Ladies and gentlemen,
sear guests of the Global Media Forum,
It’s wonderful that the Global Media Forum can take place also in these times – in a digital format.
It would be even more delightful welcome all of you to Bonn in my home region of North Rhine-Westphalia.
As we all know, coronavirus is still preventing us from doing that. Fortunately, we now have vaccines. However, I doubt whether there is even such a thing as normality in these times.
We are living in a world of global synchronicity. And: The digital space is afflicted by another virus – one with an extremely high infection rate.
Disinformation and hate speech are spreading by the second. They are reaching millions of people – above all in social media. The mass spread of misleading information is undermining an essential part of each and every democracy: Namely trust in free, independent reporting and in open dialogue with one another.
We can see how dangerous it can be when conspiracy theories stop people from getting vaccinated, when social division is promoted. There is only one way to counter this in our liberal democratic society: namely serious, fact-based reporting.
The good news is that, according to a long-term study, trust in the media grew significantly in Germany by the end of 2020. 56 percent of Germans place their trust in the media on key issues. This number has never been so high.
I understand this. I’m glad that, in this turbulent time, the media have compiled and prepared the information we need. With a clear separation between facts and opinion. Scientific findings made understandable for everyone and, above all, at a high level. The problem is that millions of people are denied access to this information.
The coronavirus crisis has increased pressure on freedom of the press and freedom of expression around the world. This is especially the case in authoritarian regimes, where the pandemic is often used as a pretext for restricting free reporting still further.
The state of freedom of the press around the world is shocking. We cannot be happy with the fact that freedom of the press in Germany has been downgraded from good to fairly good on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporter without borders. Which is also due to attacks on members of the press at demonstrations.
Access to information and freedom of expression are a human right. Those who protect this right deserve our support.
The fact that the European Union responded immediately to the unacceptable arrest in Minsk of government critic and blogger Roman Protasevich with sanctions sends an important signal of solidarity and defence of our values.
That Deutsche Welle this year honors the Nigerian reporter Tobore Ovuorie with the Freedom of Speech Award is also a strong signal for the freedom of information and expression. She gives a voice to girls and women who are victims of sex trafficking and have no voice in Nigerian society. Especially in view of the current situation its important to support this work.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We’re doing our part as the Federal Foreign Office – for instance with programmes to protect journalists. Deutsche Welle and the Deutsche Welle Akademie also play an important role in getting fact-based information to people around the world. And not least with the Alliance for Multilateralism.
However, we must do more.
All of us sense the huge changes that still lie before us and our democracy. Especially in the face of changed communication.
I consider it to be vital that we actively shape the digital sphere of culture and discourse.
- So that it serves the general public and not the market;
- so that hatred, hate speech and targeted misinformation do not undermine our democracy; • and that journalists can continue to earn a living in the digital sphere
If we manage this, then the digital transformation offers immense opportunities for our cultural policy – especially for Europe.
A digital cultural sphere can be the key to finally creating a joint European public sphere. It can help us to reach more people. And it can support us in our efforts to promote global connectivity. We will not manage this with joint digital services offered by public media broadcasting alone.
In the face of global forces, what we need now is the power of a European association. This is why I advocated the idea of a European cultural and media platform during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
After all, we need good information just as much as we need clean water to drink.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Contending with these issues has also become a major task for foreign policy.
I would like to thank Deutsche Welle for its partnership and all of you for your work.
The video of my statement can be watched on the youtube channel of the DW Global Media Forum: