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​14th Hamburg Media Symposium: On the Pacemakers of Social Conversation

​14th Hamburg Media Symposium: On the Pacemakers of Social Conversation

About 200 experts and guests came to the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce on June 18th to discuss the drivers of social conversations and the challenges of current media communication. Discourses and groups seem to be drifting further and further apart, while at the same time journalism is expected to keep the common social conversation alive. The symposium offered space to exchange ideas from different academic and media-practical perspectives: What is happening right now? How are journalism and other stakeholders reacting to the changes? What expectations do we have of traditional media companies and social media? And how can politics and regulation ensure a joint discourse between diverse voices?

The event was moderated by PD Dr. Jan-Hinrik Schmidt. After a welcoming address by Michaela Beck, Managing Director of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, and Eva-Maria Sommer, Director of the Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein Media Authority (MA HSH), four presentations followed, which addressed the changes in public communication from the perspectives of communication science, media law, journalism and media regulation.

Jan Rau (RISC Hamburg/HBI) spoke about the polarization dynamics and communication strategies of right-wing actors in social media and their social impact using suitable nautical metaphors. He recalled the sinking of the Pamir in a storm in 1957: the loaded cargo ship did not sink due to the storm but was torn apart from the inside out when the cargo was hurled back and forth with enormous force. With this image in mind, solutions now need to be found to make digital democracy seaworthy – from the inside out. The existing political energy must be channeled into political participation and the (digital) public sphere must offer a space to make social grievances visible and workable in a constructive exchange.

Prof. Dr. Eva Ellen Wagner (Faculty of Law, University of Augsburg) explained challenges from the perspective of media regulation and pointed out that democratic discourse should be oriented towards both conflict and understanding. Resonant social communication does not only consist of harmonious consonance.

Prof. Dr. Barbara Hans (Institute for Media and Cultural Management, Hamburg University of Music and Theatre) explained the changes and challenges facing journalism in terms of the triad of social media/platforms, artificial intelligence, and media use. She described the developments in these three fields as a "cycle of arbitrariness and dispensability": everyone can do it (arbitrariness in the distribution of content), the machine can do it better (dispensability in the production of content) and nobody wants it (indifference/rejection of the reception of content). This spiral leads to a fragmentation of discourse and a lack of resilience in dealing with crises. To counteract these developments, a political debate about the consequences of the declining legitimacy of traditional journalism must be held and alternative financing models discussed. After all, journalism and democratic society can deal with dissonance and resonance; the real challenge lies in ignorance.

Eva-Maria Sommer referred to the work of the state media authorities in the fight against hate and hate speech online. The MA HSH reviewed 5,000 pieces of content last year and reported them for prosecution. Together with other media authorities, around 1,300 legal violations have also been reported to the EU since the Hamas attack on Israel. According to Sommer, this is just a "drop in the bucket", "but even that can steam up".

In the second part of the event, Anna von Garmissen (HBI) moderated a discussion between political consultant Martin Fuchs, Vanessa Bitter (dpa, #UseTheNews), NDR State Broadcasting Director Hendrik Lünenborg and Tim Klaws (Public Policy and Government Relations Expert, TikTok). It became clear that there are no simple solutions: The tension between freedom of expression and the spiral of outrage, fragmented subpublics, floods of information and self-reinforcing divisive tendencies is becoming increasingly complex. According to the panel, there is still too little potential to make the public communication space friendlier, more relevant and more diverse again by strengthening media literacy – across generations (!) –, improving the networking of actors who advocate a democratic and diverse society, and through dialog and concrete encounters with citizens.

The 14th Hamburg Media Symposium was organized by the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), the Hamburg section of the Research Institute Social Cohesion (RISC), the Media Authority Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein (MA HSH) and the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. The symposium was recorded by TIDE – Hamburg's citizens' channel and educational channel and will be broadcast on the station's program in early July (dates to follow). The recordings of the presentations and the panel will be available on TIDE's YouTube channel after the broadcast.
 
To the program of the event

Photo: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce/Ulrich Perrey; on the podium from left: Anna von Garmissen, Tim Klaws, Hendrik Lünenborg, Vanessa Bitter and Martin Fuchs

(Hamburg, 24 June 2024)

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