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Rede von Staatsministerin Müntefering beim Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum: „About the role of quality media and foreign broadcasting for our democracy in times of social bots, hate speech and fake News

11.06.2018 - Rede

-- Es gilt das gesprochene Wort --

Minister-President Laschet,
Mr Limbourg,
Mrs. Gabriel,
Mr. Buhrow,
Esteemed panellists,
Guests of the Global Media Forum,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the friendly invitation to the Global Media Forum!

In recent days, there have been warm words of praise for Deutsche Welle. Tributes to it have been pouring in, most recently at the Federal Foreign Office, the German Bundestag and, Mr Limbourg, even from the Chancellor, who has singled you out for praise twice this week. If that happened in the Cabinet, the ministers would be sceptical.

However, I can assure you that this has never happened.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also sends you his congratulations and compliments. He has asked me to give you his warm regards and to assure you of the Federal Foreign Office’s continued support for your work.

It is impressive to be here today and to see, that the Global Media Forum has become a permanent institution for media professionals worldwide. A place for encounter and best practice, for sharing experiences and a platform for debate and for networking among journalists, decision-makers, academics and representatives of civil society from all over the world.

The global media forum offers us together the needed space to think about

  • how we can protect and strengthen the independence and freedom of the media,
  • how to improve access to information, in both traditional and digital form,
  • how to make this access more fair,
  • so that truth and facts retain the upper hand.

These are very urgent questions in the light of the US President’s recent comments after leaving the G7 Summit in Canada, when reliability and trust can be challenged through a single tweet.

The topic you are addressing here at this year's forum – “Global Inequalities” – hits the nail on the head: Not only do global inequalities exist regarding the global distribution of income, which is reflected in the so alles Gini index.

Also with regard to communication, access to information, knowledge and participation to it, inequalities increase. By the way, to determine these inequalities, there is, as far as I know, no indicator like the Gini index, which is a real gap in my opinion.

When public broadcasting in the former Federal Republic of Germany started to compete with private broadcasting providers in the 1980s, the range of media offers was expected to get broader. But have more providers really created more diversity?

Not necessarily, I would say. At least, this development was a clear indication that more or different offers do not automatically produce more opinions, more plurality and more freedom of expression.

In the late 1990s, when Marshall McLuhan called it the concept of the “global media village”, great expectations were again placed on the new digital media.

Recent years have been sobering, as expectations of digital democratisation and a democratisation of knowledge have not come to pass.

Today, we need to focus on how we can uphold freedom and access and how we can safeguard the freedom and independence of information, knowledge and news.

  • Which global inequalities pose challenges to today’s high-quality media and public diplomacy?
  • What is the impact of unequal access to the opportunities provided by global digital communication?
  • How is such inequality used to curtail freedom of the media, opinion and information?
  • How do we deal with the sometimes politically and sometimes ideologically motivated attempts to undermine freedom of opinion and information by denying facts and deliberately blurring the boundaries between facts and opinions?
  • And last but not least, how do we address the unequal distribution of the most important currencies in the digital realm and in communications, namely attention and trust?

High-quality media, journalism and public diplomacy are now facing challenges because of the magnitude and impact of these global inequalities and, in particular, as a result of digital development.

Some of the main questions are as follows:

  • What impact does global inequality have on democracy?
  • And what does that mean for our political work?

When we talk about the media and public diplomacy, we are not simply talking about traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and their websites. And that has been the case for a long time now.

It has been quite some time since we only discussed how states and state actors communicate abroad.

Instead, we are talking about bots, digital platforms and search engines that hold a huge monopoly and commercialise personal data, and a range of non-state actors that can wield immense influence, particularly on social media.

We’re talking about individuals, who as users, consumers and producers are becoming “prosumers”.

We’re also talking about terror networks such as al-Qaida, which deliberately use public relations for their terrorists purposes. At the same time, we need to talk about those who deliberately spread false information and undermine trust in information, facts and knowledge.

And last but not least, we need to talk about how freedom of the media, opinion and information is being curtailed worldwide through control of the internet, that is, by blocking, filters and shutdowns, as well as interventions by the security authorities.

In November 2017, UNESCO published the report “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”, which shows that while these restrictions are increasing, there is also greater public awareness of freedom of the media and information.

I would like to highlight three points in particular:

Firstly, the digitisation of communication and its impact.

It has now become significantly more difficult to convey facts and to exchange views respectfully. One reason for this is that technology has developed very rapidly, which means we have not quite kept up with how to use these technological achievements. There is no etiquette guide for the internet.

Social media are now the main forum for communication.

New actors, including populists, but not only them, and pre-programmed social bots make things more difficult for established high-quality journalism through their use of targeted misinformation and manipulation.

The Austrian journalist Alfred Polgar, who died many years before the Digital Revolution, said “People are far more likely to believe a lie they have heard 100 times than a truth that is completely new to them”.

Those who seek to spread misinformation use the latest technologies, such as bots. Their messages use algorithms, which show users the same opinions, particularly in social media, and give lower priority to other information.

The advertising logic of the internet, which rewards high numbers of clicks and viral content, boosts this effect and “rewards” misinformation.

Particularly in times of crisis, simplistic, sensational messages based on stereotypes reach the widest audiences.

And when you add paid trolls to the mix, this makes things very difficult indeed for high-quality media, fact-based information and nuanced interpretations of events.

The crisis in Ukraine, the Brexit vote and the US election campaign were allegedly influenced by social bots.

In Germany, too, we are witnessing the emergence of virtual forums in which hatred, brutality and above all misinformation are rampant.

In view of the reporting on Cambridge Analytica, at the latest, we must ask ourselves what effects – or should I say attacks? – are possible on democracy from a technological point of view today.

How should we deal with this?

The basis for democracy is that people exchange views, that facts can be checked and amended if necessary, and that there is respect for others and for other opinions.

The media and public communication take on this gatekeeper role. And they need a certain amount of basic trust to be able to perform this task. Given the deluge of information, we need this all the more in order to provide orientation and enable us to sort through the information.

Otherwise, filter bubbles develop, that is, the echo chamber where falsehoods and lies can spread and thrive unchecked.

Media literacy is thus crucial as regards being able to form one’s own opinion in a complex world.

At the same time, it is obvious, to quote Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that “not every citizen can be an investigative journalist. Rather, we all need guidance in navigating the daily flood of information. We need beacons of reliability. These beacons must be media which we trust, on whose reporting we can base our judgements.”

That is why we need professional journalists for democratic discourse. We need the media as a control function, indeed as the fourth pillar of democracy.

We need you more than ever today in order to identify, prove and publicise the truth and facts once again.

That now brings me to my second point:

The rise of authoritarian actors in public diplomacy

We are locked in a “competition of narratives” with many of our partners, such as the US, Russia and China.

We are witnessing the rise of authoritarian, nationalist currents that are having a direct impact on how we communicate, including here in Europe. Facts such as climate change and other global developments are being countered with other interpretations and narratives, while misinformation is being deliberately propagated in order to negate them.

Surprisingly professional separate channels of communication are being established with enormous amounts of resources.

These focus not only on traditional media, but also make extensive use of the internet and social media.

In times of information overload, the narratives of targeted propaganda, with their simple and compelling explanations for international events, are enticing. Authoritarian regimes offer simple interpretations. Meanwhile, the complexity of global societies and development is increasing, while the abundance of information has the potential to overwhelm people.

At the same time, we have seen states and regimes restrict their populations’ freedom of information and the media through censorship or economic restrictions.

In many parts of the world, journalists’ work has become a dangerous undertaking. According to the most recent report by Reporters Without Borders, press freedom has deteriorated drastically, including here in Europe.

The scope for having and freely expressing critical opinions is therefore shrinking.

Deutsche Welle is also familiar with these restrictions in many of the countries where it is active. Ladies and gentlemen, many of you feel these restrictions in your day-to-day work.

At least my third point: What is on our political “to do list”?

What conclusions can we draw with respect to public diplomacy and high-quality journalism?

When we talk about global inequalities, we also need to talk about the discrepancy between the conditions for propaganda and those for high quality and facts based journalism.

Propaganda seeks to offer simple explanations, sometimes through the use of considerable resources.

High quality journalism is grappling with declining advertising revenues and therefore has much more restricted financial resources. It is often subject to state repression.

In the Federal Foreign Office’s public relations work, we have seen that tackling each individual piece of propaganda misinformation head on only accords it greater attention.

At the same time, we cannot ignore developments given the international players in public diplomacy.

This is no longer exclusively about the fact that our messages and positions in the world are being supplanted by misinformation and propaganda. Propaganda campaigns by foreign actors are also having an impact in Germany and the EU.

The aim must therefore be to defend our European and international partners against such interference.

We must improve our resilience.

We must improve our resilience to misinformation and propaganda by countering it with facts based information and our own positive narrative, communicated in a self confident manner.

Interest in our actions and positions has grown outside Germany, which also means: that we must be better able to explain our foreign policy.

In this way, we can create a counterweight to propaganda and misinformation, a counterweight that speaks for itself and dries up the breeding ground for targeted misinformation.

This is why the Federal Foreign Office has built up its public diplomacy in specific ways and areas in recent years and will expand and develop it further in the future.

We will intensify targeted, direct public diplomacy primarily via our missions abroad by being more active in social media, as well as in traditional local media, in order to increase our coverage.

Via its missions abroad, Germany will communicate its standpoints in the world still more intensively than to date, using its own, positive narratives in order to reach all sections of the society in question.

To this end, we have already created a range of digital platforms, such as deutschland.de, on which information is collated and made available in an objective and understandable manner.

At the same time, we also want to improve our capacity to manage campaigns. We have garnered a great deal of experience in this area in recent years and have helped to raise awareness in the area of displacement and migration.

One of our most important worldwide campaigns is #RumoursAboutGermany.

Many refugees share information with each other via Messenger or get their information from social media, all the while human traffickers are purposely disseminating misinformation.

Through our public relations campaigns, we inform people about the risks and dangers of fleeing to Europe, convey a realistic image of life in Germany, and offer objective information on the current status quo and legal situation in Germany and Europe. It is important for us to reach refugees when they are still in their countries of origin and transit.

Our aim is to provide accurate information, not to deter people.

Digital technology is both a challenge and an opportunity for high quality journalism.

In this difficult environment, credibility has become the unique selling point of high quality journalism.

This is an opportunity!

Raising awareness about fake news and social bots can even help to strengthen trust in the traditional work of high quality media and public relations once again.

A long term study by the University of Mainz, part of what is known as “trust monitoring” of the media, has shown that this trust is stable and growing once again.

Last but not least, the debate about fake news and hate speech is having an effect and making people realise that these things pose a genuine danger for our society. At the same time, it is becoming clear that people still know too little about the work of the media.

At the end of the day, freedom of information and the media is what protects free societies from misinformation and propaganda.

The German Government is therefore committed to protecting the freedom of the media and is working to support a wide range of projects in the area of high quality journalism.

For instance, the Federal Foreign Office is supporting Deutsche Welle in its work by promoting projects around the world, particularly in regions where it faces major challenges on account of conflicts and restrictions in the freedom of the media.

By the way, the Federal Foreign Office and its over 200 missions abroad use the products of Deutsche Welle and its multimedia foreign language service on their many communications platforms As well.

At the local level, the Federal Foreign Office is supporting local voices and important multipliers, as well as social media influencers, in order to make a wider range of information available. Particularly in Africa, where Deutsche Welle is very well known, it has been able to open up new scope for discourse, especially for young people, not only online and via radio broadcasts, but also through panel discussions, which make no use whatsoever of digital technology.

After all, it is important to support the young generation in Africa, particularly in order to open the continent up to its potential and opportunities.

Media literacy is a key for dealing with misinformation, particularly in countries in which freedom of expression and the media is under pressure.

The Federal Foreign Office is therefore working to strengthen the resilience of media and societies to misinformation with a wide range of projects, for instance by promoting further training for journalists and institutions.

At this juncture, allow me to highlight the important work done by the Deutsche Welle Akademie, which is helping to train journalists around the world and make them more independent.

It was in the meetings of the German Parliamentary Council, which got under way right here after the end of World War II almost exactly 70 years ago, that the Basic Law was drafted.

The Articles of the Basic Law are informed by the lessons that were drawn from the horrors of National Socialism. That is why the Federal Republic of Germany has so unequivocally committed itself to freedom of the media and information, as well as to high quality journalism.

Today, these values that are enshrined in a similar form in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be protected once again.

We should remember this, because this year we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of this charter of human rights.

In our public diplomacy work, we aim to provide verifiable facts, good arguments and a realistic image of Germany.

Deutsche Welle and its stations abroad are known to provide verifiable information, good arguments and a realistic assessment of current developments and facts on the ground.

You can rest assured that the German Government will remain committed to advancing the cause of freedom around the world – the freedom on which you rely for your work.

Let me use this opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Deutsche Welle team, which once again has pulled out all the stops to organise every last detail of this Global Media Forum.

Thanks to its efforts, we have the opportunity to engage in an intensive exchange of views today and over the next couple of days on the media, high quality journalism and global inequalities.

I hope you will have stimulating discussions and encounters.

Thank you and „Glück auf!“


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