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Ratings or Quality? 2012 Global Media Forum

A three-day international congress sought to examine the role the media play as they broadcast images and disseminate messages to a rapidly changing world. The congress was organised by Deutche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, and was aimed at bringing together media representatives from around the world to discuss issues centered around illiteracy, cultural diversity, education, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

The debate in this year’s 2012 Global Media Forum held from June 25 to 27 in Bonn, Germany placed great emphasis on media practitioners around the globe prioritising ratings over the quality of news. This ultimately becomes a dilemma of choosing between these opposing forces.

The Deutsche Welle 2012 Global Media Forum in Bonn brought together some 2,000 journalists and media workers from all over the world. Photo by Iris Gonzales

Ratings versus quality

On one side of the debate there are the media organisations who believe in pushing for higher ratings to be able to capture a wider audience. On the other side , media organisations are constantly reminded to produce shows and programmes that keep their audience informed.

In his keynote, Franz Radermacher, director of Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing and Club of Rome member, said journalists must strike a balance to help keep the world properly informed as the media is caught between market success and the mission to educate.

When faced with a story, media practitioners should always make  a point to strike a balance between the two opposing forces.

“Look for the right balance in the different aims that you have to follow. And still communicating essential things to a lot of people. Try to concentrate on what needs to be communicated,” Radermacher said.

Without striking that crucial balance, the media would not be fulfilling its responsibility to help its audience become better informed, to think critically, to be aware of policies issued by their respective governments or to simply understand the reality.

In the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, (CMFR) an independent media watchdog, is closely monitoring daily news to ensure quality in reporting.

Illiteracy and poverty

Another important issue discussed during the forum is the digital divide between illiteracy and poverty and how illiteracy contributes to poverty.

In raising the alarm bells on the problem of illiteracy around the globe, Deutsche Welle cited a recent study conducted by the University of Hamburg. The study said that while today’s society is overflowing with information that can be accessed anywhere, at any time because of the internet, there are still millions who are illiterate.

These people are mostly from crisis regions and war-torn areas, but also in the global north. “Even in a highly industrialised nation such as Germany, 14 percent of the population is functionally illiterate,” Deutsche Welle said, quoting the Hamburg study.

Deutsche Welle’s deputy director general Reinhard Hartstein said everyone must have the opportunity to be educated, especially with the development of the internet. He said each and every media practitioner has a role in ensuring this: “The growth of the world depends on this. Lacking education causes poverty and social injustices.”

He urged the media to help by creating images that educate, by illustrating educational and cultural differences in societies and by making all things public. Ultimately, he said, the media has the goal to improve educational opportunities.

But it is not always easy. In developing countries, education poses a great challenge for the developing world, as seen in this video clip.

However, there are small victories.

In the Philippines, some media organisations are aware of the importance of making more opportunities available on the internet. Most media companies are getting on the bandwagon and improving their websites.

Interaksyon, the online news portal of a broadcasting company, has a Special Features section for comprehensive articles that help raise awareness on a variety of issues.

Philippine Star, a leading Manila daily, for instance, has devoted a separate section of its website dedicated to Education.

Internet and education

But despite these initiatives, there is still a lot of room for improvement to maximise the internet for education.

Marc Jan Eumann, State Secretary for Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia said during the forum that the media could maximise the opportunities provided by the internet.

“The challenges of the internet are challenges for all of us. Social media and mobile media are all great opportunities for a great variety of thoughts and information. What we need in a global world is pure information,” he said.

In the Philippines, social media is widely used to raise awareness on different issues such as human rights.

Karapatan, an umbrella organization of human rights groups, has been using Facebook for its campaigns.

There is also a new social news network launched in the Philippines by veteran journalists, which hopes to engage citizens in a world of limitless collaboration. It calls itself Rappler, which carries stories that “inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.”

Shaping a sustainable world

At the end of the three-day forum, Deutsche Welle director general Erik Betterman expressed hopes that delegates were able to exchange ideas on how education can help lead to a sustainable world.

“In a world driven by information and knowledge, lifelong learning applies not only to individuals, but also to whole societies and nations,” he said. “Cultural upbringing and education are key to peaceful interaction, development and intercultural dialogue. We must sustainably raise public awareness of that, globally – and beyond 2014.”

According to Jes Aznar, a Filipino documentary photographer and participant in the forum, the theme of the forum, could have been discussed better. “I wanted to hear more meat on the subject,” he said. “Maybe they should have involved more resource persons from the ground, like maybe more people from other countries directly dealing with the respective problems in different countries.”

Aznar himself has documented the lives of people affected by conflict in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, making sure that his images raise awareness on the the situation.

In the end, the roughly 2,000 participants in the forum heard a wide range of discussions on media practice with ratings versus quality as the primary topic. Other issues tackled included human rights and education, poverty, internet usage and the proper use of images. Whether or not media practice around the globe will improve after the forum remains to be seen but at the very least, participants are now more aware of the need to improve the craft. 

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About The Author(s)

Iris Gonzales

Iris Gonzales


I'm a Manila-based journalist and blogger. At present, I work for The Philippine Star, covering public finance and the macroeconomy but I also write many other stories here and there. I blog about development and human rights issues for the London-based The New Internationalist.

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