Europa United’s Chief Editor Ken Sweeney recently attended the annual conference held in Potsdam known as the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium. The conference was initiated in 2005 by a group of leading media and public figures when Potsdam was running for European Capital of Culture 2010. Since then the M100 annually takes place in Park Sanssouci. The international forum brings together Europe’s top editors, commentators and media owners (print, broadcasting and internet) alongside key public figures to assess the role and impact of the media in international affairs and to promote democracy and freedom of expression and speech. As a modern-day East-West bridge-builder, the Colloquium fosters media relations and not only exposes differences but also common ground in the challenges faced by media from different cultures and regions.
Dr. Dietmar Woidke, Prime Minister of the State of Brandenburg.
In his welcome speech the Prime Minister of the State of Brandenburg expressed concern about freedom of expression and the press increasingly being threatened around the world. “Only a vibrant democracy at all levels and a free press can help us solve global problems for the benefit of all,“ he stated, „an important basis for this is a united Europe. It does not help us to complain that right-wing populists have taken the helm in many countries. We must show that anyone who takes a leave from coexistence, rejects democracy and diversity, does not solve problems, but passes them on to others.“
John Kornblum, Political Consultant, former US ambassador
Former US-ambassador John Kornblum warned in his opening speech against idealising the transatlantic relationship of the post-war period. The truth of the matter was that there was currently a sentimentalism in Europe about a specific sort of relationship over the Atlantic just never existed that way. But presently, the devotion since the end of the Cold War would decline, particularly in the United States. „It is not just Trump who is angry about European military expenditures, for example. I can remember in the early 1970s writing papers, arguing why the United States should keep its troops in Europe even though the Europeans didn’t contribute very much.“
Instead of the Cold War system we would require particularly a new narrative. That wouldn’t imply that „the West“ is dead. Our values would be as yet those which characterise how the world is run. „Western“ qualities would still be particularly the most valuable.
The Remains of the West – The New Transatlantic Relationship
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Historian, New York University
US-historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat argued that US president Trump would effectively advance the deconstruction of the universal framework and qualities that have managed the transatlantic undertaking and that liberal powers needed to reinforce their approach to convey. For her, it had been educational to be a researcher of outside despotism and tyranny to pursue the activities of the current president and to look with those eyes at elected Republican authorities taking positions more in accordance with „regimes“ than with the American democracy.
How would liberal forces react adequately to this? In the first place, the „strong man’s“ shortcomings in style of administration, could be utilised against him. Trump‘s capricious administration style and the consistent need to embarrass each of everyone around him turned numerous capable authorities and civil servants against him. Foreign policy would an area where there were some space to move, particularly on the purpose of protecting NATO and some type of the transatlantic venture.
In Ben-Ghiats view US media did not succeed yet in dealing with president Trump’s ways of communication: „What I see is the grave errors that are still continuing. And one of them is amplification of Trump and his message. Retweeting. Now, American outlets, and I believe some European ones, too, have adopted this questionable policy of when you talk about a tweet, you reproduce the tweet. And I think that’s a mistake.“
According to Tagesspiegel chief diplomatic correspondent Christoph von Marschall the media would have „the luxury“ not to react to every tweet, especially in Europe: „My feeling is that we are often using reporting on the United States as an excuse not to really deal with our parts of the problem, whether it’s security policy or migration.“ The Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède added: “There is a tendency in the English language serious media to be so obsessed with Trump and Brexit that some of the nuances of the European realities and debates get lost.“
Lorenz Hemicker of FAZ contradicted and strengthened that the media could not distinct between president Trumps function and his personality. In the event that Trump would be tweeting nonsense, it’s the Leader of the United States who did so: „And we have to cover that. We have to take a closer look onto the crazy disproportions about the problems in the administration, about the paradox decision processes. Otherwise, we also play the game of the populist. I know that this is a dilemma because we do not have a good way to deal with it. If we cover it, we always give them the floor. If we ignore them, we give them a free ticket because they have the interpretation authority.“ Christoph Lanz, Head of Board, Thomson Media Germany gave to consideration the outcomes: How Trump would be covered by the U.S. media was that he held the national „megaphone“. No one had the chance to get a similar measure of consideration notwithstanding for a decent proposition. That would be perilous for the democratic system.
Jan Techau, German Marshal Fund of the US Senior Researcher Jan Techau argued that Europe would not have the capacity to live in peace without the presence of the US. Transatlanticism were a „sober undertaking“ and anything but a sentimental issue. Europe was neither in a position to live in peace with its external enemies nor to preserve peace within. The old question which power rules Europe, was evacuated just by the sheer presence oft he Americans. He cautioned that Trump would make terrible measures of harm and the Europeans needed to do their utmost to limit damage. But there would still be a predominant geo-strategic interest of the United States to remain engaged in Europe.
But according to The Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède, Europe would not just be dealing with a different „geopolitical power picture“. Europe would be facing a U.S. administration that would only disinterested with the European venture but straightforwardly antagonistic and effectively threatening to it. And the ongoing fragmentation of society in Europe would add to the problem, said journalist and filmmaker Annalisa Piras: „Unless we can get back to a shared vision of the issues, a shared understanding of the reality, there is very little that the mainstream media can do.“ For Vazha Tavberidze, editor-in-chief of Georgian Journal a particular asset that has been lost during president Trump’s tenure would be the U.S. being a role model for democracy: „The sense of mentorship that we used to look up to in contrast to the Russian world is gone. You cannot wag your finger at oligarchs in Ukraine or behind-the-scenes governance in Georgia or at corruption in Armenia when you yourself are mirrored in such controversies.“
„The core engine that creates political legitimacy and political identity is still the nation“, Jan Techau sums up, „The success of the nation originally is one of expanding the circle of people that you feel responsible for. I think instead of dismissing the nation as something that’s old and stale, we have to look at what makes it so powerful and emulate some of the narratives that the nation can create, which we are unable to create at the level above the nation.“
A European Agenda in the Post-American Age
Dr. Gabriel Richard-Molard, European lawyer and columnist
Dr. Gabriel Richard-Molard’s input was a strong appeal for reform of the European institutions: „We will never have a common approach or a European agenda until we get rid of anonymous decision making within the council. From Brussels, the poly crisis has shown that the European Parliament and the commission are not setting the agenda to the Unions conduct anymore. We see incapacity to solve the migration crisis. We are unable to handle the ecological crisis with strong legislation to it being shut down by the council. And we’re still struggling to propose a common approach to the social and political crisis because of member states seeing any social investment as a waste of public money.“
From Annalisa Piras‘ view Europe would need to prove it’s legitimacy:“People have stopped believing in Europe because
Europe has failed to deliver on the main things that people were expecting from it: prosperity and security. Until Europe cannot address those two issues, prosperity and security, people will keep turning to strong men.“
For historian and writer Bo Lidegaard the European Union needs to proceed in pragmatic cooperation and Europe would need to utilise the national states into a solid participation that could address the issues of its residents. According to Gabriel Richard-Molard these are just weak compromises: „Okay, it’s pragmatic but we could have implemented things together as European citizens in a much better way as just having a consensus between member states.“
Edit Zgut, Foreign Policy Analyst, Political Capital
Edit Zgut’s input argued for transparency in European institutions to enhance community solutions for pressuring issues as migration or youth employment and to counter the danger of authoritarian populism: „One third of the members of the European Parliament are representing Euro-sceptic or anti establishment sentiments on policies. And such forces can gain even more ground in the upcoming elections.“
For Angelos Athanasopoulos, Diplomatic, Defence & EU Affairs Editor of the Greek outlet To Vima, Europe would be mistaken to consider the migration crisis managed just by protecting its outside borders and neglecting issues like relocation: „I have never heard of any option on a European level that intended to cover the cost of the recent three, four years, or any real solution on how the problem on the hotspots in Greece, but probably also in Italy in a while will be solved.
Flavia Kleiner, co-founder of the Swiss NGO Operation Libero proposed to re-frame the whole debate: „The illiberal leaders in Europe should explain to us why they want to attack the institutions. I think we really just go on their battlefield and we’re going to be the losers. It’s them who shaped the battlefield on migration and identity and we are now there instead of shaping our own battlefield where we speak about liberal values and liberal institutions. So therefore I think the role of the press could be to really reemphasise at the debate also on liberal institutions.“
Finally Edit Zgut warned against reducing the topics of the European parliament’s campaign to migration: „I understand that in Greece and in Italy, this is the mother of all problems and this is Matteo Salvini’s logic consequence of the 20 years of mismanagement of economic policy. But in Hungary, it’s not true. So I think it’s important to debunk, like these authoritarian leaders when they are saying that it is important to change the political system.“
European Media Challenged: How to cope with Politics, Technology and the Fight for Trust
The third session started with a touching report Bülent Mumay, former online-editor-in-chief of the Turkish outlet Cumhuriyet about the recent replacement of the board due to pressure of the Erdoğan administration: „Mr. Erdoğan put pressure on the judge. And now we have a new board and that new board didn’t like our way of journalism, so we had to leave the last free press in the country. It’s not easy to be a journalist, actually we don’t have the chance to continue being journalists.“
The latest Index of Global Press Freedom clearly showed that Europe is the region with the most serious setbacks in press freedom. But could the European Union be a shield when it comes to protecting freedom of the press? Christian Mihr, head of Reporters without Borders in Germany stated that Europe still did not learn from past experiences: „And the European Union has been repeating always the same mistakes and is repeating currently as well when we talk about accession of Turkey, when we talk about Macedonia. The progress report which the European Union has been very proud of, it was a shame actually, because it was describing very nicely the situation and the problems of press freedom. But it never mentioned any precise name who has been responsible for violations of press freedom.
According to Ken Sweeney, editor-in-chief of Europa United, a non-profit platform on European topics, a more transnational approach could strengthen the impact of media within the European Union but media and culture are still predominantly a national affair. Dr. Christoph von Marschall, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent at Tagesspiegel argued for a media outlet that would represent a transnational European perspective as well: „Just to give you one example, during the huge Euro crisis, 2009, 2010. The perspective of the Euro zone wasn’t presented around the world because there was no such media. All the media of international meaning, like the BBC, outside of the Euro, Wall Street Journal outside of the Euro, Shimbun in Japan, outside of the Euro.“ In the view of The Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède a public service European media organisation would make especially sense for the young
generation of Europeans who would have questions that were shared across national borders. But Annalisa Piras, Journalist and Filmmaker, reports from the failed attempts of Euronews in the 90s: „After the Gulf War and the predominance of American kind of culture and information with CNN, the idea made a lot of sense to have a European perspective. Why didn’t it work out? Because the national governments never really wanted it to be an independent public service voice.“
As most young people turned to Facebook for their news input, Hella Pick, Senior Programme Associate, Institute for Strategic Dialogue suggested a cooperation between public service European broadcasters and Facebook to establish a transnational European media outlet. Tina Kulow, Director Corporate Communications at Facebook expressed her interest in continuing to work on this.
Dr. Alexandra Borchardt, Director Strategic Development, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Dr. Borchardt’s input focused on the topic of trust in journalism: „I’m drawing on our digital news report, which is actually the world’s largest study on online news consumption. We asked internet users about trust. 44% of all respondents trust news, the traditional news. The positive thing here is, that it’s actually risen one percentage point last year and that’s quite a bit considering that the years before, this has been in free fall. It is really important that the efforts of media companies really pay off to discuss with their audiences, their readers, to show them how journalists actually work.“
Dr. Christoph von Marschall, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent, Der Tagesspiegel
Christoph von Marschall, who had spent the past 10 months as „Helmut Schmidt“ fellow in the USA, gave an overview of the situation of journalism in times oft he Trump presidency.
Today a Fox News consumer would have a totally different perception of reality in comparison to a consumer of MSNBC or CNN or the New York Times. In this environment, media could not fulfil their role of holding the governing circles accountable anymore because it does not seem to be of interest whether something is true or is not true or the president is telling the truth or lying. This would be an enormous change with regard to the purpose of public dialogue in a democracy. „Why is it so difficult for the media who are still trying to do their job as media to succeed? Why do they follow Trump’s agenda setting? Well, in the beginning it seemed to be a good story to report about the next provocation. You generate lots of clicks. Then there’s the fairness argument. If we have the allegations, we have to report as well the defence, even if the content seems to be bullshit. So what are the lessons to be learned? Don’t react to every tweet. I would really still stay by that statement. Keep your journalistic standards, although the other camp is not.“
We have a government that is just constantly lying“, Ruth Ben-Ghiat summed up, „All governments lie. But this is beyond the payoff. And some White House correspondents I talk to are frustrated because they’re spending a lot of their time issuing corrections, which means they seem partisan to other people but there’s simply, they feel like they have to defend the truth. So this is maybe perhaps just in the American scene, but when your chief executive is dedicated to undermining truth, the definition of being a partisan journalist shifts a little.“
Highlight of the event was the presentation of the M100 Media Award to the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, who, as the Turkey correspondent of WELT, had attracted the displeasure of the Erdogan regime with his uncomfortable reporting and as a result was arrested and held in custody in Turkey for a year.
Potsdam’s Lord Mayor, Jann Jakobs, welcomed the 200 guests and emphasised that the M100 Media Award was intended to commemorate all those who were imprisoned or expelled from their homeland for their call to the truth. FDP Federal Chairman Christian Lindner, who delivered the main political speech of the evening, underlined his clear commitment to freedom of the press: “The liberality of a society is measured by the freedom of its journalists. When journalists are restricted in their work, then all members of society are restricted in their rights and freedom”. Ines Pohl, editor-in-chief of Deutsche Welle, gave the laudatory speech, stressing: “Journalism has never been a particularly distinguished profession. But now it is becoming a dangerous profession – and that also in the heart of Europe. Deniz Yücel also stands for that.
Deniz Yücel himself expressed his gratitude for the prize and stressed the importance of freedom of the press and journalism: “I am convinced that journalism – I am not saying ‘critical journalism’ because uncritical journalism is not one – is needed everywhere where power is exercised, in small and large scale, but most of all where he is in danger and with him the freedom of all”.
Our thanks goes the organisers of the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium for the invitation to this amazing event and we look forward to attending next year.
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