In an interview, Carsten von Nahmen, Managing Director, and Natascha Schwanke, Director of Media Development, describe DW Akademie's activities amid global crises.
Carsten von Nahmen: It plays a crucial role because only well-informed societies can get through crises and conflicts, fight poverty and hunger, deal with the consequences of climate change and create equal opportunities for women and girls. The concept of freedom is at the core of our work: free media, free expression, free societies. Most recently, since the start of the war in Ukraine, it’s no longer just a theoretical debate.
Ukrainian journalists from Vgoru, a local media outlet, regularly published photo series from Kherson, a city previously occupied but now liberated. Vgoru is supported by DW Akademie
Russia is deliberately using disinformation to weaken democracy and civil society, and not only in Europe. The impact of the war in Ukraine is also exacerbating the situation for people in the Global South, where conditions were already shaky.
This is also an information war, and so our projects play a preventive role. Independent media are crucial for countering autocratic tendencies, for naming injustices and strengthening transparency and good governance. People who can access reliable information can make responsible decisions. If they can freely express their opinions, an open social discourse can emerge where it becomes possible to discuss potential solutions.
Natascha Schwanke: We work around the world with local partner organizations to promote free media and unhindered access to information. For example, we train local Ukrainian journalists in contested areas in the country’s eastern and southern regions, and we support fact-checking initiatives in Burkina Faso; we help build independent exile media for Myanmar, modernize university journalism training in Uzbekistan, and cooperate with community radio stations and schools in Bolivia to develop educational programs in rural regions. As a result, and together with local partners, we are developing open spaces for individuals and marginalized groups and providing them with access to reliable information. This also increases their confidence and understanding and, ultimately, their participation in overcoming conflicts and crises in their own countries.
Radio Escuela, Spanish for School Radio, is an educational program run by DW Akademie and the Bolivian radio network CEPRA. Around 20 local radio stations broadcast Radio Escuela's more than 100 educational programs, reaching over 25,000 students in rural areas. This enabled students to continue to learn from home even during the pandemic.
Natascha Schwanke: They have, and the conflicts have impacted media systems that were already struggling: when the pandemic came, media advertising revenues plummeted, and the economic crises, rising energy prices and galloping inflation can bankrupt a media outlet, especially the smaller ones. As a result, media companies and media professionals need new strategies, and we support them. For example, in developing sustainable business models. They also need different reporting formats to increase people's trust, particularly in local media, and to effectively counter attempts to influence their work.
Yeny Paucar and her mother Rosa Palomino produced radio segments for the Aymara communities around Lake Titicaca in Peru during Colmena's test phase
Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve learned to collaborate across continents to develop effective solutions. For example, our open-source Colmena software enables community media to provide their audiences with crucial and reliable information, even in times of crisis. The app is a success because it was developed as part of a South-South dialogue, where 23 community media and media organizations from 13 African and Latin American countries were involved in its design.
Carsten von Nahmen: We've seen the importance of forging new global alliances around media development, and we want to continue strengthening our South-South cooperations. Our ongoing regionalization is part of this and also important: it means that we are there where we are needed, we work closely with local partners, we bring in expertise and we listen carefully when it comes to specific local needs.
In March 2022, DW Akademie opened its office in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. We are working to combat misinformation and disinformation in cooperation with our local partner organization FasoCheck
Digital transformation is another central task. Social media have revolutionized the exchange of information and opinions worldwide, but we’ve also seen the downside with the rise of authoritarian regimes: digital media are being used to spread disinformation, stifle disagreement, increase polarization and undermine social discourse. We'll do more to counter this and will continue to train media consumers on how to move safely on digital platforms and critically assess content. We’ll also be supporting media outlets and media workers in developing new digital business models. In all, a strong, pluralistic media landscape, and an independent, effective media sector are key to overcoming the crises of our time.
Carsten von Nahmen
Carsten von Nahmen became Managing Director of DW Akademie in September 2018. He previously reported from the U.S. as DW’s senior correspondent, and from 2014 to 2017 was head of DW’s News and Current Affairs department and deputy editor-in-chief. Von Nahmen had been active with DW Akademie for many years, including as head of its Middle East/North Africa, Europe/Central Asia and Africa departments.
Natascha Schwanke became Director of Media Development and Deputy Head of DW Akademie in March 2019 after heading the Africa department for several years. Prior to this she worked for DW Akademie as a trainer, consultant and project manager. Schwanke is a trained journalist and has worked for leading radio and television stations.