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On behalf of the freedom of the press

Promoting media freedom worldwide: this is the task of the Deutsche Welle Academy. Its director, Carsten von Nahmen, explains why this is so important.

Kim Berg, 10.06.2020
 Journalists need support, especially in crisis regions.
Journalists need support, especially in crisis regions. © picture alliance / dpa

Herr von Nahmen, what is the mission of the DW Academy?
Our core task is development cooperation in the field of media freedom and freedom of opinion. In the same way that the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) drills wells and improves the food supply, we try to establish functioning media systems or support their creation. We want to promote media freedom and independent journalism all over the world. To this end, we work with local partners and analyse the situation in the respective country. Where are the problems? Where should we start? Who are the potential partners we can collaborate with? We pay particular attention to sustainability in this context. We don't want to build up systems that will collapse again when we leave the country.

What countries does the Academy work in?
We're active in a total of about 50 countries and would describe half of these as focus countries. As a rule, we also have our own permanent staff working there, either people we have sent or local people.

Carsten von Nahmen has been head of the Deutsche Welle Academy since 2018
Carsten von Nahmen has been head of the Deutsche Welle Academy since 2018 © DW/P. Böll

Could you describe your work in those countries?
We try to cover five fields of action in particular. The first is the education and further training of journalists. Then there is the relatively new area of digital rights – this includes how to deal with cyberbullying and what rights we have (or should have) in the digital sphere. This leads us to the third area of responsibility: further training in information and media skills. This field is aimed more at media consumers, especially young people. How can I handle information? How do I recognize 'fake news'? How can I participate in critical discussions in a meaningful way?

The fourth field relates to the business models of media organizations. Together with our partners, we think about how business models can be developed in such a way that media organizations can operate independently without having to rely on state aid or rich sponsors.

Another important area in which we are active is cooperation with civil society organizations. This leads to the development of networks that go beyond media work and promote dialogue in society. How can we solve problems or conflicts within society and what role can the media play in this?

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What are the biggest problems that journalists are currently facing worldwide?
Over the past ten years, the freedom of the press has declined significantly worldwide. And not only in countries that already had a relatively authoritarian government, but also in states that we thought were firmly anchored within the liberal and enlightened spectrum. We see this in countries like Brazil and Turkey, but also in the USA or Hungary.

The phenomenon of 'fake news' and accusations levelled against the so-called 'liar press' play a crucial role here. In many countries, governments create alternative realities in which opinions or obvious untruths are presented as facts. Everything that does not fit into this way of thinking is disregarded and denied. This, of course, makes journalists' work enormously more difficult.

What is the aim of your current campaign 'Media and Corona – Fighting the Infodemic'?
It's a reaction to the Corona crisis and the realization that fake news becomes especially influential in crisis situations. Alongside the Corona epidemic, we also see a pandemic of misinformation. This ranges from false news about curing a disease to naming alleged perpetrators, as we have experienced for example in our focus country Ghana: some non-African people have been attacked there after being accused of bringing the virus into the country.

Fake news becomes especially influential in crisis situations.
Carsten von Nahmen, Deutsche Welle Academy

In addition, many of our partners have had to adapt their operations to the new conditions in the pandemic. The economic situation of media organizations is deteriorating; people are becoming unemployed and advertising income has dried up. How do you deal with such a situation? How can independent quality media keep their heads above water?

Why is it so important, especially now, for Germany to work for more media competence and critical media education worldwide?
On the one hand, the local media protect the population from fake news and, on the other, they disseminate important information on the current crisis. Regional media are familiar with the situation in the country and have corresponding credibility. In this way, they are much better at delivering vital behavioural information to where it is really needed.


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