[MY TAKE] Global Media Forum 2017 a meeting of minds

Haji Mohamed Dawjee shares her experience of discussions on social media at this year's Global Media Forum in Germany.

Picture: Pixabay.com

Experts on media, politics, human rights, culture, science and an array of international journalists attended the 11th Global Media Forum this year in Bonn, Germany. I was lucky to be among the fellows who were invited by the Deutsche Welle Institute.

The forum hosted over 2,000 guests from 130 countries in total, and we had the privilege of attending a variety of events with some influential international decision makers. Some of the participants included European Parliament Secretary-General Klaus Welle, Unesco deputy director general Frank La Rue, Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty as well as Carmen Perez, co-founder of the US Women's March initiative.

Of the events I attended, a variety of talks and panel discussions on social media resonated with me the most. These panels discussed whether or not online platforms promote extremism and populism. Questions were raised about how citizens become radicalised? Do governments manipulate media? And are social networks really to blame for all of this?

I appreciated that the speakers included journalists and professionals of ethnic and religious backgrounds who had hard referential evidence to support their arguments. Especially when it came to the Middle East region. Too many times, we are faced with Western voices that soap box to relatively uneducated audiences. The perpetuation of the spread of information in this way becomes part of the problem that starts to grow legs and live on networks that reach audiences far greater than the initial one.

Speakers included people like Ahmad Mansou, a leading international expert on radicalisation who works with vulnerable youth to identify the roots of radicalisation, and Mohammed Hashemi, a journalist and political analyst from Iran.

Then, of course, what a pleasure is was to see speakers from European countries, who highlighted the fact that terrorism and populism are not a Muslim problem. And that Europe, as well as America, is facing an identity crisis. Citizens are grappling with a civic existential crisis, driving them to extreme acts of populist ideologies. Terrorism is not an Islamic issue. I appreciated the diversity and clarity of the arguments.

Media experts warned that the press needs to be careful of the terminology used when reporting on 'fanatical' themes and acts. A lack of awareness inspires harmful language that can perpetuate stereotypes. Stereotypes reproduce prejudices. Prejudices lead to mob mentalities that contribute to a narrative of radicalisation. Another important point was made in terms of balanced reporting. It is blatantly clear that both internationally and in South African media more stories need to be published “about individuals who faced social difficulties but didn't turn to radicalisation”.

In a nutshell, the media is as responsible as government to make efforts to eliminate propaganda.

One thing remained clear and conclusive though: There is no way to measure the connection between individual personalities, human needs and social dynamics in the role of extremism and populism. Reporting that claims these connections can be measured become key influencers in franchising terrorism. And this is something that needs to stop.

In a social media age, where comments and status updates serve as an outrage mechanism, polarised societies should not be exploited.