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Global Media Forum 2016: It's all about information | Presse |

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Global Media Forum 2016: It's all about information Thomas Krüger at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum 2016 on June 13, 2016 in Bonn

/ 5 Minuten zu lesen

Dear Ladies and Gentleman,

this year’s Global Media Forum focuses on the intricate links between media and values, the very foundation of our democratic system. We are here to discuss how in times of digitalization, the thin line between information and disinformation is frequently blurred. And to talk about how it has increasingly become the task of journalists to work as translators, to process data sets and to help audiences to navigate through vast amounts of publicly available information.

In times of digitalization, cornerstones of conventional journalism have been altered, requiring new strategies of information gathering. During the subsequent penal debate, examples for such strategies will be discussed in more detail. In search of objectivity and reliable information sources, we have increasingly started to draw upon data sets, which are collected on a huge scale through digital devices. This has come about in two steps: The internet, the backbone of today’s world, connected us with each other and our environment. And by using digital technology, we started leaving all kinds of “digital footsteps”: information on administration procedures as well as personal behavior could be stored, transferred and analyzed.

These massive amounts of data that we collect have no intrinsic value or logic, no meaning in themselves. Only if they are organized and interpreted along certain parameters, meaning can be subtracted and conclusions can be drawn. The publications by WikiLeaks or more recently, the “Panama Papers” are famous examples, where journalists suddenly turned into interpreters of data sets in order to subtract meaning from data and make it available to the general public. Now, if we look at data interpretations, there are indeed a number of straightforward benefits. Looking for example at medical records or climate graphs allows us to draw conclusions that can help to detect or fight diseases more efficiently. It can moreover help to predict environmental changes or natural disasters. As Viktor Meyer-Schönberger, professor at the University of Oxford, puts it: digital technology allows us to explore reality, to gain new insights that help us to react to social and environmental challenges in a more far-sighted, efficient and rational way. Also journalists can include data sets in their work and draw valuable conclusions.

Another field that benefits from digitalization and data collection is politics, also in regard to political participation. Digital technology has become democratized in the process of being used by an increasing number of people, and also the structure of the internet, channeling communication “from many to many” has not lost its appeal and the democratic potential for politics from below. This observation is closely tied to the notion of access: access to information as well as access to participatory structures and networks. In the subsequent panel, we thus also speak about open data and open access initiatives.

Open Data initiatives presume that being able to access data collected by governments or state agencies can facilitate processes of democratization and participation, thus counterbalancing secrecy and state corruption. As we elect our leaders, these must in return answer to us and justify their actions. Gathering and storing data is always a form of exercising power. Data transparency, as opposed to this, allows citizens (sometimes with the help of data journalists) to monitor the work of state agencies or their elected representatives, gain insights into governmental decision making and challenge the status quo. Promoting the concept of “Open Data”, can thus lead to more accountability and transparency in future state affairs. Hence the digital is also a chance to counter the politics of the secret and the rationale of suspicion.

This approach is based on the assumption that data represent objective facts in a rational world, as mentioned at the beginning of this speech. And indeed, the idea of responsible, politically active citizens who draw upon government data to uncover mismanagement and defend the greater good of society is very appealing. Yet, even in democracies there are limitations to information transparency for reasons such as national security or personal data security. And there remains the question, who interprets data and to what end?

I believe that this is where institutions of civic education play an important role. Because we need to turn our face to the foundation of our democratic system, which is based on negotiation and debate, on participation and compromises. And one substantial part of this system is quality journalism based on thorough research and investigation. The Federal Agency for Civic Education is an institution promoting awareness for democracy and participation in politics. Hence, our task is not to tell people what they should believe, but rather to enable them to find their own truths among a broad range of information sources. Democracy is never simple and it is hardly ever a straightforward process. Although data can help us understand the world in important new ways, it must always leave room for subjectivity and ambiguity, even for a margin of error. And moreover, even the interpretation of straightforward data is hardly ever without a certain bias of the interpreter.

Therefore, it is the task of civic education to ask a range of fundamental questions: Is there such a thing as an objective truth? Who makes the decisions and who determines the parameters? Who has got access and who facilitates or restricts access to information? Digitalization comes along with a range of promises. We need to constructively challenge those promises and provide citizens with the theoretical and technical framework and competences to draw their own conclusions. Openly debating the right to informational self-determination is one part of this, because it upholds freedoms of the individual yet also obliges the individual to take active part in the process.

Civic education is thus working at the interface between individual self-determination, technological promises and practical utopias of transnational companies. It is our task to facilitate access to a broad range of reliable information sources and prevent citizens from being misled by simplifications or superficial truths. This is why we need an informed digital citizenry, which draws upon open software and uses data economically and responsibly. And we need civic education to support journalists and citizens alike, in facing the challenges of a digitalized society.

Thank you for your attention!

-Es gilt das gesprochene Wort-

For more information on the Global Media Forum 2016 and the penal "It's all about information", hosted by the bpb, please refer to: Externer Link: