance of the outcome of the European elections and in particular welcomed the high voter turnout.
"Voter turnout was higher than it has been in the last 25 years, especially here in Germany, with over 61%. The high level of polarization during the election campaign really made voters aware of how important Europe is in their everyday lives. And there's a clear desire to retain the achievements and benefits a united Europe has given them. It's also a clear boost for democracy and a vote for Europe." Now, he said, it was up to politicians to deliver on those hopes and provide coherent polices on key concerns raised by voters such as climate issues.
However, Steinmeier also criticized Europe's naval-gazing over the past three years and its narrow remit on Brexit. "The focus on Brexit pushed other important issues off the agenda. Having said that, admiration and appreciation for Europe and it achievements is occasionally more prevalent outside the EU than here in Europe. We shouldn't underestimate how much our regional neighbors rely on us to ensure that European cooperation is efficient and effective. That's a huge responsibility."
Changing media landscape
Asked by DW Director-General Peter Limbourg about the way the traditional landscape has changed and diversified, Steinmeier warned politicians not to fall into the trap of blaming technology for those changes. "Needless to say those developments have changed the way we communicate both privately and politically. The number of people who use social media to inform themselves politically has increased."
Steinmeier added that what concerned him most was the way the use of social media had changed the tone of political discourse. "It can be quite relentless, positions are very often just black and white with little in between and no incentive to compromise. Those who hold a contrary opinion are often labeled as an opponent or enemy."
He conceded that politics and democracy in this day and age need to embrace digitalization, but said that it was a two-way street in which it was important to "democratize digitalization. The current stranglehold of a few tech firms on the global media landscape is a danger to democracy. And those platforms have a clear responsibility to live up to their requirements and standards."
Steinmeier finished by congratulating DW and the GMF and its efforts to defend and promote freedom of speech and urged it to maintain that spirit. "Retain your courage."
Around 2,000 participants from 140 countries are expected at this year's GMF to discuss how the media, politics, civil society, culture, science and business interact in this age of "shifting powers." One of the highlights of the conference is the presentation of the DW Freedom of Speech Award, which goes this year goes to Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez.