Statement by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the presentation of the Observatoire international sur l’information et la démocratie in the margins of the Paris Peace Forum

13.11.2021 - Speech

Democracy needs transparent and fact-based information – all over the world. It enables people to act as responsible citizens in free societies. It is the fuel that the engine of democracy runs on.

In contrast, the manipulation of information threatens democracy. It can polarise societies, disrupt elections and trigger false beliefs regarding global challenges such as climate change and COVID-19. In the pandemic, we are seeing how rumours and lies are slowing down vaccination campaigns – with deadly consequences.

That is why our meeting today is timely – and I would like to thank our French partners for convening it. I’m delighted to hear about the progress you are making towards establishing the International Observatory on Information and Democracy.

The Observatory suggests three approaches to strengthening fact-based information and democracy. And that is exactly what we need:

First, no democratic public sphere can work without free media and independent journalism. But in too many places, critical journalists are being harassed, attacked or put in prison. Therefore, Germany is part of initiatives such as the Media Freedom Coalition. This initiative helps media professionals to defend themselves against political pressure.

Second, we need better regulation to combat hate speech, disinformation and Manipulation.

In recent years, many events and revelations – for example on how social networks contribute to the creation of dangerous echo chambers – have underlined this need. And many digital companies are today asking for it.

In Germany, we have pioneered careful legislation to address the manipulation of information and hate speech online. And in the European Union, we now aim to establish clear legal frameworks for social media platforms with the Digital Services Act.

Third, we must foster citizens’ media education to enable them to navigate the digital world. In this field, Germany is cooperating with its partners in the European Union Rapid Alert System and the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism. And we are maintaining close ties with civil society and the scientific community to track emerging challenges – deepfakes are just one example.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We look forward to further cooperation with you in the future: To support free media, to oppose manipulation and disinformation – and to keep the engine of democracy running.

Thanks a lot!

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