A lie goes around the world before the truth gets its boots on

A lie goes around the world before the truth gets its boots on

In most of the democratic countries in Western Europe it is easy to argue that we are spoiled by the choice of media on offer to us. A feast of news, opinion and debate is laid out for us, on news stands, in kiosks, on television, radio and online.

We have long prided ourselves in Europe on the plurality of our media, the freedom of our press, the liberal nature of public discourse.

Speaking on the first morning of the Global Media Forum, hosted by Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Franz-Josef Lersch-Mense, Minister for Federal Affairs and the Media, reminded us that 'freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democratic society’. He went on to warn that this freedom is being curtailed, even in some European countries. He did not mention it specifically, but the state of press freedom in Hungary underscores his point. I have friends who recently left the country as a consequence. It’s that real.

Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, German Federal Foreign Office, spoke about the crucial role of the media in what he dubbed a ‘new era of fear, illiberalism, and totalitarianism’. He asked us to consider how would the Arab Spring have looked without Facebook and Twitter.

Various themes emerged throughout the day:

  • In a world where social media dominates, the role of the professional journalist has become at the same time harder and more crucial. We are in a world filled with information from multiple sources.  How much of it can we trust and how can we tell the difference? Through good journalism.
  • The space once almost exclusively the domain of the traditional international broadcasters such as Deutsche Welle, BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio France International, all broadcasters dedicated to promoting and upholding the fundamental tenets of good journalism, is now also considered fair game by broadcasters from authoritarian (if not totalitarian) governments.
  • Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our democratic society. That freedom is being curtailed. Our prized liberal secular consensus is not dead, but it is threatened.

Sedat Ergin, Editor in Chief at Hürriyet, Turkey, softly spoken, made us all stop to think when, after receiving the Freedom of Speech Award, he suggested that Europeans are losing their moral authority. He urged us to think what we felt about the Editor in Chief of a major newspaper (himself) in a country seeking membership of the European Union (Turkey) taking to the streets only when protected by armed guards?

The after lunch session, often the graveyard of any conference, turned out to be anything but. The ground shifted away from passionate arguments for press freedom to perhaps more mundane, but equally important, questions surrounding the need to secure funding for journalism aimed at improving media freedom outside our own increasingly insular borders. How do we convince an increasingly sceptical public that international broadcasting still has a place in a world where social media dominates?  The debate touched on the need to embrace digital (social media) distribution channels and the crucial role of working with partners to promote democracy, human rights and the freedom of speech.

The formal proceedings of the first day of the conference ended in fine style with a rousing speech by Martin Walker (Author, Historian and Political Journalist) in which he variously (1) warned that many (journalists) in the room faced the loss of their jobs to robots, (2) declared that the famed Laws of Robotics coined by Asimov had already been breached by drone kills, (3) made a passionate case for the UK to remain in Europe and (4) told the room that journalists must find a way to make ourselves trusted again.

And all before tea time.

Marquis Partner, Mike Cronk, whose shoes I endeavoured to fill at the conference, spent many years at the sharp end of international broadcasting with BBC Global News and BBC World Service. Every day we work with our clients to help transform their businesses in every corner of the globe and through their use of the media to transform lives. 

We have our boots on, do you?


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Last modified on 14 June 2016
Andy Townend

Proven track record in shaping and delivering complex national transformation programs.