Potsdam, 17 September 2019. M100 Sanssouci Colloquium has regarded itself as a forum for democracy and media freedom since its founding in 2005. On the occasion of the 15th edition of the international media conference, the M100 Advisory Board has produced an M100 Declaration with major theses of the conference.
The theme of this year’s international media conference addresses a question that stood at the forefront as early as 14 years ago: the state and future of Europe. Today, 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the situation has changed profoundly. That which was once taken for granted as normal can no longer be seen as a matter of course: democracy and the public sphere have to be reaffirmed – and defended – for every generation. This is also reflected in the growing threat to media freedom. M100 has taken this into consideration, not least in the granting of its M100 Media Awards. While the first recipients were primarily those who simply left “footprints” and advocated for democratic processes or human rights issues, the M100 Media Award shifted its focus in 2009 to honour threatened journalists, writers, and cartoonists, some of whom had to accept the prize under heavy security measures. Such prizes are, as Roberto Saviano noted, also a form of protection. Attention protects against attacks. And attention can help safeguard that which is very difficult to recover once it has been lost: liberal democracy.
Astrid Frohloff, Dr. Leonard Novy, Christoph Lanz, Dr. Christian Rainer, Sabine Sasse, Sabine Schicketanz and Sophia Wellek therefore note on behalf of the M100 Advisory Board in its first M100 statement to mark the 15th edition of the international media conference:
(1) In the anniversary year of the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium, we note with concern that media freedom in Europe is in danger – as never before since the end of the Cold War. The two regions in which the situation has deteriorated the most are the United States and Europe. Even media professionals in EU countries are hindered in their work or are targeted by authorities. The governments of EU states Poland and Hungary have been pushing ahead with the restructuring of the media landscape in their favour for years. These developments make a mockery of the democratic values of the EU.
(2) Meanwhile the targeted delegitimization of critical media has become part of the standard repertoire of authoritarian populism not only in the United States, the oldest democracy in the world, but elsewhere as well. At the same time there can be no public sphere or democracy, national or European, without a free independent media. Those who seek to dismantle critical journalism dismantle democracy.
(3) Europe is not a state. This is not to say that the EU does not need to be legitimised by public debates, nor that these are impossible across linguistic and national divides. “Unity in diversity” means that an EU-wide public sphere cannot be created “top-down” by politics; it arises in the discourse of national publics and their media. Nurturing this discourse is critical. Our job as journalists is not to promote the EU. But journalism can contribute to cross-border understanding by highlighting similarities and differences between countries and generations and enabling other countries to air their views.
(4) At a time when long-standing certainties such as those of the transatlantic community are threatening to break apart, the EU is showing itself to have little capacity to act, not least as a result of domestic political turbulence in the member states. The spectacle surrounding BREXIT cannot obscure the fact that the EU itself is in urgent need of reform. If it does not succeed in finding convincing answers to future questions such as climate change, the monetary union and security policy, if it does not manage to actually assert common values such as the rule of law and solidarity, the EU will forfeit the trust that citizens are currently placing in it. Europe needs a strategic agenda. But it also needs a new policy of mutual recognition, listening, and dialogue.
(5) This time is both a test and an opportunity for journalism. A strong, independent journalism is probably more necessary today, the need for enlightenment in the face of a growing field of digital manipulation and propaganda greater than ever before in its history. Its importance is evidenced not only by the disclosures made by international media co-operations but also by the less visible day-to-day research of local editors worldwide. Safeguarding this requires a strong lobby for press and media freedom and appropriate funding. Cutting expenses for high-quality journalism costs more in the long run than whatever short-term savings appear on the balance sheet.
(6) Quality journalism is possible only with the necessary resources. The US-based digital mega-corporations Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple provide a now indispensable framework for the financing, distribution, and consumption of journalistic content. This is not a lament, but a description of a situation that offers opportunities, but also – as we have seen – the prospect of upheaval. Today, the question of such fundamental values as transparency, freedom of expression, and diversity is being raised under new auspices and with new urgency. It is time to safeguard the communicative infrastructure of our democracies for the future. To do this we need modern national and European regulatory frameworks for digital platforms, media companies that make innovation a permanent priority, but also a social debate as to which kind of society we actually want to live in in the future – and what it’s worth to us.