It was a pertinent week for me to find myself in Bonn. For three days before I arrived at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, I was in Berlin – a city that practised in reality what the rest of the world preached in ideology, at the height of the Cold War. Communism, totalitarianism and authoritarianism pitted against capitalism, free expression and democracy. We knew who won that battle of ideas, and we have seen the costs for the losing side.
In a world of resurgent nationalism, Russian manipulation of the digital media, fear and loathing in Trump’s America and even the manufactured outrage and racism South Africa sees flaring up from time to time, it may sometimes feel like we’re entering a new era of ideological warfare. To make things even more difficult, the rise of fake news and the demise of traditional media leave many people confused, craving credibility and authenticity.
Bonn is the old capital of West Germany, and the room I sat in to hear the Plenary speeches was the same room in which reunification was debated under the old Bundestag. To begin the official proceedings, Deutche Welle’s Director General, Peter Limbourg paid homage to Helmut Kohl, the great architect of German reunification and first chancellor of a united Germany in 1989/1990. Kohl died this week, leaving a mixed legacy in a Europe unsure of union and a Germany dealing with identity, immigration and integration.
There will be many issues debated and discussed this week: Identity, diversity, free expression, censorship, social and digital media. Lawyers, politicians, think tanks and media businesses will bring their know-how and questions to the forum. I hope I find clear and thoughtful ideas that enhance the way we build a trailblazing platform in South Africa. It’s clear that our problems are not unique and our challenges are global in nature. We’re not alone.
The open, exciting world the Internet presents to us can be frightening, but like capitalism and democracy, it seems the best of the bad options, and the only one which can improve and evolve itself over time.