AWARD 2019









"Your generation will be much smarter, but also much more susceptible to manipulation than mine. What will happen in the Philippines depends on you."

With these words, Maria Ressa called upon students at a workshop for combating disinformation. Going by the motto "We are truth-tellers", the Foundation offers seminars promoting media literacy in the Southeast Asian island state. Ressa is the CEO of the social news network Rappler and, in this role, has been confronted with numerous judicial proceedings led by the government in a targeted effort to intimidate journalists.

The government as a supplier of fabricated news

The Philippines is a war zone when it comes to fake news. "One such example of fabricated news is a story accusing a journalist and multiple attorneys of plotting against President Rodrigo Duterte. The source of the story was the president himself. This is nothing but lies," remarked investigative journalist Marites Vitug.

Bart Guingona, initiator of MediaNation – a network of media organizations and journalists – referred to

the current situation of press freedom in the Philippines as cause for concern: "Today, there is a two-fold threat to press freedom. First, by those in power, who do not have to be accountable, attacking the press head on. Secondly, by the public, who take the words of those in power at face value, creating a mob mentality."

A worskhop with students:
Maria Ressa and other journalists
fight against disinformation

Truth and transparency as pillars of democratic discourse

The attack on freedom of the press and the dissemination of targeted disinformation have prompted journalists to take initiatives to check the facts and involve the community. "We should be open to being challenged by society. The more people correct us and the more they contribute their own valid information, the richer the dialogue will be," explained Isolde Amante from the newspaper Sunstar Cebu.

Chito Gascon, chairman of the Philippine Human Rights Commission, emphasized the importance of political education. "Every one of us can be a truth-teller. By educating citizens, we can ensure that everyone is able to recognize false information and defend the truth," he said, encouraging seminar participants.

Chito Gascon,
Chairperson of the Philippine
Human Rights Commission



Journalists report how they face
disinformation and propaganda

Wahrheit und Transparenz als Säulen des demokratischen Diskurses

Fungisai Sithole and Blessed Mhlanga

A report on the experience of our colleague Fungisai Sithole

Journalists generally report on topics and people around them. They tell the stories of other people and rarely their own. Our goal was to document the fight against disinformation and propaganda from the perspective of three journalists in a video project.

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe is unstable and there is regular censorship by the government. Initially, I was worried as to whether journalists would be ready to speak in front of the camera regarding the ongoing harassment and intimidation they faced. An open appeal to journalists would have raised unnecessary media attention. Through our partnership with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), a network of journalists in independent media, we were able to win over volunteers quickly and easily.

We wanted to give at least one female journalist a voice, which is why we were pleased to welcome our alumna Chipo Gudhe, editor of the Midlands Observer, to our video project. The Midlands Obser-
ver is a leading local paper in the Midlands province, the home of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

We were also able to convince Dumisani Muleya to take part – an investigative journalist known beyond the country’s borders and chief editor of the weekly paper Zimbabwe Independent. Blessed Mhlanga, a prominent reporter for political affairs at the NewsDay daily paper, was also delighted to take part in our video-recorded storytelling project. When we contacted the journalists, they were immediately willing to talk about their experience with fake news and disinformation in front of the camera. They took the opportunity to call for professional, high-quality reporting. Surprisingly, none of them had any concerns and the recordings were quickly made. In spite of their openness towards speaking in front of the camera, however, I noticed time and again their impaired freedom – the freedom to express themselves without any fear. They focused on a series of critical questions but were reserved when it came to others whose answers they believed could make them the target of threats.

Our cooperation proved to be creative and truly constructive. We will continue our dialogue about fake news and disinformation by contributing to media education at universities throughout Zimbabwe.



Jaafar Abdul Karim
Journalist and TV-Presenter

The Diwan series of talks with the newspaper Tagesspiegel: Talk show host Jaafar Abdul Karim addresses the Arab community in Germany.

In the Arab world, Jaafar Abdul Karim is a media star. The host of "Shababtalk", the Arabic-language talk show of Deutsche Welle, has more than eight million viewers worldwide when he discusses touchy and controversial issues such as the status of women in society or the role of religion or homosexuality with young people. That is why he is also known to refugees from the Arab world.

He is an exciting conversation partner in the Diwan talks where refugees, exiled journalists and the German audience converse. The series of events is part of the exiled journalists project, which the International Journalist and Media Dialogue Programme of the Foundation called to life in cooperation with the Tagesspiegel in 2016.

The journalist Jaafar Abdul Karim, who grew up in Lebanon and Switzerland, travels extensively throughout the Arab world in connection with his shows – but also within the Arab community in Germany. "I know how hard it is to settle in a foreign country," the 38-year-old explained to the many young refugees in the audience. He himself came to study in Germany in 2001. For Jaafar, however, it is also clear: "You have to integrate and become an active part of society and not wait for others to do that for you." He advises a young listener from Syria to not allow himself to be influenced by whether current media opinion regarding immigration is favorable or critical. What counts: "Do your thing and chart your own path in this society." 

At the same time, Abdul Karim wishes for reflection on the part of German politicians before they issue exclusionary statements such as "Islam does not belong in Germany" or migration is the "mother of all problems". The journalist, whose trademark is a white dress shirt, considers the German constitution to be the guideline for mainstream society and immigrants to live together: "That is my operating manual." That way everyone would be able to "live and let live".

The Diwan talks are part of the work with journalists in exile living in Germany. Young journalists, the majority of whom are from the Arab countries, Turkey, and Iran, prepare an annual newspaper supplement with stories from the newcomers’ perspective, which is then published in Berlin's Tagesspiegel. Topics covered to date were freedom, homeland and, most recently in the run up to the European elections in 2019, their view of Europe.



The Foundation, together with the Börsenverein - an association of the German book trade -, presents the Raif Badawi Award for courageous journalists at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In 2019, the jury selected the courageous Tunisian journalist Hanène Zbiss. In an interview, she talked about her work as a journalist.

Hanène Zbiss, Raif Badawi Award Winner 2019

The Tunisian investigative journalist, Hanène Zbiss, received the Raif Badawi Award at the Frankfurt Book Fair for her extraordinary reports. The prize is awarded annually by the Foundation to courageous journalists together with the German book association.

The Award winner Hanène Zbiss at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019

How would you describe the state of press freedom in Tunisia?

Since the Arab spring, freedom of the press in Tunisia has improved greatly. Today, everyone is free to express their opinion in classic or social media without having to fear persecution. My country today is ranked 72th by Reporters without Borders, a significant improvement over last year's 97th. But now new problems are emerging. The media landscape is controlled by corrupt businessmen and a number of high-ranking political representatives. On the one hand, the government is attempting to influence public media and, on the other, to reform practices from the dictatorship era.

Due to the poor economic situation, journalists are forced to accept this pressure, their work suffers and, in the end, freedom of opinion and information deteriorate again.

In Tunisia, you became well known through investigative reporting when you uncovered systematic brainwashing in Quran kindergartens. What effect did your publication have?

Early on, I decided to always do in-depth research with the aim of promoting, if possible, broad opinion making among the general public, perhaps even bringing about change. I was only able to understand so well how the Quran kindergartens work and how small children were being brainwashed because I had done undercover research over an extended period of time. After my report was published, 100 Quran kindergartens closed down in 2013 with only 40 existing in all of Tunisia. In the following years, however, governments failed to deal with these structures systematically.

Today, there are 1,130 of these Quran kindergartens. In my view, the job of a journalist is to uncover problems which could pose a potential risk to social peace and living together. That is why I recently wrote articles about the corruption that exists in the health, education and public sector. When corruption threatens the basis for living together in peace, it is imperative that this kind of work becomes the highest priority for journalists. We have to uncover these problems and hold those responsible accountable.

Hanène Zbiss requests better pay for journalists to guarantee media diversity and freedom of expression



This year, the Foundation distinguished the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) with the Digital Courage Award. They were awarded the prize for their efforts to counteract hate speech and disinformation as well as their educational work in the area of IT security. The Foundation also supports MIDO with the production of the TV show "MIL Kyi". Phyu Phyu Thi, co-founder of MIDO, explains why media education is so important for her country.

Phyu Phyu Thi,
Co-Founder of MIDO

Hate speech and disinformation campaigns are a global problem. Why does this warrant particular concern in Myanmar?

Disinformation is particularly virulent in Myanmar. In most cases, it is conveyed by religious, racist and political propaganda. Fake news intended to generate and spread hate put minority communities at the risk of violence. This makes it a threat to human rights in Myanmar.

But propaganda and disinformation are not a new problem, are they?

That's right. Before the rise of social media, government-controlled media spread manipulated news that discriminated against minorities. Most people, though, knew it was propaganda. Today, social media makes it much more difficult to understand which information comes from whom. That is a fertile environment to manipulate public opinion.

Why is Myanmar's society particularly susceptible to disinformation?

In recent years, the use of the Internet and platforms such as Facebook have increased dramatically. The education system, however, has not adapted to these changes. Both public and private actors have failed to raise public awareness of the new challenges.

MIDO is attempting to fill this gap, for example, with the MIL Kyi clips. How do the episodes increase citizens’ media information literacy (MIL)?

"MIL Kyi" is a Burmese play on words, which means "asking questions and finding out". The program conveys media skills in an entertaining way, using creative storytelling. We also check facts conveyed in news trending on social networks. Apart from that, each episode contains an interview with an expert from a different area. We would like to provide the audience with a comprehensive overview

How many people do you reach with the program?

Many of the episodes on our Facebook page are viewed by more than 20,000 people. Tens of thousands also watch the program on the DVB TV channel, which is one of our partners. Other media have reported on our project, including international broadcasters.

What do you expect in the future?

Elections will be held in our country in 2020. I am very worried that parties will spread disinformation in order to spearhead conflicts. This poses a great danger to our entire society. We are strengthening our efforts to raise citizens’ awareness of this topic. For a long-term solution, however, the government needs to promote media literacy in a focused manner.

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