The Deutsche Welle media conference ended over a week ago, and I can tell you, it was lit! I was glad to have made it as a last minute arrangement went through. If you’re in media, human rights, culture and science and you weren’t here this year, make a date for the next year’s event. The theme will be Global inequality.
Though I’m quite the social butterfly, chirpy when I land any place new, eagerly searching for stories in everything; Germany is different.
Firstly, Bonn is just a stone throw away ( in my case a four-hour train journey) from my base in North Brabant. Secondly, this is my third time in the country. They say third time’s a charm, don’t they?
Lastly, I’m attending the biggest media conference in Germany. The conference consists of journalists from every nook and cranny of the globe. It’s not like it’s solely Germans whom I can ask about Beethoven and about Bonn, and about the River Rhine and the quirks that makes the city what it is.
So what I do is hang myself out to dry. I hang out alone. The silent observer. I’ve come to my own, and no longer feel the need to fill gaps of silence with babbles of chatter.
If I’m nearby people, either at tea time next to a group, I eavesdrop conversations. No, it’s not rude. In every group there’s that boisterous person who’s assumed the lead. They feel what they have to say is most important. They cut everyone off and hop from one topic to the other. They talk in decibels not in quiet whispers. These are folk who want to be eavesdropped.
They may talk about their country, they may chat about their pets. They may be initiating contacts among each other and there’s a flurry of questions to and fro. Eavesdrop worthy material; lots of nuggets to chomp, swallow, regurgitate and meditate upon, and then safely tuck away in a box to be re-opened at some later date.
Somehow with journalists, one can’t play solitaire for long. A few guys throw me weird smiles and glances. I see quizzical expressions, and eyes darting to my name tag, and quite a number ‘break ice’ that way…the name tag way. The thing about journalists is that they are always looking for that angle, I’ve been a journalist so I would know. They draw me out of my reverie and into their world. They ply me with questions and I let them. It’s an eye-opening experience…I learn so much.
The conference was opened by Deutsche Welle’s Director General Peter Limbourg with a somber speech that emphasized that “International media was going through a renaissance of sorts as we report in troubled times; when the world is heaving with conflicts, tension, nationalism, populism and so forth. The media is tasked with building bridges, with reporting objectively instead of taking sides. Taking sides is only permissible when there are human rights issues at stake, as we are working for the people.”
As you can imagine, this conference was massive, a plethora of topics around the theme, “Identity and Diversity” and different panels all the three days…it was mind-boggling choosing which ones to attend but I had to focus.
As part of the panel, “The proliferation of lies; Media in post-truth politics’, I took away Amanda Bennett’s (Voice of America) sound bite, “There’s no fake news..only propaganda and then factual news reports.”
I think in times like this with the heavy presence of social media jostling by main-stream media reporting, not only are repressive governments having a hard time denying events that have been live-streamed, but social media is having an impact on politics and democratic movements in many countries.
I loved the sessions by Yusuf Omar. He was quite bubbly and very interactive as he gave us tips to build a mobile newsroom. He has aptly branded himself a ‘mobile journalist’ –mojo or ‘jeans journalist’ because everything he needs whether it be a phone to make videos or take pictures and carry out interviews, fits in his jeans. His journalism caters to the smartphone generation; audiences that like their news on the move. He concludes that, “Mobile audiences want raw, authentic stories, not polished, television-style broadcasts.”
I enjoyed the satirical reporting by Zambezi news with the reference to President Mugabe’s leadership in Zimbabwe. Indeed this year was unique in that there was the inclusion of that which ordinarily cannot be considered journalism. Skits and comedy made the cut, the Zambezi news being a prime example. Watched by over six million people and widely shared on social media, it is an online comedy show that uniquely satirizes politics and state propaganda in Zimbabwe. Their sessions were a hit, drawing crowds each morning they came to the plenary sessions.
One of the most profound panels I attended was titled, “Handling trauma in war-torn journalism.”
This panel jolted me wide-awake from my happy reverie. It’s like you could smell mortar dust from off these war photographers; the metallic smell of risk, the salty odor of blood and the courage to be present in the face of these images they brought to us. That branch of photography is labeled conflict photography. These war journalists seem ordinary in their loose casual clothing and sneakers, but when their work is unraveled on a screeen behind them; you feel gutted, your heart beats fast and you’re short of breath. As they bared out their hearts, we walked with them through the dangers. Gavin Rees offered that “Because they see images no one wants to see, because they risk their lives to go into conflict zones for these images, they have to make time for themselves…to decompress, to be as far as possible from these locations…then prepare to go out again.”
You would wonder what motivates them to go to danger zones? Aussie-born Patrick Tombola confessed that he’s spurred on by the psychology of sharing unique stories of intimacy in suffering. When I asked him how he begun and if he ever sees himself doing something else; he said he was a lawyer for several years but found that war photography came naturally to him, and despite the fact that it is fraught with dangers and he has lost colleagues on the field, he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon. He surprised us by saying when he felt he was going crazy, he went to Gaza “where at the time, everything was crazy and he felt normal again.”
Listening to Beethoven’s music presented by an accordionist and cellist was super refreshing…they gave us a taste of what was to come in September with the Beethovenfest. The city of Bonn as well as Deutsche Welle out did themselves with the dinner cruise on the River Rhine.
Have you been to Bonn or a Deutsche Welle media conference? Share you thoughts below?