German minister Roth addressed the opening at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Berlin.
This is a transcript of his speech.
“I’m afraid that we are on the brink of a new era of fear and illiberalism and new authoritarian systems.” The great historian Fritz Stern issued this warning a few weeks before he died in May 2016. But his words live on.
Indeed, liberal democracy seems to be on the defensive in too many places. The calls for the “strong man” are widespread. I believe that the media has an important task to perform here – also and particularly in Europe: While we are facing a growing trend towards populist polarization, an unbiased, balanced and fact-based approach to reporting is more urgently needed than ever before.
Throughout the world, we are seeing a downwards trend in the conditions for freedom of expression. In more and more countries the media and individual journalists are coming under pressure. The 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders shows that the freedom of media is not a given fact. Since 2013, the global indicator for freedom of the press has fallen by 14 percent.
And this global trend does not stop at European borders. In fact, Europe’s pioneering role in press freedom is eroding. In several EU countries there is a trend towards restricting the independence of the media through stricter regulation.
Even here in Germany, violence and threats towards journalists have increased dramatically. Journalists as a whole are insulted as “lying media”. And most recently, the case of Jan Böhmermann attracted considerable attention, raising the question of the extent to which critical, political satirists can be held criminally responsible. This shows that the freedom of the media is not only discussed in other parts of the world. This debate affects us all.
The free media need to do justice to their role as the Fourth Estate. They have an important role to play, in uncovering shortcomings and violations of fundamental democratic values. It is a well-known fact that journalists throughout the world often have to put themselves, their families and their existence at risk to fulfil this role.
Deutsche Welle has responded to this situation and launched the Freedom of Speech Award last year. It is presented to individuals and initiatives who have shown particular commitment in the area of human rights and freedom of opinion. Last year the award went to the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is still not able to be here at the Global Media Forum in person due to his imprisonment. Our thoughts are with him today.
This year the award goes to Sedat Ergin, Editor in Chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet. He is working actively to support independent journalism in Turkey in the face of serious restrictions for media representatives.
Mr. Ergin, I sincerely congratulate you on your award, which will be presented to you following this opening ceremony.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No political order can remain stable in the long term if it systematically violates the rights and freedom of its citizens. This understanding is a guiding principle of our human rights dialogue, which plays an important role in our foreign policy.
And that is why we stand up for imprisoned or persecuted human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers – whether in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, China or Russia. We need to defend and strengthen the fundamental values on which our coexistence is based: freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality.
We do this persistently, seldom visible on the open stage, but more often behind the scenes. Fighting for human rights is not about positive headlines or news coverage. The driving force for our human rights work is to provide concrete assistance to people in great trouble.
The approach adopted by diplomacy therefore differs from the way human rights organisations and the media themselves proceed. NGOs like Amnesty International or journalists are able to criticize human rights violations and restrictions of press freedom in clearer and stronger words than ministers and diplomats. So we play different roles, we make use of different instruments. But what unites us is the aim to promote human rights world-wide.
In many countries, journalism is an integral part of political debates. The role of social media as a platform for articulating political views and mobilising support has become increasingly prominent. This is particularly true for the revolutions in the Middle East since 2010. What would the Arab Spring have been without Facebook or Twitter?
Blogs and forums have changed political communication radically. Deutsche Welle has been acknowledging this development for over a decade with the annual awards “The Bobs – Best of Online Activism”. These awards honour outstanding commitment to strengthening freedom of opinion and civil society on the Internet.
Ladies and gentlemen,
German international media promotion largely focuses on supporting local partners and structures on the ground. The Federal Foreign Office takes a very flexible approach by deciding on media promotion projects on a year-by-year basis. Most of these projects focus on specific regions, which currently include North Africa, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, selected countries in Latin America and Asia, and Ukraine.
Shababtalk is one prominent example of how we can promote freedom of opinion in Arab countries. This socially critical, interactive talkshow for young people, which is broadcast weekly on Deutsche Welle’s Arabic TV channel, has been sponsored by the Federal Foreign Office since 2014.
The popularity of the program, which has won numerous media prizes, shows how motivated young people in Arab countries are to shape debate on public policy. They don’t shy away from discussing even sensitive and taboo subjects. Shababtalk has been a source of heated controversy, for example, with its programmes on homosexuality and sex before marriage.
Media reporting has the potential to strengthen the dialogue between societies and to unite them, but it can also divide them. This is why we have been supporting our partners in the Eastern Partnership countries and Russia since 2014 to help them create and increase diversity of information, opinion and the media. Our aim is to enable the Fourth Estate to fulfil its role as a platform for information and discussion.
To this end, the Federal Government is providing workshops and training programmes for local journalists on topics such as conflict sensitive reporting and research skills. Ukraine is one example.
Since 2014, the Federal Foreign Office has been supporting the creation of a pluralistic media landscape in the country. Our focus here is on advising the government and public broadcasters and on further training for journalists. Specifically, we are supporting the process to transform Ukraine’s state broadcasting into a public media corporation along Western lines. Besides we produce the daily Ukrainian language news magazine “DW Nowyny”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The essence of freedom of the press is that people are able to express their opinions freely without fear of negative consequences. Freedom of opinion and unhindered access to information are the cornerstones of a functioning democracy, economic progress and sustainable development.
I wish the Global Media Forum every success, and above all interesting and constructive debates on the issues that concern you all: politics and the peaceful development of our societies.
Thank you very much.