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People are not searching facts – they want to find approvals and emotions. How to combat fake and hate by tools of Media Development

Input to the Club of Madrid Conference in Tunisia in May 2017 on “Preventing Violent Extremism”


To counter radical messages and disinformation by “counter narratives” alone would not lead to any result. It is not enough to just react, to just correct or just to defend, what is distributed in the radical communities on the web. An appropriate answer by journalists and civil society in the aim to combat violent disinformation and radical messages means more than only reaction or correction: It means to activate our communication, innovate our way of story telling, to know the echochambers and the stories which are told there – and to know which our own narratives and stories are to counter the rumors, hate messages and violent images of radical sources.


This sounds complex? It is. And in many conflict and postconflict regions where DW Academy is working it is a key issue for media development. We also know, that in these regions we have to work with the media users, who are confronted with hate, fake and propaganda daily. We have to work on media literacy to prevent radicalization through digital information. It is a study on myself: For more than one year I research populist and radical social networks and their messages in German social media. And at the end of the day: I have no demand for alternative content or counter arguments!

Why is that? A few assumptions to start with:


Forget to combat fake and hate by creating counter narratives!

Public spaces are segregating and beside the pure radicalization we have to acknowledge that even in established democracies societies are polarized, democratic institutions undermined by non-democratic actors and voices in the web! And the more fragile censored or conflict driven countries, the more vulnerable they are – be it Libya, Syria, Sudan or Nigeria.

For most young people the newsfeed is a prioritized news source. Interpersonal sharing of information makes it more trustful for them. Much more trustful than institutional media content! But: my Facebook newsfeed, like my search engine results are algorithm-driven, as a consequence these are selected information. They do not give the whole information. But only a small part of users is aware of that.

There is a growing abuse of information by non-democratic actors to distribute propaganda. And a very real shrinking of press freedom worldwide! Turkey and Egypt are examples of how quickly countries step back to censorship.

Deutsche Welle Academy works in these conflict regions and societies. We pursue a multi-stakeholder-approach, in the aim to immunize societies against hate and violent messages, to raise conflict sensitivity and a critical understanding of information. What are we doing?

  1. We work with the journalists. Train them how to constructively and professionally act in a polarized society – by making a difference in quality. How to use open data or digital devices to research, verify and check sources and materials.
  2. We work with civil society actors and journalists and inspire them to shape snackable, shareable, likeable formats. What means: attractive content! We are convinced: to think about the web first makes sense. And ask yourself critically: Will your story work there?
  3. Share your stories where your audience is. Your stories will never reach their audience if you do not work with the platforms and networks they use. Social media is community driven and interpersonal. We know that users are not interested in institutional posts in those networks. Therefore, professional media, its journalists and actors of civil society are in a hugely competitive environment .
  4. Do not refrain from taking part in value debated on the web. Don’t be shy in putting yourself, your content into discussions.


Unfortunately it is not a jungle of disoriented voices – the relevance of echochambers:

There is still a problem with understanding the echochamber effects. I think we are underestimation its relevance: who we are as a society – which values, communication and culture will be ours  this fundamental question will also be shaped in the web! To perceive  the echochambers full of hate, fake, radical messages just as a “jungle of disorientated voices” is more than dangerous! It is where future generations form their attitude. And professional media should not only be aware but should also be interacting with its communities.


We still try to avoid harmful discussions 

We are no longer allowed to avoid difficult issues like social policy, poverty, marginalization of certain groups, corruption. Media must be dialogic, this is essential! We have to be part of the discussion even when it becomes difficult. To achieve that , we have to know what is discussed and what the radical narratives sounds like.


Do not fear new competitors – but fight against the loss in trust!

What makes radical and populist communication so effective, why are they more efficient in Agenda Setting than traditional parties or media? It is direct, it is personal, it is peer-to-peer- communication between same age people, it is community-driven, it is activating by distributing the message: just join us in this battle ! You could contribute!

This is – unfortunately – a more attractive story telling than many professional media offer. And we as Deutsche Welle Academy are working with journalists and media to establish an alternative and attractive way of interaction and storytelling on social media. There is a crisis in trust to traditional media. Only 6 % of Americans trust their media, in Germans the general trust is still much higher with 50 %. And yes, there are new competitors sharing emotional and activating stories. We should compete be innovating our way of telling stories.

The emotional way of storytelling that is – and media researches prove that – more convincing. It is evident by media usage research: people neither look for alternative opinions, nor for facts. They are looking for same opinions – which is one of the main reasons why the radical echochambers in the web are so successful.

What we also know: the Internet creates more opportunities to become radicalized. The internet accelerates the process of radicalization; the internet allows radicalization without physical content. And the internet increases opportunities for self-radicalization, because it offers many echo chambers where radical people find their ideas supported and echoed by other like-minded individuals. How do we deal with that? Could we fight back hate speech and violence?


Creating attractive content – the best way to fight back radical disinformation

I am not convinced that we could “fight back” – this is reactive, defensive. And in most individual cases it will come too late. We have to acknowledge that only certain parts of the population listen to us, and for sure not the radicalized people. An ISIS-infiltrated young french or german will not read the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or watch France2 for getting information about his “friends” or the situation in Syria. There is huge media business run by ISIS to recruit and promote their warfare. It is diverse, adventourious and inviting.

Media in those regions must provide clarification , exposing hate, deceit , abuse, stereotypes, advancing counter values by sharing experiences and uniting communities, give people the possibility to participate and make their word heard. Give them an active role. Deutsche Welle Academy is working in the refugees camp in Shatila and trains citizens journalists to tell their own stories, which weren’t told before. Or with rural communities in Myanmar confronted with ethnical stereotypes or violence.

In this context, well made journalism could create concrete added value to target audiences, vulnerable to radicalization. It could create public space for opinion and discussion, it could put issues of the target audiences on the agenda. It should be attentive and accurate when it comes to radical stereotypes and prejudices. And of course, it should reveal and research the systematics of hate speech and radical messages, should explain and fact-check what their key messages are and it these are fake or fact. All this is right. It is a professional duty. But it’s not enough!


Media Literacy is key in combating Hate, Fake and Desinformation

Combating hate and fake is one of the main activities of DW Academy and we prefer to offer early, preventive multi-stakeholder approaches. Our strategic aim in many of the conflict or post conflict regions is to enhance Media Literacy: we want the media users to know how reliable, how neutral, how professional the information is, they are using.


Media literacy starts from the question: how should we use media – but it leads to a far more interesting and activating level: we want users and audiences to play an active part in the communication. We encourage them to produce their own stories. Who could better tell it than themselves? We know from our practical experience that media and information literacy is key if we want to prevent future generations from radicalization in target regions, if we want to make them immune against hate and radicalism, against xenophobia and terror recruitment. This is a good reason, why we are working in six very different countries on Media Literacy: Moldova, Cambodia, Palestinian. Territories, Namibia, Kenya, Burundi – and in the near future in Nigeria. And each of this projects, is different from the other – by good reasons. If you want to know more about that, visit the Website of DW Academy:


Media development as a lever for social, economic and democratic development

We also know, that the best successes in combating hate and fake and in raising Media Literacy are reached if we could work on a professional, educational (university, schools) and political level. When these stakeholders in education, politics and civil society work hand in hand on media and information literacy – if they make it a priority and share it as a priority – that makes it easier to combat disinformation, the spread of fake and hate.

To make it short:

We work with media + journalists

With the media users

With civil society

And wherever possible with political decision makers

What does the multi-stakeholder-approach mean concretely in our media development work? It includes for example the work on political surrounding conditions – through guidance from government offices and NGOs. But it also means advising media and journalists with the development of new business models, so that they stay or become economically independent. We support professional interest groups between journalists, to more clearly represent and protect their interest in the dialogue with political decision makers.

We count on different partners and project execution organisations – and we know: It takes a long breath if we want to be measurable and sustainable.


Medien entwickeln, das Recht auf digitale Teilhabe durchsetzen – warum Medienentwicklungszusammenarbeit wichtiger wird

Das Internet birgt unerschöpfliche Chancen auf Bildung, Partizipation und wirtschaftliches Wachstum. Es kann ein Hebel sein für Entwicklung insgesamt. Jedoch nur, wenn es gesetzlich und politisch den Rahmen und die Freiheit dafür gibt. Und wenn Menschen ungehindert den Zugang zu digitalen Informationen haben. Doch dieses Grundrecht auf Meinungs- und Informationsfreiheit wird zunehmend beschnitten und eingeschränkt. Ein Beitrag zur Medienentwicklungszusammenarbeit für den Blog zur Zukunft der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit des Deutschen Instituts für Entwicklung D I E. Read more

Einfach nur weg” – ein Gespräch mit dem IfA zu Flucht und Migration

Im Oktober 2016 startete die  Veranstaltungsreihe “KulturPolitik im Dialog” im Institut für Auslandbeziehungen -IfA – in Stuttgart mit dem Thema Flucht und Migration. IfA Kollegin Juliane Pfordte stellt in ihrem Interview Fragen zum DW-Buch “einfach nur weg – die Flucht der Kinder”, das im Rahmen der Reihe vorgestellt wurde. 12 Geschichten zu Fluchtursachen und Fluchtwegen jugendlicher Flüchtlinge aus Afghanistan, der Elfenbeinküste, dem Iran, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Syrien, Tschetschenien. Read more …..

Kein Recht auf digitale Teilhabe in vielen Ländern –

Die große Freiheit des Netzes ist in vielen Regionen der Welt nur eine Täuschung. Insbesondere in arabischen Ländern, den Nachbarländern Russlands und Subsahara-Afrika markierte das Jahr 2015 ein Tiefpunkt für demokratische Entwicklung und bürgerliche Freiheiten. Beitrag aus einem Dossier der Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Wie passt das zusammen? Mehr als zwei Milliarden Menschen auf der Welt nutzen das Handy. Schätzungen der ITU[1] zufolge hat die Hälfte der Weltbevölkerung einen Zugang zum Netz. Es gibt so viele Informationen wie nie zuvor und mehr Menschen als je zuvor haben heute weltweit Zugang zu ihnen. Das Netz (und das Mobiltelefon) machen es möglich!

Doch auch das Netz hält den dramatischen Trend nicht auf, von dem journalistische Nichtregierungsorganisationen berichten: in alle Weltregionen wächst der Druck auf unabhängige Journalist/innen, und das gilt für analoge wie digitale Medien: Zensur, existenzielle Drohungen und Einschüchterungen, wachsenden Druck auf analoge wie digitale Medien. Ein Trend, der vor allem in autokratisch regierten Staaten wie Ägypten, Russland oder der Türkei auftritt, und in der Türkei mit der Festnahme von mehr als 40 Journalist/innen nach dem Putsch einen aktuellen dramatischen Höhepunkt fand. Ein Trend, der aber auch Folge von bewaffneten Konflikten[2] ist. Aus allen diesen Ländern können Journalist/innen nur unter Gefahren berichten. Und Nutzer/innen müssen befürchten, dass sie unmittelbar belangt werden, wenn sie nur oppositionelle Webseiten besuchen, unabhängige oder kritische Informationen über Facebook oder Twitter teilen.

Kontrolle und Zensur digitaler, öffentlicher Räume

Wie im Fall der 15-jährigen palästinensischen Tamara Abu Laban in Ostjerusalem, die von der israelischen Polizei zuhause abgeholt und verhaftet wurde. Ihr Vergehen? Sie hatte ihren Facebook Status mit den Worten „Vergib mir!“ angegeben. Die israelischen Sicherheitskräfte bewerteten das als „Anstiftung zu Gewalt“. Fünf Tage Hausarrest und eine Geldstrafe waren die Folge. Außer Tamara ging es in 2015/16 weiteren 150 Nutzer/innen in Israel und den von Israel kontorollierten palästinensischen Gebieten so, die aufgrund ihres Verhaltens im Netz festgenommen wurden.

Zwar ist die technische Infrastruktur heute weltweit vorhanden, es stehen mehr Informationsquellen zu Verfügung – auch in Entwicklungs- und Schwellenländern hatten 2015 54 Prozent der Nutzerinnen und Nutzer Zugang zum Internet[3]. In den Industrieländern waren es 87 Prozent. Doch die neuen digitalen öffentlichen Räume werden – in repressiven Staaten, in Konflikten und Kriegen – kontrolliert, manipuliert, zensiert.

Das Internet als Entwicklungsmotor

Das Netz hat dafür gesorgt, dass die Zivilgesellschaften in vielen Ländern heute sehr viel stärker öffentlich präsent ist als noch vor zehn Jahren. Sie setzt ihre Themen auf die Agenda, fordert Rechenschaft – auch dort, wo sie keinen Zugang zu den traditionellen Medien hat. Das Netz bietet durch seine globale und sprachübergreifende Funktionsweise großartige Chancen für investigative Projekte, wie die Panamapapers. Erst durch das Netz ist es möglich, diese immensen Datenmengen zu transportieren und zu verwerten. Es bietet über nutzergenerierte Inhalte (user generated content) für die Berichterstattung über Krisen und Konflikte neue Quellen an.

Das Netz hebt einseitige Medienkommunikation auf, macht den Dialog der Nutzer/innen mit den Produzenten leicht. Es schafft so neue Formen der Beteiligung. Zusammenfassend heißt das: das Internet birgt unerschöpfliche Chancen auf Bildung, Partizipation und wirtschaftliches Wachstum. Jedoch nur, wenn es gesetzlich und politisch den Rahmen und die Freiheit dafür gibt. Wo es diesen Rahmen nicht gibt, da lassen sich die Freiheiten und Chancen, die das Netz bietet, mit ein paar Algorithmen, Filtern oder propagandistischen Kampagnen stören, gar zerstören. Wer freie und unabhängige Informationen zensieren oder gar verhindern will, der tut das – gleichgültig ob diese im Netz oder in analogen Medien verbreitet werden.

Und genau das wollen staatliche und nichtstaatliche Akteure in vielen Regionen. Auch autoritäre Regime, Sicherheits- und Geheimdienste oder Konfliktparteien haben die Funktionsweise des Internets verstanden. Sie nutzen die virale Verbreitung von Informationen im Netz für ihre politischen Interessen und Zwecke. Ob im digitalen Dschihad des IS oder im Informationskrieg Russlands gegen die Ukraine: Die Menge parteilicher und manipulativer Informationen durch diese Akteure hat immens zugenommen. Die Radikalisierung des Attentäters von Nizza oder jungen Deutschen, die als Kämpfer zum IS gehen, passiert vor den Bildschirmen und im Internet. Dort – in den Echoräumen der sozialen Medien – sind sie umgeben von Gleichgesinnten. Dort erreichen die Medienstrategen des IS ihre Zielgruppen mit einer Vielzahl attraktiver multimedialer und webaffiner Inhalte.

Die große Freiheit des Netzes ist eine Täuschung

Die große Freiheit des Netzes – die Zivilgesellschaft und Journalisten neue Räume eröffnet, eine neue Mitsprache ermöglicht – sie ist in vielen Regionen nur eine Täuschung! Der Zustand von Medien, Meinungsvielfalt und Informationsfreiheit ist ein klarer Indikator für die Freiheit und Unfreiheit im Land. Ein Gradmesser für den demokratischen Zustand des Landes. Und der Trend ist negativ: Für die arabischen Ländern, die Nachbarländer Russlands (insbesondere den Kaukasus, Belarus, Zentralasien) und Subsahara-Afrika gilt: 2015 war ein neuer Tiefpunkt für demokratische Entwicklung und bürgerliche Freiheiten.[4]

Dort wo der Freiraum für abweichende Meinungen, für die Zivilgesellschaft, politisch nicht gewollt wird, dort werden auch die Freiräume im Netz beschnitten. Je mehr Menschen das Netz nutzen, desto stärker verhindern oder begrenzen repressive Regime den Zugang zu Information, kontrollieren Nutzerverhalten im Netz.

Das Netz ist nur so frei wie der gesetzliche und politische Rahmen

In China müssen sich Internetnutzer seit 1996 beim Ministerium für Staatssicherheit registrieren lassen, seit 1997 unterstehen Internetbetreiber staatlicher Kontrolle. Seit einigen Jahren ist es verboten, Nachrichten ohne staatliche Genehmigung im Internet zu verbreiten! Das passt zu der Verhinderungspolitik gegenüber der Zivilgesellschaft insgesamt. Auch in Äthiopien oder sind laut Freedom House landesweit Filter installiert, die bestimmte Seiten und Inhalte blockieren. Das gilt auch für die Webseiten der Opposition in Myanmar. Dort sind die Betreiber von Internetcafés überdies verpflichtet, dass die Computer alle fünf Minuten alle genutzten Seiten speichern, so dass die Netzaktivitäten der Kunden verfolgt werden können. In Kasachstan sind die Seiten großer Blogbetreiber wie WordPress oder Livejournal gesperrt, wird der Content von Nichtregierungsorganisationen oder oppositionellen Parteien staatlich überwacht. Auch in der Türkei wurde die Zensur gesetzlich verschärft. Behörden können Internetseiten ohne Gerichtsbeschluss sperren, wie im März 2014 der Internetdienst Twitter. Außerdem sollen die Behörden das Recht bekommen, das Surfverhalten von Internetnutzern aufzuzeichnen und zwei Jahre lang zu speichern, ohne die Betroffenen darüber zu informieren.

Das schließt andererseits nicht aus, dass Erdogan dieselben sozialen Medien, die er einerseits stark kontrolliert, für die Durchsetzung seiner Interessen nutzt: So rief er in der Putschnacht über Twitter seine Anhänger dazu auf, gegen die Putschisten zu demonstrieren. Und einige Stunden später ließ er sich über Facetime zum Live-Interview beim TV Sender CNN Türk zuschalten. Über Satellit und Kabel wurde die Übertragung des Interviews mit Erdogan zwar unterbrochen, aber über das Netz erreichte sie Millionen Nutzer/innen.

Das Netz setzt auch nicht die Gesetze des Marktes außer Kraft: in Ländern, wo professionelle Medienunternehmen nicht überlebensfähig sind, wird dieses Problem nicht durch das Internet gelöst – sondern im Zweifel durch die schnell wachsende Konkurrenz vernetzter Informationen noch verstärkt. Das trifft zum Beispiel die Medienmärkte Osteuropas: Hier konkurrieren zu viele Medien um zu wenige Nutzer.[5] Die Medienbetriebe hängen von ihren politischen Eigentümern ab. Diese wirtschaftliche Abhängigkeit führt zu entsprechenden inhaltlichen Abhängigkeiten, zu einseitiger, parteischer Berichterstattung und Selbstzensur. Medien werden ihrem Auftrag nicht gerecht, unabhängig zu berichten. Die Folge: ein massiver Glaubwürdigkeitsverlust der Medien bei der Mehrzahl der Menschen im Land.

Digitale Teilhabe ist ein Schlüssel für Entwicklung

Der technische Zugang ist immer noch in vielen Regionen nur wenigen Menschen möglich: in Äthiopien und Uganda besitzen gerade einmal 4 Prozent aller Menschen ein Smartphone, um Informationen aus dem Internet zu erhalten. Pakistan steht mit 11 Prozent Smartphone-Nutzung besser da – und ist etwa gleichauf mit Burkina Faso und Tansania. In Russland sind es 45 Prozent, vergleichbar mit anderen Schwellenländern wie Venezuela und Brasilien. Doch für alle diese Länder gilt: nach wie vor sind die Menschen auf dem Land, sind vor allem Frauen und Menschen mit geringem Bildungsgrad kaum in der Lage, Inhalte über das Netz zu erhalten.

Es ist eine unmittelbare Wechselwirkung: Wo das Menschenrecht auf freie Meinungsäußerung nicht respektiert wird, wo es durch Gesetze, Verhaftungen oder Einschüchterungen eingeschränkt wird, dort wird der Spielraum für Zivilgesellschaft, für Vielfalt und Beteiligung sei sie politisch, sozial oder wirtschaftlich – schrumpfen.

Das hat gravierende Auswirkungen: Denn die Verfügbarkeit von Informationen und die Beteiligung an Kommunikation haben nachweislich Auswirkungen auf die Entwicklung ganzer Volkswirtschaften: So fand die Weltbank heraus, dass jedes Handy pro 100 Menschen mehr in einem Entwicklungsland ein zusätzliches Wirtschaftswachstum von 0,8 Prozentpunkten ergibt. Das bestehende Menschenrecht auf freie Meinungsäußerung und Zugang zu Information ist nicht weniger als eine Voraussetzung dafür, andere Menschen- und Grundrechte ebenfalls wahrnehmen zu können – und damit inklusive Entwicklung für alle Menschen einer Gesellschaft zu ermöglichen.

Digitale Teilhabe ist also kein Add-on, sondern Voraussetzung für Entwicklung.[6]Digitale Teilhabe heißt: Menschen können frei und ungehindert unabhängige Informationen nutzen. Digitale Teilhabe setzt jedoch nicht nur voraus, dass alle Nutzerinnen und Nutzer Zugang zu digitalen Informationen haben. Dass sie nicht verhaftet, bedroht oder verhört werden, wenn sie im Netz ihre Meinung äußern.

Voraussetzung für digitale Teilhabe ist aber auch, dass Menschen wissen, mit diesen Informationen umzugehen. Damit die Verfügbarkeit von Informationen im Netz zu mehr Freiheit, mehr Rechenschaft, mehr Pluralität führen kann, brauchen Nutzer/innen überall auf der Welt die entsprechenden Kompetenzen.[7] Diese Medienkompetenz hinkt in vielen Regionen der Welt dem technischen Fortschritt hinterher. „Media and Information Literacy“ heißt vor allem, die richtigen Fragen zu stellen: Wie kann ich Meinung und Fakten trennen? Wie lassen sich Medienbotschaften verstehen oder einordnen? Wie finde ich alternative Informationen? Wie kann ich mich im Netz wirkungsvoll beteiligen?

Wer diese Kompetenzen hat, der/die kann trotz Einschränkungen und Manipulationen die Informationen im Netz für seine/ihre Bildung, Entwicklung, gezielte Vernetzung und zivilgesellschaftliches Engagement besser nutzen. Der/die unterscheidet das Wahre vom Unwahren. Dann wäre erreicht, was das Netz eigentlich anbietet: die große Chance auf digitale Teilhabe!

Dieser Artikel ist ein Beitrag aus dem Dossier der Heinrich Böll Stiftung vom 13.9.2016

Dossier: “Es wird eng – Handlungsspielräume für Zivilgesellschaft”. Read more


[1] ITU = International Telecommunication Union, dt: Internationale Fernmeldeunion ist eine Sonderorganisation der Vereinten Nationen, die sich offiziell und weltweit mit technischen Aspekten der Telekommunikation befasst.

[2] Besonders betroffen u.a. Syrien, Libyen, Burundi, Jemen usw.

[3] Quelle: pewglobal

[4] Freedom House bildet in seinem Index 195 Länder ab: 2015 galten 89 (46 percent) als “frei”, 55 (28 percent) als “teilweise frei” und 51 (26 percent) “nicht frei”.

[5] In Georgien zum Beispiel sind es 138 TV-Sender, und 21 Radiosender.

[6] „Digitale Teilhabe“ ist auch deshalb eines der zentralen strategischen Ziele der DW-Akademie (englische Version).

[7] Ist eines der zentralen Handlungsfelder der Medienentwicklungszusammenarbeit. Die führende Organisation für Medienentwicklung in Deutschland die DW Akademie, die in rund 50 Ländern weltweit mit Mitteln des BMZ, des AA und multilateraler Organisationen Projekte durchführt.

No right for digital participation in many regions of the world

In many regions of the world the freedom of the Internet is just an illusion. Especially in Arab countries, the neighbouring states of Russia and Subsahara-Africa the year 2015 marked the lowest point for democratic participation and civil liberties. This article is part of an online dossier of Heinrich-Böll Foundation “Squeezed – Spaces for Civil Society”.

Isn’t it incongruous? More than two billion people around the world use a mobile phone, and, according to estimates published by the ITU [1], half of the world’s population has internet access. Today, more information than ever before is available, and more people can access it. The internet (along with mobile phones) has made this possible.

Still, the internet is unable to stop a disquieting trend observed by many NGOs active in the field of journalism. In all parts of the world, independent journalists are facing increasing pressures. No matter whether they work in analogue or in digital media, they are struggling with censorship, existential threats, and intimidation. This trend is especially marked in states with autocratic governments such as Egypt, Russia, and Turkey and recently saw a dramatic climax with the arrest of over 40 journalists following the attempted coup in Turkey. The trend is also fuelled by armed conflict[2]. In all countries affected, journalism is a dangerous profession, and users, too, may be persecuted for viewing opposition web sites or for sharing independent or sceptical information via Facebook or Twitter.

One example is 15-year-old Palestinian Tamara Abu Laban from East Jerusalem, who was arrested by police at her family home. Her crime: She had updated her Facebook status with the words “forgive me.” Israeli security forces viewed this as incitement to violence, and she was sentenced to five days of house arrest and also fined. In 2015/16 150 people were arrested for similar offences in Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.

Today, we have a global technical infrastructure that makes more sources of information accessible, including in developing and emerging nations where, in 2015, 54 per cent of people had internet access[3]. For the industrialised countries the respective figure is 87 per cent. However, under repressive regimes and during conflicts and wars, these new digital public spaces are routinely surveilled, manipulated, and censored.

The web as driver of development

In many countries the internet has made civil society much more of a public reality than had been the case ten years ago. Civil society is able to push its agenda, and it demands accountability even in places where it has no access to traditional media. Because of its global and multilingual nature the internet offers great opportunities for investigative journalism – as witnessed by the Panama Papers project. Only with the help of the internet is it possible to transfer and analyse huge amounts of data, and its user-generated content provides new sources when reporting about crises and conflicts. The web puts an end to one-sided media communication and facilitates the dialogue between users and producers, resulting in new forms of participation. All in all, this means that the internet has a huge potential to provide better education, more participation, and economic growth. This, however, will only be realised if the legal and political framework exists – as well as the liberty necessary. The lack of such a framework means that the freedoms and opportunities the internet offers may be disrupted or even destroyed by a few algorithms, by filtering, or by propaganda campaigns. Whoever wants to censor and abolish freedom of information will pursue such a policy, never mind whether it is online or in analogue media.

And this is exactly what many state and non-state actors across numerous regions aim to do. Authoritarian regimes with their secret services as well as opposing sides in conflicts also know how to use the internet, and they use the viral spread of information to bolster their political goals and interests. Whether it is the digital jihad propagated by ISIS or Russia’s information war against Ukraine, the amount of partisan and biased information spread by such actors has multiplied enormously. The perpetrator of the Nice terrorist attack was radicalised online, in front of his computer screen, as happens with many Germans who join ISIS. There, in the echo chambers that are social media, they are surrounded by people with identical outlooks, and this is the locus where ISIS’ media strategy reaches its target group with its numerous multimedia and web-specific formats.

The great freedom the web seems to offer is a deception

In many regions the great freedom the internet seems to offer – opening up new spaces and new forms of participation to civil society and journalists alike – is nothing but a delusion. The state of the media, of freedom of expression, and of freedom of information clearly indicates whether a country is free, and this offers us a good scale on which to measure the condition of democracy. A clear downward trend can be observed: The year 2015 marked a new low point for civil liberties and democracy in the Arab countries, for Russia’s neighbours (especially Caucasus, Belarus, Central Asia), and for sub-Saharan Africa.[4]

Wherever the freedom to express dissident opinions and the liberties of civil society are being curtailed for political reasons, the freedom of the internet will also be restricted. The higher the number of people online, the more repressive regimes will try to bar or limit access to information and monitor people’s online activities.

The freedom of the internet is circumscribed by law and politics

Since 1996, Chinese citizens with internet access do have to register with the Ministry of State Security, and, since 1997, all internet providers are controlled by the state. For some years it has been illegal to publish news online without permission of the government. This is part and parcel of China’s restrictive policies towards civil society. According to Freedom House, in Ethiopia, web content is also filtered nationwide and certain websites and types of content are being blocked. The same is true for opposition websites in Myanmar, where, in addition, the owners of internet cafés are obliged to save all accessed web pages every five minutes, in order to make users’ activities trackable. In Kazakhstan the websites of all mayor blog services such as WordPress or Livejournal are blocked, and all content posted by NGOs or opposition parties is being monitored by state agencies. Turkey, too, has toughened censorship, and authorities have the right to block web pages without authorisation by a judge, as witnessed in March 2014, when Twitter was the target. In addition, it is planned to enable the authorities to record everyone’s online activities for the last two years without telling the users concerned.

This, however, does not preclude that Erdogan will use the same social media he polices to promote his own interests. For example, during the night of the attempted coup he called on his supporters via Twitter to take to the streets in protest against the coup leaders. A few hours later he joined a CNN Türk live broadcast for an interview via FaceTime, and although satellite and cable TV had been disrupted, millions of viewers were able to see him online.

The internet will not suspend the rules of the market. In countries where professional media enterprises are unable to sustain themselves, the internet will not be the solution – rather, the problem will get worse as fast-growing, web-based competition will put such outlets under increased pressure. Cases in point are the media markets of Eastern Europe where a high number of outlets compete for very few users[5]. The media companies depend on their owners’ politics, and this relationship affects the contents they offer, often resulting in one-sided, partisan reporting and self-censorship. Thus media fail to fulfil their mission to provide fair and impartial coverage. As a consequence, most people have lost confidence in them.

Digital participation is key to development

In many regions, few people have internet access. In Ethiopia and Uganda, for example, only 4 per cent of the population owns a web-enabled smartphone. In Pakistan the figure is 11 per cent – and thus on a par with Burkina Faso and Tanzania. In Russia 45% of people have internet access – similar to the situation in other emerging nations such as Venezuela and Brazil. As a rule, the rural population in those countries, as well as women and the less educated, have little opportunity to access online information.

There is an immediate interdependency: Wherever the human right to freedom of expression is violated, and wherever it is abrogated by law, arrests, or intimidation, civil society’s scope for action, as well as all forms of diversity and political, social, or economic participation will decrease.

The consequences are grave: The ease of access to information and communication tools has been proven to affect the development of national economies. According to the Worldbank, in a developing country every mobile phone per 100 people will add 0.8 per cent of growth. The human right to freedom of expression and access to information is nothing less than a precondition for exercising one’s fundamental and human rights, and, consequently, it is crucial to the comprehensive development of all people within a society.

Digital participation is not an add-on; it is the precondition for development[6]. Digital participation means that people are able to access independent sources of information freely and without obstacles. Digital participation, however, not only requires that everybody can access information, and that people are not arrested, threatened, or interrogated for voicing their views online, digital participation also requires that people know how to use the information gleaned.

For online information to result in greater freedom, more accountability, and increased pluralism users everywhere need certain skills. In many regions of the world media savvy lags far behind the pace of technical progress[7]. Boosting “media and information literacy” means, above all, enabling people to ask the right questions: how to distinguish between opinion pieces and facts? how to grasp and classify media messages? how to find alternative news sources? and how to participate effectively online?

With such a skill set – and despite limitations and manipulation – everybody will be able to use online information as a learning tool, for their personal growth, to build networks, and to become an active member of civil society. Once people are able to distinguish between what is true and what is not true, the promise of the internet will come true – and everyone will have the opportunity to participate digitally!


[1] The International Telecommunication Union, ITU, is a specialised agency of the United Nations. It is responsible for issues to do with information and communication technologies.

[2] Some of the countries most affected are Syria, Libya, Burundi, and Yemen.

[3] Source: pewglobal

[4] The Freedom House Index records 195 countries. In 2015, of those 89 (46 per cent) where considered “free”, 55 (28 per cent) “partly free,” and 51 (26 per cent) “not free.”

[5] Georgia, for example, has 138 TV and 21 radio stations.

[6] “Digital participation” is one of the key strategic aims of the DW Akademie.

[7] This is one of our key fields of action in media development co-operation. DW Akademie is Germany’s leading organisation for media development with projects in about 50 countries (financed by the German Foreign and Development Ministries, as well as by multilateral organisations).


This article is part of our dossier “Squeezed – Spaces for Civil Society”.

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag This article is licensed under Creative Commons License.

THINK BIG(ger) and act digital ! – How Media in Africa could foster development

Imagine a no-name land anywhere in Africa where women and men are heavily persecuted by maroding (?) violating extremists.  Nothing extraordinary, only a very realistic example of how human rights are violated and neglected.

On 14th of March 2014, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Giwa military barracks in the 500.000-people city of Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria. Later the military regained control again. More than 640 people, mostly unarmed recaptured detainees were murdered. Captured in a 35-seconds-clip of an unknown mobile user was what happened to one of the victims: The video showed a Nigerian soldier murdering an unarmed man in broad daylight. This clip came across the mailbox of Amnesty International. The NGO was able to confirm the exact location of the incident, and to verify the authenticity of the clip, which “was only the tip of the iceberg”, as Amnesty International’s Christoph Koettl explains. This user generated content, attentively verified by metadata and content analysis was used as the basis for the Amnesty International Report putting light in the atrocities in Nigeria

New watchdogs: Citizen Media investigate human rights and cover elections

Imagine an African regional powerhouse with a political, social and religious gapping between North and South. Hate speeches and violent attacks between Muslim and Christian people  erupting frequently. A small hate-message, a cartoon or a blasphemic comment could cause violent attacks in certain regions. This country stands in the middle of a controversial election campaign where a new president should be elected. Bad times for journalists and media? Of course not! The current elections in Nigeria proved that the opposite is true: the quality and the way digital content is distributed makes a significant difference.

It is not by hazard that those two examples come from Nigeria, a country with one of the fastest growing Internet penetration rates in Africa.

The dimension of what (social) media could do became evident during the recent recognizable power shift. The presidential elections in Nigeria went well – for journalists, media users, and for the voters: Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shared any official polling numbers, Nigerians who had volunteered among the 700,000 electoral officers shared the regional voting results of their polling stations. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress party’s lead in the vote last month quickly became apparent a few hours after polling units closed thanks to technologically savvy Nigerian voters using social media to share each step of the process. In this case, the high percentage of active and educated media users contributed to a peaceful, accountable and transparent voting process.

These examples show: Citizen media and user generated content could raise political participation and accountability and simplify human rights fact-finding. Digital communication and Information is opening new ways to participate in political and social processes. It allows people to share and to connect. Moreover, it creates  new possibilities to investigate on human rights’ violations and to put neglected or oppressed issues on the agenda. Non-governmental structures and journalists could use these potentials: They could directly include these new methodologies in their research process. In addition to that, digital communication offers new opportunities to learn and to increase knowledge. In its basic structure digital communication is inclusive. It could be an effective tool to enhance development. All this is possible right now, not tomorrow.

Freedom on decline – What Media Barometers say about African Media

So far the general assessment – let us take a closer look at African media reality and the current global trends which put this inclusive development target under challenges and risks. The biggest risk is censorship.

The differences among African states when it comes to press freedom are tremendous. The ranking of reporters without frontiers 2015 puts Namibia on rank 17 – quite better than a lot of European states. Look at the forerunners in press freedom: Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, the Comoran Islands and South Africa. These countries courageously developed, shaped and liberalized their media markets. They offer a diverse and rich variety of media outlets. And they are all Middle-Income countries! But also Burkina Faso and Niger are showing up in the class „Satisfying“ – as well as France, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal.

13 other African states – especially in the eastern part of the continent – show “recognizable problems” or are among those regions, where press freedom is in a very bad condition (as do Italy or Greece).  Also, there is a high percentage of African states in the last two categories- Here you find most of the authoritarian governed countries like Eritrea (rank180), Sudan (174), Somalia (172), Djiboutis (170), Äquatorialguineas (167) und Ruanda.(161)

Many African media outlets suffer from serious structural weaknesses: no sufficient publicity markets, no economic basis for media outlets, interferences of owners, politicians and the lack of professional skills. Those factors create certain dependencies – be it by oligarchs or politicians.

This makes African media fragile in many regions: A situation that becomes even worse during conflict or war times. We have to acknowledge some alarming trends in Africa, especially in the zones of current conflicts.

Take Burundi : The political and not-yet ethical conflict there is also a war against the independent media. Since the first protest against a third turn of president Nkurunziza, the

Burundian government is offending journalists. The headquarter of different journalists associations in Bujumbura as the ‚Maison de la presse’ and the radiostations „Radio Publique Africaine” and “RPA Ngozi” have been closed down at the end of April 2015. These professional and independent media-houses are now voiceless. During the same period the number of aggressive and violent voices in the social media grew. Voices that escalate the conflict.  On the 13th of May – during the attempted putsch – the Police fired with machine guns and grenades at buildings of four bigger private FM Stations (RPA, Bonesha FM, Radio Isanganiro und Radio Télé Renaissance).The head of the independent Media Association OPB (Observatoire de la presse au Burundi), Innocent Muhozi, reported that journalists have been physically threatened and intimidated before this attempted putsch. He also reported the existence of black lists with names of critical journalists. Since that day only the state broadcaster is able to broadcast – all other FM-radio-Voices have been silenced by government.

We’re not only seeing the newly emerging political crises like in Burundi but also new trends like the growing religious conflicts especially in Nigeria where people and media find themselves pulverized between the religious fantasts and the governmental forces.

In 2014 Reporters without borders counted 8 murdered journalists in the war countries Somalia, DRC, and Centralafrican Republic. Our colleague and Radiojournalist Elisabeth Blanche Olofio died in June 2014 because of a serious attack of militants of the Séléka-rebels. The allegation was that her “tongue was too sharp” (?).

War over mids and values – fundamentalist groups weaponize Media to a next extent

In some of these countries, where religious clashes and fundamental Islamist movements grow, new legislation decision block media freedom. There is a trend to put antireligious comments and reports under the suspicion of apostasy. One example is Mauretania, where the Blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed was sentenced to death because  he “had fall off faith”. Before, he commented on the social order of his country and described it as “backward”. He also criticised some parts of the Koran. It was the first time since independence that the death penalty was applied because of apostasy. Another example is Somalia where one of the dominant Islamist movements  „Union of Islamic Courts“ (UIC) published a code of conduct for media, demanding them to act in “strict cooperation with UIC” – which could be understood as an explicit intimidation to be conform.

Fundamentalist groups like this, the IS, Boko Haram or others are using digital communication to a new extent. They question our political order, they operate in a networked manner and across borders – and they are using information and the Internet’s dissemination channels as a weapon. These new asymmetric wars and conflicts pose new challenges for the affected society, the international community as well as for media development. It’s a war over minds.

In autocratic systems media is the first victim

And in Zimbabwe? On the 9th of March 2015, the human rights activist Itai Dazamara disappeared. The EU and the African Union requested clear efforts of the Zimbabwean government to bring light to his case and to stop increasing violations of human rights in the country.  The alleged abduction of the leader of Occupy Africa Unity Square –an NGO primarily aimed at protesting and inciting mass action against the racial, economic and social inequality in South Africa –  is only one disguising example of how fragile the human rights situation is.

The African Union also found clear words with regard to its chairperson Robert Mugabe: ”The continuous deployment of brute force as a way of dealing with citizens’ genuine grievances signifies the extent to which President Mugabe, aged 91, is out of touch with the myriad of challenges in his own country. Quite remarkably, it also proves the failure by his government to provide clear and tangible solutions to an economy battered and bruised by policy ambiguity, policy inconsistency and lack of imagination.”

Good performers in Media Freedom: many of Africa’s forerunners are middle-income-countries

A war of Web 2.0 information emerged in which media are deployed as a weapon to a new extent: to publicize and frighten, to recruit and spread targeted misinformation. These new players question our political system, operate in a networked manner and across borders. Both use hybrid methods: they rely on traditional means of waging war, highly modern weapons, on gaining territory, military aggression. However, propaganda and subversion, fright and publicity are likewise means of waging hybrid war. The new asymmetric wars could hardly have escalated so quickly if they hadn’t been able to rely on information and disinformation as tools.

So to say-Media: Hybrid and autocratic systems understand the relevance of media

There is another new trend: creating so-to-say media. What does that mean? Multiply your media and create modern, technically attractive media. Offer the users a multitude of content  – but in essence no diversity of opinions and no liberty of expression.  The forerunner of this global trend is Russia, where all audiovisual media are under the control of the Kremlin.

It is an ambivalent course – and there are african imitators, which follow this path of  media-mainstreaming in Africa.  Rwanda is one example of a contradictory media development policy: Freedom of media is guaranteed by the Rwandan constitution and the country’s media law was liberalized in 2013, allowing journalists to collect and distribute information and – under certain conditions – to treat sources of information under confidence. There is even a new law on the access of information, also protecting whistleblowers. Forced by quite critical assumptions of the international community on the estate of civil rights, right of expression and freedom of media, the Rwandan government started a political offensive in the media sector, creating a multitude of bodies, like the self-regulatory “Media Commission”, the Media High council, a state-organ which is responsible for journalistic training and education, and the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), responsible for questions of technical distribution and licensing.

Nevertheless it is not possible to report critically on the policy of president Kagame. It is not possible to critically discuss or comment his wish to prolong his mandate to a third term.

The result of media-policies in hybrid and semi-authoritarian systems becomes obvious when watching or reading local media: censorship by state authorities is quite rare, intimidations and mainstreaming of people sitting in responsible media positions occur more often – and self-censorship is part of the daily life in media and among journalists.

Building up democracy is still an analog procedure

Web 2.0.technologies and platforms could bypass state censorship and mainstreaming of media. But on the other hand it is obvious: These Web 2.0 Apps can build social networks but not democracies. The DNA of democracy consists of structures, institutions and political parties but not of tweets, likes and shares. There is no Facebook revolution! The build-up of a multiparty democratic system is still a quite analog challenge. Social media could be the first step towards a change but not the last – the hardest part of constructing a new order comes after the display of the cellphone went dark.

The Arab Spring showed the possibilities of social media but also the weaknesses in achieving long lasting political change. Tunisia is the only country where the people’s movement led to a challenging, sometimes contradictory and still reversible way of building up a democracy.  In Tunesia’s neighbor country Egypt, the demands of the protestors in 2011 were crushed down. The freedom of speech is getting even worse: “Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has restored the order in Egypt, but at a great cost […] As Mr Sisi has kept Egypt from descending into mayhem, he has unremittingly repressed critics. We don‘t have the luxury to fight and feud, says the president. But his authoritarian habits leave Egypt in the same condition as before the Arab Spring, when Mr Mubarak, another military man, ruled with an iron fist. Many say that the repression is even worse now.”

The social effect of better (technical) accessibility of information

It is good news for journalists, civil societies and users in regions of conflict or in  autocracies: More people are using information today because digital communication is accessible  in most parts of the world.  The consequence is clear: Information today has a greater influence than ever on social, economic and political developments.

Why is media development the key? Firstly, people can only demand their rights in a political sphere if they have access to information. This determines issues such as education and knowledge, and ultimately a person’s personal freedom. Media does even have the power to decide on war or peace, as we’ve been seeing in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.

Whether the media push developments ahead or simply slows them down depends on various key factors, including:
• conditions under which journalists work
• criteria and professional standards for content
• whether all groups of society have access to media
• whether people can deal with, and make use of, the flood of information

Think about the reality in your own country or your neighbor countries:  Women’s issues in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, Mali or Uganda are rarely covered by the media. And how many reports do you remember about the lack of health care in rural areas of your country? There are many social groups who do not have a voice in national media – and neither do their major concerns such as education and health. And there are still a lot of official political and unofficial social taboos: Gays and lesbians in Uganda are politically sidelined, ignored or even harassed by the media. Classifying violent acts as “Ethnic clashes” is an absolute no-go in Kenya. And in many countries reports on the health of the president or the battle of power in the second row of the state party are impossible.

This is partly due to censorship but more often it’s a result of politically biased editorial offices, corruption or self-censorship. To free information, we – the journalists – are obligated to get our users, readers and listeners engaged – to invite them to participate in content-production. The journalist of tomorrow will rather be a wise and neutral moderator, a curator and aggregator of content than a world-explainer.

The new competitors – chance and challenge for Media

“News spaces are no longer owned by newsmakers.” This is a clear-cut description of new competitors, made by Emily Bell, director of the tow center for digital journalism at the Columbia University. “The press is no longer in charge of the free press and has lost control of the main conduits through which stories reach audiences. The public sphere is now operated by a small number of private companies based in Silicon Valley. In a world where we navigate our daily lives through social platforms, just how this information reaches us, what is on a ‘trending’ list, how these algorithms work, becomes not just of marginal interest but a central democratic concern.”

And another short reminder of the facts: Facebook has 1.3 billion users, around 20 per cent of the world’s population. The social network has more than 100 million monthly active users in Africa. Nearly 10% of all Africans use Facebook on a regular basis. That’s also half of the 200 million Africans that are connected to the Internet, according to Facebook.  And more than 80% of Facebook’s users in Africa are accessing the site from their mobile devices. According to Ericsson, a communication infrastructure company, the number of mobiles in Africa will rise to 930m by 2019. YouTube has a billion users and a hundred hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute. Twitter does now have over 300 million users.  Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and WeChat are rapidly becoming default platforms for younger audiences.  Internet use on mobile phones in Africa will likely increase 20-fold in the next five years.

Let us take the media mega trends in view – Think Big and act digital!

Journalism’s future and the capacity of users to participate in politics, in communication and decision-making are increasingly dependent on communication technologies. And journalism today and tomorrow will no longer control or own the means of production or routes to distribution. For Africa this global trend creates special tasks:

– Because major parts of the continent are not connected to quick Internet-networks,

– Because Internet usage is still to costly

– Because users are not able to use text information due to illiteracy

– Because African sources, African stories and African content are dominated  by stories from the global north

Nevertheless African media-makers and users have to compete under these difficult conditions.

There is no alternative for African Journalists and Media than to be prepared for this new competition in digital communication – Look at the  “millennials”: media consumers born in the decades around the year 2000.  How does this young generation – around 20 years – use media? What we know is: they like videos, but they do not watch TV. And they do not read newspapers. A vast majority of them gets their news from social media – especially from Facebook.  88 percent of the millennials use media reports and information via Facebook, 83 percent via Youtube, 50% via Instagram, 36 % via Pinterest, 33 percent via Twitter, 23 % via Reddit and 21 % via Tumblr. Whoever wants to get news, information or messages to these younger audiences must use web 2.0 applications.  “If the news is important, then she will find me” – this statement of an America student in 2008 will soon be also a reality among urban audiences in Africa.

Digital gap will grow if we do not work on capacities of producers and consumers

It is time to wake up: this trend is a tremendous challenge for African journalists, media and media policy. The most serious effect is that the digital gap could become deeper. And it is not only existing between the global north and the global south. In regard to Africa it consists between poor and rich, cities and rural areas, connected and non-connected regions  – and between literate and non-literate people.

To overcome these gaps means to not only work on the technical access to the Web, to create ICT-Labs and expand broad-band networks. It needs a multi-level approach: We have to work on the capacities to use media – be it the capacity to write and read or to navigate in the global jungle of sources to find the relevant ones.And we have to work on the capacities of the producers, be it journalists or civil society to raise their voices in an effective manner to reach their audiences.

And we should continue to work on the quality of journalists, with the aim that they could compete and interact in this new competition of Digital Communication. The Internet has fundamentally changed journalism at every stage: from research to production to choosing multimedia formats to tell the stories. This requires new skills and is the reason why partners all over the world are increasingly asking for digital training. Which interactive journalism formats are the best? How can journalistic contents be better presented online? How could we integrate user generated content in our programming? These are questions which need progressive, flexible answer which are appropriate for conditions under which African media work.

We have to stop talking theoretically on the “rosy” prospects for development delivered via the Net in Africa. The reality is, that there is little chance that “the Web” or any Web Content could accelerate African development if we do not work on this capacities issues, including higher and basic education and research infrastructure. Having understood this link, the global North started to invest more in media development.

It needs a fundamental effort to enhance independent and professional media production and to strengthen journalists, users and communities to deal with the opportunities of the (new) media. Independent and pluralistic media are of paramount importance to ensure that people know their rights and are also able to claim and exercise these rights. This is why KAS and also the institution for which I work, DW-Academy, work a broad strategic approach taking the digital development in the specific region into account. We  built our media-development-work up on different stakeholders – in the aim to make them responsible, to built up capacities and to establish solid structures. This is the reason why we work with quite different “agents of change” in the sector of media development:  on governmental structures AND non-governmental Organizations, on journalists AND on universities, on users AND on community radio stations. We support press councils, professional associations and media organizations so that they can clearly represent and protect their interests in discussions with political decision makers.  If they all understand themselves as involved and requested in the challenge of media development, then we will get sustainable results. We share a deep conviction: media development is the key to more democratic, free and inclusive societies. Digital communication is offering new fields of action – and journalists and media should know how to deal with them!

The new battle of Information – How media are weaponized in asymmetric wars

New players are keeping world politics on edge. They question our political order, they operate in a networked manner and across borders – and they are using information and the Internet’s dissemination channels as a weapon. Both in ISIS’s digital jihad and in the hybrid war being carried out by Russia in Ukraine, war is also being waged with media. What role do the media play? A current perspective from Ute Schaeffer:

New asymmetric wars and conflicts pose new challenges both for the international community as well as for media development. It’s a war over minds. A war of information in which media are deployed as a weapon: to publicize and frighten, to recruit and spread targeted misinformation.

The same time ISIS fighters began spreading rapidly, Russia’s armed forces invaded Ukraine disguised as pro-Russian separatists. Whereas from a strategic and operational standpoint, ISIS militants tend to move in the direction of statehood, Russian forces charted a different course: they showed up not as conventional troops but rather as non-state combat groups, in order to be invisible and flexible. But both use hybrid methods: they rely on traditional means of waging war, highly modern weapons, on gaining territory, military aggression. However, propaganda and subversion, fright and publicity are likewise means of waging hybrid war. The new asymmetric wars could hardly have escalated so quickly if they hadn’t been able to rely on information and disinformation as tools.

This information offensive is the main explanation for why each month, 1,000 new fighters from around the world move to ISIS battlefields to offer their support. Some 15,000 fighters from more than 80 countries are said to be represented there – and not just from Saudi Arabia or Tunisia but also from China, Russia, Australia, and Europe. The targeted media campaign is the main reason why the Russian view of the Ukraine conflict predominates in Western media. New players like ISIS are stepping out onto the field. Other players, like the Russian state, have for several years been modifying their methods since they have come to understand: War is decided in the mind – meaning targeted media work and the viral dissemination of information and disinformation as a key weapon. These conflict actors still use regular media, television even print products. But their information campaign relies predominantly on social media and its community-based structure and functionality. They tweet and share, they comment and communicate in order to strengthen their community and recruit new supporters. And they use the credibility, dynamics and ubiquity of the social platforms in their aim to reach these target groups worldwide or in the conflict region itself.

For the actors in the current hybrid wars there are good reasons for using the functions of the Web 2.0 applications intensively. Why? What do the dissimilar players in these two asymmetric conflicts have in common?

They rely on narratives. They need a good story in order to establish and legitimize their ideology, their course of action in the conflict, their world view. They need models with perpetrators and victims, stories with winners and losers. These can be found in YouTube videos, in Facebook posts, in the massive numbers of polemic comments by pro-Russian trolls on media portals. Both have short-term and long-term goals: in the short term, they count on achieving narrow victories in the conflict and on gaining power and influence and enlarging their base. In the long term, however, they rely on the emergence of a new value system, a new self-understanding, aiming ultimately at an alternative identity.

Strong narratives and a clear sales pitch

Like any communication and marketing strategy they have to create a unique selling point which must be able to prevail in competition. Therefore, it has to be distinguishable and profile-endowing, attractive and joinable. Here, players like ISIS proceed with their media campaigns in a much more professional manner than other players before them: “Al Qaeda’s image is deeply unsexy,” remarks Audrey Kurth Cronin in Foreign Affairs. And Al Qaeda did not use media and information to that extent as a weapon. “Al Qaeda attracted followers with religious arguments and a pseudo-scholarly message of altruism for the sake of the ummah, the global Muslim community.” It created an “image of religious legitimacy and piety. [Its propaganda videos showed] ascetic warriors sitting on the ground in caves, studying in libraries…” ISIS in contrast offers a very attractive heroic message for young men, promising adventure, personal power and a sense of self and community: “The group’s brutal violence attracts attention, demonstrates dominance, and draws people to action.”

Such narratives are key for the new conflict players. ISIS needs attractive images and strong narratives to establish its ideology and to create a USP. Getting the message across – that is communication strategy’s primary goal. And to convey the message to quite different target groups; be it frustrated young users in Arab countries, or Muslims in Western Europe. A battle of narratives has started – which is not limited to the conflict regions in Syria and Iraq or in Ukraine and Russia, but is transmitted worldwide by broadband connections, Facebook communities and trolls.

I The information war between Ukraine and Russia

Russia is waging war in Ukraine without having declared one. In this “hybrid war” of disinformation, economic and political pressure, and covert military operations, media play a key role. Russia’s war of information against Ukraine began long before Crimea was annexed. In this campaign unleashed by the Kremlin, the Maidan protests – as with the citizen movements in the Arab world since 2011 – were actions fabricated by the West, an “attack on the whole Russian world,” as a first step in a “military campaign against the entire Russian nation.” The “battle for Kiev” has flared up, reported the Russian media. For the Russian media there was no doubt who was behind the Maidan protests: “The USA aspire to global dominance and think that they are always right, said the famous Russian TV presenter Dmitry Kisselov on April 27, 2014.

The Internet platform clearly shows how both governments are obviously using the media to manipulate the truth. Like for example the news produced by Russian media giant TRK Zvezda claiming that Poland has officially recognized Crimea as part of the Russian Federation. Another fabricated report produced by the Russian media claimed to be showing a U.S. Army tank with a Ukrainian trident iin Eastern Ukraine. Shortly after the publication of this picture, found out that it was actually taken from the website of the U.S. Army showing the tank being tested in Texas in 2013. The original picture has no Ukrainian trident.

Entrenched enemy stereotypes as narratives in the war of information

In its propaganda campaign, the Kremlin started lumping together all players under one roof as early as the Maidan protests: it was said that the demonstrations were the work of fascists and outlaws and Ukraine must not be left to the Nazis. On March 4, 2014, at a meeting with journalists, the Russian President answered his own question: “What is our biggest concern? We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.” With these old, entrenched enemy stereotypes, Putin reawakened a traumatic past – among his fellow countrymen in Russia but also among the many Russian speakers in Ukraine who use Russian media: Germany’s campaign of annihilation against the Soviet Union starting in 1941. The democracy movement on Maidan Square as a deadly threat of war which however can be overcome by Russia just like it did before. Such interpretations spread quickly on the Internet. For instance, the head of Russia’s Motherland Party (Rodina), representative Alexei Zhuravlev, wrote on his website in March 2014: “In Ukraine, a junta has taken power. An anti-Russian junta. With its hatred, it is provoking what’s happening now in the country …. It is impossible to negotiate with the new power (in Ukraine) or to agree on anything. … they view it as their mission to annihilate the pro-Russian regions.”

Even during Soviet times, there was never such a massive propaganda campaign as that unleashed against Ukraine. “Using selective information, half-truths, appeals to emotion, lies, and orchestrated events, a parallel reality is created in which Western-controlled fascists are at work in Ukraine, waging war against their own people and seeking to bring down Russia,” analyses Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov.

Building on traditional enemy stereotypes and (with the aid of the narrative of triumphant war in the neighboring country) the hero motif of Russia as the strong world power, the Kremlin’s media campaign is working: 70% of Russians feel that they are receiving objective information about the situation in Ukraine. But the media campaign is also paying off for President Putin directly: his approval ratings in Russia have reached a high of 81%.

Ukraine resorts to counteroffensive

Ukraine‘s media has also found a way to counter Russian propaganda: “Though the lies in the media are not as evident compared to what Russian media are fabricating each day, Ukraine’s media outlets keep quiet about many topics, especially when it comes to war reporting,” says Kyryl Savin, who was Head of the Kiev office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation until June 2015.

What is missing are journalistic fundamentals – among journalists themselves and among the broadcasters and media outlets for which they work. Just one obvious example of this: in order to verify the official numbers of victims or wounded, journalists would only need to research at hospitals, but instead the reporting of official statements is predominant. “To the outside observer, the standards of Ukrainian journalism are worrying. Professionals here are few and far between, and popularity is bought with money,” observes Otar Dovzhenko from Transitions Online.

This is accompanied by a false understanding of patriotism. “Unfortunately, almost all outspoken journalists tend to self-censorship: In times of war there is no place for criticism of the government.” This is the trend Kyryl Savin observes in Ukraine. And this is why most Ukrainians live in a virtual reality which is a far cry from the one in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine. And if someone dares to say anything different, they risk paying a high price – like the famous Ukrainian TV presenter, Savik Shuster. His popular and most frequently watched “Savik Shuster Show” was taken off the air after he invited a Russian journalist to his program.

In terms of their structure and intent, the Ukrainian responses are as unilateral, aggressive and exclusive as their Russian counterparts – but their content, technical quality and distribution cannot compete with the dominant Russian TV. Official communication and media in Ukraine are responding to the Russian military campaign by imitating the Russian formats and structures. For example, as a counterweight to the glossy images of Russia’s foreign broadcaster, Russia Today, Ukraine launched its own channel: “Ukraine Tomorrow” and as RT‘s Ukrainian equivalent is creating its own image of the conflict.

”The battle against us is being fought on many fronts, the information front being one of the most important ones. In a year we have created a strong army which courageously protects us in Donbass. Now it’s time to fight back against the Russian occupiers on the information front.” This is how Ukraine‘s online army presents itself on the Internet. Moreover, in November 2014, Ukraine set up a Ministry for Information. Its main goal is to create a strategy for counterpropaganda: “To this end, a group of around 20 experienced bloggers – a so-called task force – working for the government was established. Their goal is to combat Russian propaganda,” says Kyryl Savin.

The war of words started before the first shots were fired

The media has become the key player in this information war which started long before the first shots were fired. Media coverage paved the way for the military operations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine that followed shortly after the Maidan protests. “[F]or Moscow, the conflict in Ukraine is accelerating profound changes already under way in the Russian media: the centralization and mobilization of information in the hands of the state, providing the Kremlin – and President Vladimir Putin – with the means to galvanize public opinion domestically and in the region, as well as to forcefully assert Russia‘s policies, views and – increasingly – values on an international level.”

Independent online media like or Dozhd TV and also other independent voices like Echo Moscow and RIA Novosti have experienced pressure from the government. The Russian social-networking website Vkontakte made the same experience. Vkontakte CEO Pavel Durov was forced to flee the country and now lives abroad.

The mainstreaming and censoring of the Web and Web 2.0 started with the mass gatherings in Moscow after the parliamentary elections in 2011. While TV, radio and print outlets were always in the spotlight of the censors, the Internet has not been the focus of the Kremlin’s attention for quite as long. However, all this changed dramatically in 2011. Three years later, Putin proclaimed the Internet a “CIA project”.

The Kremlin has increased censorship, prohibited the free flow of data and undermined freedom of expression.

Putin’s cyberphobia has brought forth several laws: According to one law passed at the beginning of 2014, any website can be blocked without court order if it contains extremist views. But what is defined as being extremist? No one has provided a comprehensive definition yet. Several months later, another law was passed which requires all web-based writers with posts that exceed 3,000 page views to register with the government. “Approximately 30,000 Russian bloggers were included under these new stipulations requiring that they check the facts and delete any inaccuracies in their posts or risk their sites being removed or blocked. […] it also applies to social media accounts that have posts with over 3,000 daily page views.”

The Kremlin’s High Gloss Media Campaign

Moscow has realized how important media are for the country’s image. And that by using media, politics can be accomplished and that domestic and foreign policy interests can be enforced. Therefore, the Kremlin’s information policy is two-faceted: within the country, media with a relevant outreach are censored and mainstreamed. All wide-reach channels are in line with the Kremlin, all independent voices efficiently suppressed. And outside the country, the media campaign is based on high-gloss products like Russia Today – and on an effective propaganda army – the trolls – using the Web 2.0 functionalities to spread the official Russian point of view. The headquarters of this armada are situated in St. Petersburg: the PR “Agency for Analyzing the Internet”. It currently employs about 600 people. Their main task: Influencing opinions on the Internet, disseminating the Kremlin’s position in a targeted manner through reader comments. The Kremlin’s media experts have understood that a successful social media campaign means that you cannot only publish and control your message, but that you have to participate in key conversations aiming at achieving a significant influence in Web 2.0 conversations. This is exactly how the Russian trolls act: they comment on reports by Western media – in English, German or French. In these comments they engage in undermining the credibility of the author’s quality or the quality of the whole product. And they produce their own “snackable” web products, for example the YouTube video “I am a Russian Occupant” which was watched by nearly 7 million (sic!) users. The Kremlin has invested a lot into these Web 2.0 activities knowing that success on Web 2.0 platforms means: building social authority.

The Web 2.0 campaign has two targets: to place the official Russian perspective and to undermine and disconcert public opinion among Western audiences. This second target aims at demoralizing the enemy, be it Western media, Western policy, Western public opinion. In the programs of Russia Today, conspiracy theories and simple disinformation co-exist peacefully with professionally-produced journalistic products. This makes it difficult for users to differentiate between truth and fiction. You could have found the breaking news “Ukrainian parliament prohibits Cyrillic script”. And the same evening, demonstrations took place in Moscow: “Give us back our Cyrillic!” That was a coordinated action to create riots. This is one example of how intensively planned and coordinated information and disinformation is used.

Using one-way regular media it is quite easy to create a persuasive, dominant and attractive image: this role is played by glossy TV channel Russia Today targeting foreign audiences and by the video agency Ruptly which was created in 2013.

Using these media, the Kremlin disseminates to the world its view of things: it influenced Western reporting about the Ukraine crisis to fit its needs, and via its Russian media won the propaganda war in the eastern areas of Ukraine. An investment that is paying off: In the nine years since it was founded, Russia Today has surpassed CNN in its reach. With nearly 1.2 billion YouTube views for television reports, Putin’s propaganda broadcaster is second only to the BBC. In the UK, more people watch RT than Euronews; in several large U.S. cities as well, RT is the most-watched foreign broadcaster. Its 2,500 employees report in Russian, English, Spanish, Arabic, and German. RT, former Russia Today, as described by the Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs is “no less destructive than the military marching in Crimea.”

“We’re in the middle of a relentless propaganda war,” says Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an influential Washington think tank. Weiss describes this propaganda as a crucial tool used by Russia to conduct its foreign policy. Moscow is looking beyond the short term, seeking to influence opinion in the long run to create “an alternative discourse in Western countries as well,” says Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of Kremlin foreign broadcaster RT which owns Ruptly. This strategy is working, as can be seen in the reporting by German media on the war in Ukraine. Here, there are persistent images and stories claiming that radical right-wing individuals in Kiev run the government, that the Maidan protests were nothing but a campaign by Western countries, not to mention the blanket opinion that Ukrainians are incapable of statehood. These are all assertions and narratives that have their roots in Russian sources, whether public media or users on social media. This is also the source of the German discussion about the “lying press” that has unjustly cast Russia in a bad light.

II Digital jihad – the home-grown terrorist

The globalization of ISIS was only possible because of the digital communication we have today. Take the 21-year-old Arid Uka, a young man from Kosovo living in Frankfurt, working as a temporary worker at the airport. German security agencies like the German Federal Bureau of Investigation (BKA) and the intelligence services (Verfassungsschutz) had had an eye on him. He carried out the first terror attack in Germany in March 2011 that could not be prevented by security forces. In this attack Arid Uka killed two men. How could that happen? The answer is striking: “Within a couple of weeks this unknown young man radicalized himself only by sitting in front of his computer and consuming the propaganda of radical Islamic preachers,” says Loay Mudhoon, political scientist and specialist for political development in the Arab world at DW. “The biggest challenge we are facing right now here in Europe is that we don’t know who is capable of terrorist attacks and how many potential terrorists are out there. How can we tell who is likely to turn in a short space of time from a normal next-door guy into a home-grown terrorist supporting the ideas of ISIS or other radical organizations?”

Viral distribution of information used as persuasive advertisement for terror

In the past four years, 680 men and women left Germany to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. These are people who feel discriminated and marginalized in their own societies, they feel misunderstood and isolated. Their only way out of this is the Internet. So they seek out like-minded people in chat rooms, connect with peer groups on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. In their quest for recognition they create their own “me-sphere” which becomes their home – and a substitute family. The group dynamics develop a virtual reality in which young people easily become receptive to ISIS propaganda. “Without the digital media as transmitter of ideas, ISIS would not have the enormous influx of young men and women from Europe. Moreover, the globalization of ISIS was only possible because of the achievements of the digital age we are living in and how we use them,” says Loay Mudhoon.

Terrorism is a form of persuasive communication. Digital media play a key role for ISIS – being a persuasive form of advertising. Over the years they have learned to use them very professionally. While they once used VHS and audiotapes to convey their messages, they now harness the power of modern technology. Their messages are tailor-made for different target groups.

And they use all Web 2.0 functionalities: For example, for those young men and women sitting in front of their computers in Belgium, Germany or Sweden, ISIS delivers its messages not in Arabic but in the languages of its audience. The narrative is clear: You live in an unjust society which offers you no perspective. Join us. Here you can become someone. “ISIS conveys a romantic narrative, they foster a nostalgic desire for a nation based on justice,” says Mudhoon. This is the common rhetoric they use beyond their boundaries. However, within their scope of operations they use a different language and different topics including their claim that Saudi Arabia is not sufficiently Islamic as well as their fight against this shift in the society towards Western values and life-styles. Another topic is their fight against the Shiites which they proudly present in videos, one showing prisoners kissing the hands and feet of ISIS fighters who freed them from captivity in the Syrian city of Idlib.

What we need to realize in order to understand the importance of media for ISIS is that ISIS is more than a group of terrorist militants or a run-of-the-mill terror organization. On the contrary, it is a novel attempt to form a state in accordance with jihadist ideology. This is extremely important for understanding the complex structures of ISIS and particularly its media tools. For ISIS, media are an integral part of its jihadist undertaking to form a state.

ISIS deploys a lot of money and know-how for its information campaigns and furnishes itself with an array of its own media companies:

  1. al-Furqān Media: considered the most important media arm of ISIS. It has released more than 160 publications in the past year alone. al-Furqān Media produces all of the important audio messages of the “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  2. I’tisaam Media: produces many messages in many languages, such as video clips in English. One of its well-known messages is the professionally produced propaganda video “Join the caravan!” (Ilḥaq bi-l-qāfila)
  3. Al Hayat Media Center: produces nearly exclusively in English with Arabic subtitles.
  4. AJNAD Media: produces high-quality audio messages to mobilize and romanticize propaganda by using elements from youth and pop culture.

The media makers of ISIS also cooperate regularly with various other media companies which produce for ISIS and distribute rebroadcast ISIS contents like

  1. Albatar Media: produces intermittent ISIS messages
  2. al-Khilafa-Media: produces extravagant films as “counterpropaganda,” particularly in response to the supposed lies by the Arabic media.
  3. Albayan Radio: is the first radio station of ISIS in the capital of Mosul. Broadcasts mainly news, messages, and victory announcements of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
  4. “al-Khilafa-TV” television channel: is a promotion and propaganda tool, allegedly planning the payout of one of these TV channels. No other information available.
  5. Dabiq: is a high-quality, graphically sophisticated print magazine in English that targets European Muslims.

ISIS media target young users

ISIS’s media makers use all possible means for their propaganda – digital as well as non-digital, like newspapers and magazines. The success of ISIS’s media is based on the fact that they are made by young Muslims for young Muslims. If you look at the media trends, it is obvious that Web.2.0 is the predominant gateway to reach young people worldwide. There is a constant increase in the usage of social media by young people. The current Reuters Institute Digital News Report comes to the result that the use of smartphones and tablets has jumped significantly in the past year, with fewer people using their computers for news. It recorded that more than a third of online news users across all countries (39%) use two or more digital devices each week for news and a fifth (20%) now say their mobile phone is their primary access point.

The ISIS media makers understand the global accessibility and attractiveness of social media for young people – and they understand that those young people are frustrated, fascinated with violence, and yearn for support and belonging, and they deploy the power of images in a targeted manner. This is why social media play such an important role. It offers to those isolated, alienated, rootless individuals the perspective of being part of a community with “people like me”. In this virtual community they attain the social relevance they do not have in their real social surroundings. This is explains why social media are becoming a dominant source of news among young users. Credibility in content is created by the fact that this news is shared by “people like me” not by hostile or interest-led media houses.

ISIS media makers understand these effects and they adapt their media strategy, using all functionalities of Web 2.0. from content/news production, sharing, commenting and communicating. ISIS content production is modular, multimedia-based and in this sense “snackable” for Web 2.0. applications. ISIS content is distributed by their own media and shared by social media – like the news on the liberation of a prison in Bagdad in April 2015, or video testimonials on war progresses in Syria or Iraq or on general video channels like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or others. Using hashtags like #AllEyesOnISIS and #CalamityWillBefallUS, ISIS followers have flooded Twitter in the past with their messages.

Make information snackable: adapt your content to different target groupsThe information strategy of ISIS is extremely dynamic and is constantly being enhanced. Their media makers are adaptive and highly professional when it comes to successfully disseminating digital information: Use the media of your target group, speak to them in their language, be open to connecting, create a community and get it involved! This is what constitutes the success of ISIS’s information campaigns. Whether Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, JustPaste, or SoundCloud – ISIS’s messages are composed and produced according to the laws of the medium. The message is packaged differently for each user group: clean and bloodless for Western users, brutal and bloody for users in the embattled countries.

The video showing the execution of James Foley (in captivity since November 2012) which has so far been viewed 1.3 million times on a website that permits such films was directed at users in the West. Dressed in an orange Guantanamo jumpsuit, Foley declared the U.S. to be responsible for his death, regretted having been born an American, and exonerated others of any fault. After he spoke these words, a masked killer who spoke English with a British accent took a knife to the journalist’s throat and began to move it. Then the image went dark. Not one drop of blood was to be seen. The beheading in front of a live camera was probably simulated.

In the videos targeting Arabic users, the language is completely different: as in the video showing the murder of rebellious members of the Sheitat clan near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour – and their brutality is unmatched. Here, the aim is: fear and subjugation. That worked well – in many Syrian and Iraqi villages, people surrendered to the terrorist militants even though they outnumbered them.

ISIS uses social networks in way that no other terrorist group has done before. It has long overcome the language barrier in these media campaigns, content can be found in all important languages, including German and English. Using the hashtag #mujatweets, not only Arabic but also German fighters talk about the supposedly wonderful life at the front. The message is directed at young Muslims in the West: look at this, in jihad we’re all the same, jihad knows no boundaries. And role models like the Berlin rapper Denis Cuspert who became an Islamist and jihadist role model on the Internet, reinforce this. Radicalization today no longer occurs in mosques but rather in front of the home computer.

Social networks create a new public space on the Internet. Whereas these communities play only a marginal role in the social life of society and often live on its verges, an isolated, extremist community is emerging on the Internet. “For quite a long time the West did not take the radicalization of young people seriously. The common assumption was that this is not a general problem but a case for the police. And this proved to be wrong,” says Loay Mudhoon.

III Empowering independent journalism – media development in hybrid conflicts

Asymmetric wars are the wars of the future. They call into question the international order and state integrity. Their players propagate political and social counter-models, like the just Sharia state, the world power, and they do this using the corresponding media. They use existing social tensions, stereotypes, collective experiences. And they bank on long-term ideological penetration of society in the conflict zones. The viral dissemination of information over the Internet is the best way to achieve such a broad effect. This is why media are an integral part of asymmetric warfare. Put differently: the rapid escalation of the current hybrid wars would be inconceivable without the viral dissemination of information and opinions.

What can media development do in societies that are affected by these asymmetric wars?

It can make a targeted contribution towards protecting journalists better and placing more emphasis on their safety. This also applies to the handling of research results, sources and data.

Professional media and journalists in societies affected by asymmetric conflicts need special support in order to be able to continue to work in a professional, independent manner. Media development can provide targeted advice on how, even under conflict conditions, to precisely research, question, and verify what the parties to the conflict are disseminating as propaganda, including on the Internet. Journalists have to be supported in such a way that their independence and professionalism are strengthened.

In addition, media development advises journalists and media companies on how to report on such conflicts in a neutral, sensitive, yet thorough manner. How is it possible to avoid having media contribute to the escalation of conflicts? Or even becoming partial?

In light of the highly professional, cross-media, viral dissemination of information by the players in these new asymmetric wars, traditional media have a special responsibility. Their reporting is the key to providing a counter-narrative to the conflict messages which exposes them as such and at the same time delivers/transmits a different message.

But they have to adjust if they want to survive. There are new competitors who have a serious credibility among (younger) users. Traditional media have to anticipate and adapt to future trends: How can the viral dissemination on the Internet and its back channels be used in order to disseminate professionally produced content and make contact with users? Traditional media have to become able to create high-quality cross-media content by using new storytelling and a better interaction with users in social debates. Otherwise, they will continue to become less and less relevant, no longer reaching the young target groups in the conflict regions. The risk is great in these conflict zones that media will no longer be the Fourth Estate but will rather become a mere tool in the hands of state and non-state players.

Applicable to all areas of life – from personal safety and integrity to health and education – but also to the handling and use of information in asymmetric conflicts: it is important to strengthen the resilience of these societies, i.e. their ability to surmount crises. Media development also has to take users increasingly into account and enable and strengthen them in dealing with sources. (Digital) Media literacy is important. In an age in which information is accessible worldwide over the Internet, the key for users and consumers is an increased expertise in handling this digital information.

This is all the more important in that the free accessibility of information on the Internet also makes it possible to limit and manipulate information in new ways. Particularly in societies affected by asymmetric wars, journalists are at risk of no longer being the Fourth Estate but instead merely a plaything of state and non-state players – censored and suppressed by state organs, economically burnt-out, kicked around between the conflict parties and working under high risk. Media development should react with a multi-stakeholder approach, supporting journalists and users in order to counteract this trend.

Develop media, strengthen human rights – Why media development is a key question for Development and Democratization

First of all a good message for journalists as well as their clients: There are more people nowadays that use information. There are more producers, more information offers. In short: Information influence on a whole different scale than 50 years ago  the social, economic and political development of entire regions and their societies. Without social media, the Arabellion would probably not have happened. The strengthening of the civil society in the Ukraine since 2004 in an authoritarian and censored political system was possible because people were able to exchange information and encourage each other through the web.

There are no information-free spaces in this world anymore. Today real-time information is accessible almost everywhere. And deservedly so, Media development is a central field of development policies. Therefore we needed a new, broad, interdisciplinary approach.

Modern media development is not just counting on journalists

Modern Media Development focalizes not only journalists. Why? Two core beliefs are guiding us. Firstly: People can only politically audible demand their basic rights if they have access to information. This question decides about education, knowledge, and eventually about personal freedom. Sometimes media even decide over war and peace, as for example in the Ukraine, Syria, or the Iraq.

Secondly, it is in the face of the rapid development of media, not enough anymore to only improve the journalists. If you want to sustainably strengthen the freedom of speech the approach must be broader since it is depending on multiple key factors if media are an engine for more development or just slowing it down:

  • Under which surrounding conditions can journalists work?
  • According to which criteria and professional standards is content produced?
  • Do all civil groups have access to media? Are their voices heard?
  • Can people handle the flow of information and use it?

For our 25 focus countries, we have to answer a lot of these questions with “No!”

Women on the country side of Burkina Faso, Kirgisistan or Bangladesh for instance have no voice in the media. Their topics don’t show up – and a whole range of other important topics don’t show up either: Education and health topics for example. Taboo topics are bypassed in a lot of the countries that we work in: That applies for the ongoing violence in Columbia as well as the recent past in Guatemala.  Gays and Lesbians in Uganda get politically harassed – excluded from the media or even haunted by media. Sometimes it is censorship, more often political one-sidedness of editorial departments, corruption or self-censorship leading towards these situations.

Successful and modern media development, the way that DW academy is doing it, is therefore intentionally focusing on a broad strategic approach. What does that mean concretely? It includes for example the work at political surrounding conditions – through guidance from government offices and NGOs. But it also means advising media and journalists with the development of new business models, so that they stay or become economically independent. We support professional interest groups between journalists, to more clearly represent and protect their interest in the dialogue with political decision makers.

Modern Media development  is working in multiple strategic fields. We count on different partners and project execution organisations – and we know: It takes a long breath if we want to be measurable and sustainable. Therefore we are working on long-lasting country strategies designed for three years and don’t just think from workshop to workshop.

Take regional differences seriously

One thing is for sure: The future for our journalists and media will be digital in most of our regions – and it has already started long time ago in some of them. A few examples out of practice: In Latin America for instance you’re falling over game-changing and innovative ideas especially in the digital area: Lots of those alternative media project on the web – one example is “Plaza Publica” in Guatemala, with whom DW Academy works together – focus on investigative research. They are run by committed citizen journalists and don’t have the support of a classic media company. Those projects take courage to address topics within research and reporting that “classical” media rather don’t or just tendentious cover. Amongst other things the refurbishment of military dictatorships. Developing countries are in many Media aspects on the fast lane!

It is important for actors in Media Development like DW Academy to get those actors into a dialogue: Just recently citizen journalists met up under the moderation of DW academy to discuss the question: How can digital technologies be used to strengthen the freedom of opinion?

Train users for the contact with (digital) media – media literacy

Whoever works in the media development, must also be a trend scout – Media Devlopers have to make a contribution to the future of media development – support innovative ideas especially in the digital area. Because media are being used as weapons in the IS’ digital jihad as well as Russia’s hybrid war in the Ukraine. The IS fighters are all digital natives. Russia’s media strategy is also highly efficient and targeted: Independent inland media do not exist anymore.

Human rights? They don’t play a role, neither in the digital jihad nor for the fight about heads of state propaganda bloggers – Just as little as for the hate preachers whose speeches are supposed to reach their audience through radio or TV. Therefore media development must promote the competence of dealing with media contents. This applies for social web-media as well as for conventional TV, radio or newspapers: If people call out on violence through radio stations in the Muslim north of Nigeria, or misinformation and warmongering is placed on Ukrainian or Russian web pages – then the users, listeners and viewers of such resources are demanded. They must distinguish between true and false, between facts and opinions or propaganda. With the offer “Media Literacy”, Media Development starts with the users so that hate speeches, propaganda, agitation and calls for violence do not find any echo.

Journalism is digital – and that worldwide, although at different speeds. The web is changing journalism fundamentally – from the research, over the dramaturgy and the question of how I tell a story in a multimedia way – and that demands new competencies and skills. Journalists all over the world therefore demand for offers by DW Academy in the field of digital work. What do participative journalistic offers on the web look like?  How can journalistic content be told and designed in a web suitable way? DW Academy is focusing on central key topics of the digital development: For us it’s about effective social media strategies for media actors, about ethical questions when working with social networks, about data journalism and research on the internet, digital security, as well as mobile reporting.

Not exporting ideas – Supporting partners on their own path

Thereby it’s not about importing nice development ideas or workshops from the global North – but about supporting target groups and partners to walk their own path. That is an exciting, demanding and enriching task.  Media Development – understood as an interdisciplinary and mutli-stakeholder issue means: to enhance and facilitate the access to information, to develop and strengthen solid professional content and to support people in rural areas to use media. And there is a common vision behind: to create sustainable structures and conditions to make good and professional content happen .

Media Development – Speaking out for one’s rights

How can media contribute to international development cooperation? Ute Schaeffer, Head of Media Development, says that access to information in the digital age is more important than ever.

We’ll begin on a positive note – for journalists as well as their “clients”. More people are using information today, and more media producers and information sources are available. In other words, information now has a greater influence than ever on social, economic and political developments in regions and their societies.

The Arab Spring, for example, could never have happened without social media. And the strengthening of Ukraine’s civil society as of 2004 was possible – despite censorship and an authoritarian political system – because people could exchange ideas via the Internet and develop stronger voices.

That’s why DW Akademie’s mandate to develop media has become more important – and more challenging – than ever. Information is now accessible in various degrees in many parts of the world. As a result, media development has become a central aspect of development policy. DW Akademie is meeting this challenge with an innovative, interdisciplinary approach.

When media decide on war or peace

What is important? What moves people? Citizen journalists at a DW Akademie workshop in Ghana

Modern media development no longer focuses exclusively on journalists. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, people can only demand their rights in a political sphere if they have access to information. This determines issues such as education and knowledge, and ultimately a person’s personal freedom. Media can even decide on war or peace, as we’ve been seeing in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. Secondly, given media’s rapid development, it is no longer enough to improve journalists’ skills. We now need a broader approach if we want to strengthen freedom of expression over the long term. Whether the media push developments ahead or simply slow them down depends on key factors, including:
• conditions under which journalists work
• criteria and professional standards for content
• whether all levels of society have access to media
• whether people can deal with, and make use of, the flood of information

In the 50 countries where we’re working the reality can be bleak. Women’s issues in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh are rarely covered by the media, and as a result neither are major issues such as education and health. Topics that are taboo in many countries are ignored, such as the ongoing violence in Colombia and coming to terms with Guatemala’s recent history. Gays and lesbians in Uganda are politically sidelined and ignored or even harassed by the media. While this can be due to censorship, more often it’s a result of politically biased editorial offices, corruption or self-censorship.

Strengthening media structures: members of Myanmar’s preliminary press council on an information tour in Berlin

Successful and modern media development as conducted by DW Akademie requires a broad strategic approach. This can include coaching government staff and NGOs with regards to political frameworks, for example, or helping media and journalists develop business models so that they can remain, or become, financially independent.

We support press councils, professional associations and media organizations so that they can clearly represent and protect their interests in discussions with political decision makers. DW Akademie therefore has various focuses in the countries where we work. We rely on different partners, and are well aware that it can take time to produce measurable and sustainable results.

This is also why our country strategies run for three to four years instead of from one workshop to the next. Our country coordinators are media development specialists on location, familiar with its constraints and challenges. They also have wide networks. Our goal is not just to know what moves our target groups but also to be aware of potential, future issues that could effect the regions where we’re working.

Digital advances in developing countries

Setting trends: digital media pioneers from 14 countries at DW Akademie’s South4South media dialogue in Cape Town

One thing is clear: the future for journalists and media outlets in most regions where we work is a digital one, and it’s well underway. In Latin America, for example, there are numerous groundbreaking ideas online. Many of these media projects – like Guatemala’s “Plaza Publica” which DW Akademie is supporting – are based on investigative research. These alternative projects are run by dedicated citizen journalists, and without the backing of classic media corporations.

Courageous projects like these research and report on topics that traditional media won’t touch or are reluctant to do so, such as coming to terms with a country’s violent past. But there is progressand DW Akademie is bringing together innovative actors to exchange ideas and approaches. DW Akademie recently organized a meeting for digital pioneers from various countries to see how new technologies can be used to strengthen freedom of expression.

People who work in media development also need to be talent scouts. We are aware of ongoing developments, especially in the area of digital media. Whether it’s the Islamic State’s (IS) digital Jihad or Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, media are being used as weapons. IS fighters feel right at home in the digital world. And Russia’s media strategy is equally efficient and geared to its target group. As a result, independent media have disappeared. Human rights don’t play a role in the digital Jihad, or in the minds of propaganda bloggers, or in hate speeches aimed at TV and radio users.

Supporting partners on their own paths

Learning how to work with the media: school students involved in a new media project in the Palestinian Territories

A part of media development is about teaching skills for working with media content. This applies to both social and traditional media. When calls for violence are broadcast on radio in Nigeria’s Muslim north, or misinformation and warmongering appear on Ukrainian or Russian websites, that’s when users, listeners and audiences need to know how to work with various media formats. They need to be able to distinguish truths from untruths and facts from propaganda.

That’s why DW Akademie also focuses on media literacy so that hate speech, propaganda, agitation and calls for violence evoke no response. But the Internet also offers open spaces for societies, development issues and press freedom. In Egypt, for example, the only remaining form of independent media is the Internet; all others disappeared in 2014 as part of the official anti-terror campaign. This also affected universities, non-governmental organizations and civil society.

Journalism has turned digital all over the world, admittedly at different speeds. The Internet offers a platform, a two-way channel for distributing different media formats as well as receiving feedback.

The Internet has fundamentally changed journalism at every stage: from research to production to choosing multimedia formats for telling the stories. This requires new skills and is why partners all over the world are increasingly asking for digital training. Which interactive journalism formats are available online? they ask. How can journalistic contents be presented online? DW Akademie focuses on key issues in digital developments such as effective social media strategies for media makers, ethical questions on the use of social media, data driven journalism and online research as well as digital security and mobile reporting.

This is not about passing down fancy development concepts from the global North to the global South, but about supporting partners in pursuing their own paths. This is both a demanding and enriching task for us. And it’s why we’ll continue to find long-term answers to the question that essentially drives us: what will remain once we’ve left?