For the ninth year, Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle organised the Global Media Forum, held 13-15 June in Bonn, to discuss the role of media in politics, civil society, and global development.
In light of the increased restrictions and constraints on freedom of expression around the world, the theme of the forum this year was “Media, freedom, and values”.
“Media and journalists are coming under pressure. Since 2013, the global indicator of media freedom has fallen by 14 percent,” said Michael Roth, the minister of state for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office.
The forum invited thousands of media practitioners, experts, artists, filmmakers, politicians, academics, and civil society activists to open a discussion about the importance of media freedom and the current challenges facing local and international media institutions.
“Media diversity is also declining due to economic constraints and all of us are called upon to confront this problem,” said Franz-Josef Lersch-Mense, the minister for federal affairs, Europe, and the media in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The opening ceremony featured a piece of music played by Palestinian pianist Aeham Ahmad, who is from the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria. Ahmad gained notoriety when, believing that art can defeat war, bombs, and destruction, he took a piano to the streets of his Syrian neighbourhood to play music that expresses the sufferings and pains of his people. With his simple and expressive music, Ahmad geared the attention of thousands of the forum’s attendees towards the current circumstances in Syria and the escalation of the events there.
The first day of the forum was host to a number of sessions discussing topics such as transnational perspectives in cultural dialogue with Syria and Turkey, ways that digital innovations advance freedom of expression, the public interest, and figuring out internet intermediaries.
A session entitled “Fact and fancy: how verification can protect our news” was hosted by Deutsche Welle experts to make known the free tools that different journalists and media practitioners can use to verify user-generated-content (UGC) they find on the internet.
During the session, Michael Wegener, head of content centre at ARD News, emphasised the importance of data verification in the new digital age.
“Nowadays, you don’t need a camera man, we have millions of them as everyone has a smart phone and can take photos and videos and upload them easily, but the thing is that we have to make sure that what they claim to show is right,” he said.
Wegener explained that verifying stories and videos is a multi-stage process that consists of four steps: verification of basic metadata, verification of the source, verification with the help of experts, and, finally, the technical verification.
The sessions on the second day of the forum discussed the African digital revolution, piracy and copyright in Asia, the distortions in reporting on migration, breaking taboos in the Arab world, and the relationship between sports, ethics, and media.
“Innovative media activism in Egypt, Syria, and Morocco” was a popular session, introducing innovative media experiences in the Arab world. During the session, Lina Attalah, the editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, presented information about the current status of journalism in Egypt and the challenges that journalists there encounter. Ismail Ilsouk, the executive director of the Moroccan non-profit SimSim-Citizen Participation, introduced his initiative to raise Moroccan citizens’ interests and participation in public affairs.
“SimSim is a space where every Moroccan citizen can go and find the representatives of the parliament through a developed search tool and start online discussions with them asking for information about their projects regarding the major issues facing Morocco,” he said.
Also at the forum, Charif Kiwan, introduced an innovative filmmaking initiative in Syria called “Abounaddara”. The project aims at producing documentaries that spread a realistic image about the lives of Syrians nowadays. “We are trying to find a connection between Syrians in spite of their different affiliations and contradicting ideologies. We want to grab the world’s attention to our sufferings,” he said.
During the third day of the forum, greater attention was paid to different issues including art and culture’s role in fostering dialogue and changing politics, cyber security in the 21st century, the role of media in shaping politics, and many others. Jafaar Abdul Karim, the host of TV’s ShababTalk, discussed the media’s role in protecting women’s rights and preventing violence against them.
”At Shababtalk we always try to be at least fifty-fifty in terms of gender distribution. This is also the case when we are looking for who we should invite as guests because it is important that society gets used to this combination. I encourage others who are in charge of work places to strive to do the same,” he said at the session.
Egyptian muralist, Ammar Abo Bakr, drew attention to war-torn Syria throughout the forum’s duration with his mural that was featured at the entrance of the building. With the help of children from a refugee shelter, he started work on the huge painting, which was completed during the conference. With no words, he was able to express the sufferings of the Syrian children, portraying the signs of fear, pain, and innocence on their faces.
Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef hosted The Bobs awards at the forum. The Bobs honour journalists, activists, and bloggers who have successful or influential online projects that promote freedom of expression and human rights. The awards are sponsored by Deutsche Welle and include four main categories: citizen journalism, tech for good, social change, and arts and culture.
The “Stop Acid Attacks” initiative from India won the jury award. The people’s choice award went to Ramy Raoof, a technologist and digital security consultant who developed digital security strategies for physical threats. The documentary film “Razor’s Edge” from Bangladesh won the citizen journalism award, and Za2ed 18 won the user award for the critical and influential topics it tackles.