Upcoming event: Journalism and Truth in the Time of Fake News

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Source: flickr.com/Jon S _ CC BY 2.0

The phenomenon of Fake News has turned from an obscure corner of the internet to a major canal of (dis)information in just a couple of years. With the presence of online news sources, news delivery is expected to be instantaneous, and journalists and news agencies face pressure to release stories rapidly to keep up with competing media sources.

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Russia between Europe and Authoritarianism: New developments addressed from an liberal perspective 

On the day of the 100 anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Russian experts gave their assessment of the current state of Russia in the framework of an FNF event. Professors and researchers discussed the economic and political situation as well as the relationship with the European Union from different perspectives. 

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South Africa: From Model Nation to Captured State?

South Africa – the country which has often been described as model for a good, functioning democracy and prospering example in Africa, is nowadays making headlines of a rather different nature: growing dissatisfaction with the national government, President Zuma’s announcement to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC), a stagnating economy and ongoing protest are elements of how South Africa currently jeopardizes its model perception. What way forward can there be? Lindiwe Mazibuko, former Parliamentary Leader of the official opposition in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), joined us for a chat and gave us her perspectives.

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The social realities: student protests & the ICC

The South African nation is currently experiencing violent protests at universities throughout the country. Since announcement of steep raises of tuition fees in 2015, there have been ongoing protests against further raises and a growing frustration about a lack of access to funding. Even though President Zuma has frozen the fees for the time being, new raises have already been announced, fueling again the anger of the students. But it is many different inequalities which have merged under the demand “#FeesMustFall”, according to Lindiwe Mazibuko. As she argues, these protests are indicators of something greater – a sign of lack of economic growth and high unemployment rates, especially among the (black) youth: “The dissatisfaction has been underestimated. We have to come to terms with these realities. We cannot ignore them. These are issues which have to be addressed at the leadership level.”

Moreover, President Zuma recently announced the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mazibuko condemns the President’s action: “It’s a dodgy, shady move.” Other African countries might jump on the bandwagon and follow the nation’s negative example.

Capturing the State?

But the leadership, namely South African President Zuma, has to face a number of further criticisms. The South African Public Protector’s Office recently published its state capture report, which points out several hundred allegations, potentially against the President. Some of them reach back to the time even before he entered office. Many of them evolve around the speculations of the President outsourcing governmental duties to external businessmen, specifically the Gupta family. Since he is transferring governance matters to them, he is breaking his sworn presidential oath, argues the former Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance. Their influence supposedly even reaches into appointments within his Cabinet. “This should have been the thing that toppled him out of office”, so Mazibuko. Despite all of this his party, the African National Congress (ANC), is still doing its best to protect President Zuma. According to Mazibuko, it is a “poor decision” to support him no matter what. Thus, the prospect of change in South Africa political leadership will depend on whether the ANC’s support of President Zuma will hold on in the years leading up the to the next General Elections in 2019 or if they would be willing to come forth and support a different candidate, she concludes.

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Will the state capture report make President Zuma fall?

However, bearing the recent state capture report in mind, the question has to be raised whether President Zuma will still be in office at that point. Will President Zuma resign as a result of the report? According to Mazibuko, no: “He would like to profit as Head of State as much as possible, and then resign. He will sit our legal proceedings”. Mazibuko, currently author-in-residence at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa (STIAS), names the government’s planned nuclear deal, which would cost the African nation a large chunk of its annual budget, as an example. While it would put the country into long-term debt, President Zuma is still determined to push it through. There are a number of renewable energy options in South Africa, so it’s not like there is no alternative to nuclear energy, argues Mazibuko: “When we think of President Zuma’s personal plans for being in office, this is the deal he wants to push through”. For the time being though, the Treasury still constitutes a threshold against the President’s plans.

 

The Democratic Alliance – is it able to spearhead change?

During the local elections in August of this year, the ANC unexpectedly lost a number of important municipalities to the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition – a sign of the ANC’s declining electoral support. On a national level “it was always the plan of the DA to draw the ANC under 50% and then form a coalition government”, explains Mazibuko. What she regards the biggest task ahead of the opposition party now to ignite change: “Gather enough votes so that it can push through its ideas. It’s not enough for ANC to decline, but to make sure that the DA can bring through democracy”.

Anna Reineke

„Animate Europe“ goes Strasbourg: our comic exhibition at the World Forum for Democracy

Alina Valentin, intern at the European Dialogue Programme of the FNF in Brussesls, shares her experiences presenting our international comic competition “Animate Europe” at the World Forum for Democracy.

20161107_145221The World Forum for Democracy (WDF) is a platform which fosters democratic participation and strengthens democracies by showcasing innovative projects and grassroot initiatives by decision-makers and activists. Considering that this years’ forum evolved around the relationship between education and democracy, 20161107_103848we knew it would be a great opportunity to bring our international comic competition “Animate Europe” to Strasbourg. After all, the competition aimed at generating interest and curiosity about Europe and thereby creating civic engagement and democratic foundations for a strong Union and beyond. The feedback we received from the international participants of the WDF very much reinforced both our decision to exhibit the comics (competition round 2015) at the Forum and the value of the competition as such: it gives citizens the power to express their opinions and visions creatively, by combining politics and art and comics in particular.

„This is brilliant! Our people are searching for innovative ways to communicate politics and reach different groups of people apart from those constantly participating – and they haven’t come up with such a great idea! I’m going to tell them about this, this is awesome!”

As I presented the comics to people from all over the world, I was particularly happy to get into conversations with people less involved in comics and arts in general. I especially kept two young English-speaking men in good memory. They themselves were not fond of drawing, but they were so impressed by the idea that they started to think of a strategy to compete anyway: “Well, if I come up with a really good story, I wonder if only drawing stick men would influence my winning chances. We still have three months… we will be sitting under the Christmas tree drawing”. I encouraged them to give it a try and am now very eager and exited to find out if they will actually participate!

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Compliments reached us from all sides – from associates of the Council of Europe as one of the organizers of the WDF, over a representative of the English Parliament to collaborators of the Civic Education Academy in the Kyrgyz Republic. I was very impressed not only by the great interest of everyone who stopped at our table, but also by the effect and impact such a creative, innovative ideaas launching a comic competition about Europe can have on citizens from different countries, age groups, organizations and backgrounds.

Overwhelmed by the large number of people interested in the comics, impressed by the diverse stories and experiences they shared with me, enthusiastic about the wide range of audience we reached and pleased with making so many individuals happy with our printed comic books, I returned to Brussels with the feeling that the next competition round, “Re-Animate Europe”,  will turn out to be a great success!

Alina Valentin161006_fns-team_colour_96dpi-52-von-53
Intern
European Dialogue Programme

Upcoming Event in Brussels: “Democracy Today and Tomorrow”

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International Day of Democracy – 28 September 2016

The European Parliament in cooperation with the European External Action Service and in partnership with the Office of International IDEA to the EU, the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Partnership for Democracy and the European Network of Political Foundations is hosting an event to mark the International Day of Democracy. Continue reading

The Philippine Elections: Promoting democracy through engaging political reportage

On the 9th of May, Filipinos will go to the ballot box. Since the demise of Ferdinand Marco’s military regime in 1986, the Philippines have consistently held democratic elections, with freedom of the press guaranteed through constitutional protections. Despite this progress, there is still much to be achieved in promoting liberal values in the Philippines. Corruption among government institutions is rampant, and political violence, especially against journalists, is commonplace. As part of a three-day program featuring some of the Philippines’ most notable media professionals, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited a round of experts to discuss key issues at stake in the upcoming Philippines elections and the important role the media plays in this context.

Corruption and Violence

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Bart Guingona

According to Bart Guingona, convenor of the MediaNation summit, a national conference of the news media in the Philippines, the South –East Asian country has yet to recover from the legacy of the Marcos regime, with sympathisers of the old regime present throughout all levels of bureaucracy and the late dictator’s family members still successfully running for political offices. He compares parts of this political power structure with historical feudal and dynastic systems Describing the current situation, Guingona stated that while the “heads” of the Marcos regime’s power machine have largely been removed from prominent positions of power, the “body” -the large number of pro-Marcos civil servants, still remains to promote the political resurgence of the past regime. The legacy of the past is still felt in the corruption and violence that is commonplace in Filipino politics. For journalists, the constitutional guarantees of free speech are all too often threatened by acts of violence.

The Role of the Media in Election Campaigning

According to Jacqueline Sierda, Program Manager for News and Information at the TV5 Network, journalism in the Philippines often fails to hold politicians accountable on critical issues such as corruption and human rights abuse. News media often assumes a tabloid style, focussing on irrelevant matters in politicians’ private lives while neglecting critical issues facing voters. Bart Guingona described a situation in which media outlets focussed their attention on a sex scandal involving a candidate’s sister while neglecting to provide coverage of a case involving political corruption. It was agreed that competent political journalism is a much-needed weapon in the fight for democracy in the Philippines. By drawing voter’s attention to important political issues, relevant,

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Abelardo Ulanday

fact-based journalism has the potential to achieve significant progress in advancing democracy in the Philippines. Abelardo Ulanday, associate editor at Inquirer.net, in this context also emphasised the increasing impact social media has in the Filipino political landscape and predicts that the role of social media in the upcoming elections will be greater than ever before. It has great potential of exposing corruption and advocating democracy.

During the discussion, relevant political reportage was identified as a critical weapon in the fight for democratic values in Philippines. A key priority of democracy advocates in the Philippines is facilitating effective engagement of the voting population with the political debates. The role of the media in directing political debate and educating voters must not be underestimated. Ultimately, the future of democracy in the Philippines will be decided by voters’ ability to make informed decisions based on the merits of each candidate. Only then will the Philippines achieve significant progress in upholding human rights and advancing democratic values.

 

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Joseph Monisse

Tunisia – has the city on the hill lost its shine?

The Arab Spring started in North Africa’s smallest state, a perennial tourist destination for sun-seeking Europeans, Tunisia. The Tunisian dictator Ben-Ali fled the country and since then Tunis has become a beacon of hope in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions. The country has since adopted its own constitution and held democratic elections. Although terrorist groups have executed attacks in Tunisia, the Tunisian political establishment has shown impressive fortitude in staying on a moderate course. Still, the Tunisian economy is suffering from the effects of terrorist attacks and a lack of investor confidence in the country’s once booming tourist industry. Tunisia is still a shining city on a hill in an otherwise tumultuous Middle East and North Africa, but as the Tunisian economy struggles to get by, is the country at risk of losing its shine? Benefiting from a group of Tunisian liberal politicians visiting the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, we invited stakeholders for an interactive discussion on the future prospects of a Tunisia in transition.

Hardware’s in place, Software still under construction

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The panel discussing Tunisia’s future.

Director of the Foundation’s Tunis office, Ralf Erbel, drew a parallel to the computer world in describing Tunisia’s current state. He pointed out that while Tunisia has all the ‘hardware’ needed for a democracy to function; elections, a constitution, political parties, an independent media; its ‘software’ is still under construction. By software Erbel refers to a genuine democratic political culture, a middle class with a vested interest in democracy and a stable economy. The institutions are also still nascent, and even though the country has a democratic constitution, several of the Ben-Ali era laws are still on the books and Parliament faces a momentous task in replacing them with new, democratic laws. This was pointed out by Member of Parliament Lilia Ksibi, from the liberal Afek Tounes party. The media is in desperate need of reform, making sure that the country enjoys both a strong and competitive private and public media. Ksibi stressed that while the country has so far occupied its place as a shining city on a hill, the developments in Tunisia’s neighbourhood is threatening to dislodge Tunisian progress. The Tunisian model of democracy is central to the region’s future, but without lasting solutions in its neighboring countries the future for Tunisia also looks bleak.

It’s the economy, stupid

Any country which has just undergone a democratic revolution would naturally focus on the strength of democratic institutions and the vibrancy of political life. However, closely connected to the stability of any society is the economic wellbeing of the middle class. Tunisia currently boasts an unemployment rate of 15.7%, well above the pre-revolutionary figures. This is especially crippling for Tunisia’s youth, previously employed in the country’s tourist industry. According to Afek Tounes politicians Khaled Fourati and Lilia Ksibi the greatest challenge to Tunisia’s democratic stability is this unemployed, disaffected segment of Tunisia’s society. Fourati stressed that the country now needs a massive capital injection, not only for big flagship projects, but also micro-financing for Tunisian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Former EU Ambassador to Tunesia and a Carnegie Visiting Scholar, Marc Pierini, reiterated this point by stressing that EU aid should go just as much to a tapestry of smaller projects, rather than to a smaller number of larger initiatives. This is essential if we want the Tunisian social contract to stand firm in the face of a wave of authoritarianism and instability in the region.

 

Change takes time

In terms of economic development or democratic progress, Tunisia needs time to reform. The country has undergone a major change after years of dictatorship and the progress already made is remarkable. The challenge is now to make steady economic headway without weakening the country’s democratic institutions. Just as the system of governance has to be changed, so Erbel pointed out the change underway to decentralize the economy to ensure that those who benefit are not only located in the metropolitan areas such as Tunis, but also in the country’s hinterland. Tunisia and, as pointed out by members of the visiting group, to be a Tunesian has come to stand for a different democratic model in the Middle East and North Africa. It should be the priority of the EU to help Tunisia’s economy flourish once again, be it by injecting capital, encouraging Europeans to vacaction in the country or, last but not least, by fast-tracking the negotiations underway for an EU-Tunisia free trade agreement. Easily forgotten in the midst of Middle Eastern turmoil, Tunisia remains a proverbial shining city on a hill, although the shine might wane if support for its nascent democracy is not upheld.

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Håvard Sandvik, European Affairs Manager FNF