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Digitisation and participation: Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Global Media Forum

01.07.2014 - Article

In his speech at the Global Media Forum in Bonn on 1 July Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier described the relationship between online reporting, social media and foreign policy.

How the Internet affects foreign policy: Steinmeier at the Global Media Forum
How the Internet affects foreign policy: Steinmeier at the Global Media Forum© DW/Müller

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted that, faced with a hall full of journalists, bloggers, tweeters and social media experts, he really would have liked to share some breaking news, but unfortunately he was unable to do so that day. At the beginning of his speech he described to the Global Media Forum delegates how the previous evening he had negotiated for hours with Ukraine, Russia and France to reach a joint agreement on the crisis in Ukraine. “I am disappointed that it didn’t work out,” he confessed.

The pressure of click statistics – a competitive disadvantage for foreign policy?

He said that in online reporting politics and the media increasingly faced pressure from click statistics, which were predominantly generated by spectacular images. Steinmeier expressed his belief that this put foreign policy at a competitive disadvantage. He explained that the images raised expectations from the general public that the cause of the atrocities presented would be eliminated as quickly as possible – the long nights of struggling to reach compromises seemed very slow in comparison.

The Global Media Forum in Bonn was well attended
The Global Media Forum in Bonn was well attended© DW/Danezki

The Foreign Minister also described the trend in online media towards abbreviation and polarisation. He said that he was regularly on the receiving end of a “double shitstorm” in comments on his Facebook page in connection with his approach to the crisis in Ukraine – hounded as a warmonger by some and as a Russian apologist by others. However, Steinmeier said that he liked to make frequent use of this opportunity to interact with citizens and enjoyed reading the comments on his Facebook page.

Regulations and standards for the Internet

Steinmeier declared that foreign policy had a key role to play in ensuring that the Internet continued to be a global asset, saying that such a rapidly growing network needed regulations and standards. The Foreign Minister continued:

That is why the idea of a free, open and secure Internet is one of the central tasks for global governance in the 21stcentury. In a first step towards this goal, Germany and Brazil have tabled a resolution on the protection of privacy in the UN General Assembly.

Click here for more information on the joint resolution by Germany and Brazil on the protection of privacy on the Internet (Right2Privacy)..

“Constitutional and cultural dimension” of digitisation

Steinmeier and Podesta on the way to the cyber dialogue event
Steinmeier and Podesta on the way to the cyber dialogue event© Photothek / Imo

Steinmeier went on to say that only in the past week he had himself launched the Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue at the Federal Foreign Office, together with John Podesta, whom US President Obama has tasked with working on the issue of big data. He said that the goal of the dialogue was to have “a constructive debate on what in my view is behind all the outrage concerning the NSA – the difficult question of how we can find the right balance between freedom, privacy and security in the digital age.”

The Foreign Minister predicted that this “constitutional and cultural dimension” of digitisation would continue to be a major foreign policy issue for a long time.

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