Journalists, historians and politicians are meeting at the M100 Sanssouci colloquium in Potsdam to discuss the state of press freedom. Turkey's exiled Cumhuriyet editor, Can Dundar, delivered the opening remarks.
In 2016, the former editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar, was sentenced to more than five years in prison after reporting on secret arms shipments from Turkey to Islamists in Syria. While freed on appeal, Dundar fled to Germany, where he now lives in exile.
Were the journalist still living in Turkey, he would almost certainly not be permitted to say that he thinks the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is approaching an "Islamist dictatorship."
Read more: In Germany, Turks are 'ignoring' Erdogan
In Germany, Dundar has freedom of expression, and he took full advantage of it in Potsdam, near Berlin, where he opened the M100 international media conference at Sanssouci palace. This year's event is titled "Democracy or despotism? The renaissance of the dark powers." At the center of the discussion is the current state of press freedom, the power of social media, and the responsibilities of journalists in the age of propaganda and fake news.
Europe is not innocent
In his address, Dundar painted a bleak picture of the political situation in Turkey, but he did not shy away from criticizing the EU. European leaders, he said, failed to take Erdogan seriously for far too long. And faced with the refugee crisis, the EU closed its eyes to the political suppression in Turkey, effectively giving up on the modern pro-Western members of Turkish society.
According to Dundar, those people admire Europe for its values and its laws – the very kinds of laws that are now being trampled on Turkey - an independent judiciary, press freedom, democracy, gender equality, separation of powers, and secularization. "It's not about becoming a full member of the EU, rather the reforms that took place as part of the membership process," Dundar said.
Differentiating between Turkey and Erdogan
The Turkish journalist also criticized Europe for moving away from the values that made it what it once was, saying one country after another is falling victim to populism. "It used to be that the world was divided ideologically in East and West, and economically in North and South. Today, the divisions are determined by religion and race," he said.
If the EU now turns its back on Turkey, it will fan the flames of anti-Western sentiment in Turkey, Dundar said. "But what's worse, it will marginalize pro-Western forces and drive the undecided masses into Erdogan's arms."
Dundar closed with an appeal to Germany to differentiate between Turkey and President Erdogan. Turkey, he said, is a country that is being suppressed, but that will continue to resist in order to defend democracy, freedom, and secularism.
"This is not a fight between Turkey and Germany or between Germans and Turks. It's about Germans and Turks who don't believe in democracy. It is a fight that democratic Germans and Turks must fight together."
Dealing with fake news and despots
Around 80 editors, historians and politicians from over 20 European countries and the US have gathered at the M100 conference to discuss the future of liberal democracy, the global situation nine months into the Trump era, and the future of the media.
One of the central questions being asked is how journalism can meet the diverse demands of a rapidly changing political, social and technical landscape.
One of the answers is that journalists have to focus much more on getting the facts right if they are to unmask "fake news." But will that even be noticed by the people who support extremist parties? And how can the angry, disillusioned masses be brought back to the principles of democracy? Jason Brennan, a political scientist at Georgetown University in Washington, has a provocative answer. In his opinion, only informed citizens should be allowed to vote.
Media prize for courage
This year's recipient of the M100 award, presented each year during the conference, is Russian journalist Natalya Sindeyeva. In 2010, she founded Dozhd TV, or TV Rain, one of the few Russian broadcasters that guards its independence from the state.
In 2011, TV Rain reported about the protests following parliamentary elections. Sindeyeva and her co-workers have been coming under increasing pressure in recent years. The channel has now been removed from all cable and satellite networks, and can only be watched online. Advertisers have jumped off in droves, and TV Rain's rental contract for the studio has been cancelled.
But for Sindeyeva, none of that is reason to give up – something that impressed the M100 jury. "Natalya Sindeyeva shows us once again what our colleagues in other countries are willing to risk," said Giovanni di Lorenzo, jury member and editor-in-chief of German weekly newspaper Die Zeit.