It cannot be seen, touched or smelled. Fear of an invisible virus is not new in human history. Throughout that history, people have sought to make the invisible visible through art and literature in order to take this fear away.
Today, this task is shared by journalism and the media. Providing comprehensive information, asking difficult questions, maintaining a balanced perspective and listening to all sides, conducting careful analysis and above all creating space for an open exchange of views – this is what it is all about.
However, especially when our need for information and our sense of uncertainty are so great, it becomes clear how difficult this task is. For many readers, listeners and viewers, black and white seem to be so much more appealing than the fuzzy grey in between. Pointed news stories receive the most clicks and likes. The more provocative and abstruse, the more exciting they are. Such an environment is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, and a handicap for intermediate tones. But it takes more than an attention span of 30 seconds or 280 characters to really get to the heart of an issue. Without a doubt, this is a fundamental challenge facing high-quality media outlets in the digital age. For that matter, it is a challenge at the political level too.
In these times of data overload and fake news, the need for well-researched reporting and clear-sighted journalism is greater than ever. With new stories breaking every second and an information density that threatens to overwhelm us, journalists help us keep track. We rely on them as curators of world events. Their research and opinion contributions offer guidance, and structure the way for discourse and participation – particularly in times as uncertain as these.
Freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are the lifeblood of democratic societies. We cannot and must not do without these freedoms. The Democracy Action Plan unveiled by the European Commission last week underscores the importance of joint action in this regard, even in Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In many parts of the world, journalism and the media face particularly difficult challenges. That already shows a look at the webpage devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic by “Reporters without Borders”: in numerous countries, authoritarian regimes are using the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic to further undermine freedom of the press and promote their narrative at all costs.
Journalists are being prevented from conducting independent reporting. Those who openly speak out against state censorship and propaganda face hate speech and censorship themselves; in the worst cases, they risk persecution, imprisonment and other threats to their lives. Closed borders prevent them from fleeing abroad.
The pandemic is being used as a convenient excuse to silence inconvenient voices. We cannot allow this.
In its last annual report, “Reporters Without Borders” described an ongoing decline in press freedom around the world.
This is unacceptable. Journalists in danger deserve our help and protection.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is why the Federal Foreign Office is committed to protecting freedom of the press and freedom of opinion around the world and supporting media professionals in their work through a range of programmes and initiatives. Deutsche Welle is an important partner in this task.
As an independent international broadcaster, it plays an important role in bringing objective information to people around the world. Furthermore, with the projects of the Deutsche Welle Akademie, it promotes the development of free media systems and supports journalism training in 50 countries. Trustworthy and uncensored fact-based investigative reporting is essential everywhere in the world for free democratic societies and the protection of human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Global Media Forum participants,
Each year, the Global Media Forum brings together reporters, media experts and decision-makers from around the world to discuss the future of journalism. As a long-standing partner, the Federal Foreign Office is delighted that the event is able to take place this year, at least in digital form.
I hope that the discussion inspires you, and invite you to actively contribute your opinion and take part in the discussion in real time. I look forward to your contributions.