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Navigating Freedom – How Do We Protect Academic Freedom, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Opinion?

Navigating Freedom – How Do We Protect Academic Freedom, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Opinion?

On deck of the MS Wissenschaft, we held a public discussion on three fundamental values as cornerstones of our social coexistence: freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and academic freedom. What is the state of these freedoms in Germany and worldwide? Where and how are they under threat? In what ways do they differ from each other? And how do they influence each other? The discussion was moderated by Korinna Hennig, team leader in the science department at the NDR.

Prof. Dr. Wiebke Loosen, senior researcher at the HBI and deputy head of the Hamburg section of the Research Institute Social Cohesion (RISC), provided insights into the German sub-study "Worlds of Journalism". In Germany, journalists are not intimidated and remain true to their professional self-image. Their most important tasks are to provide information to enable people to form an opinion and counteract disinformation. However, assaults, stress and financial worries are part of journalists' everyday work and threaten the freedom of the press.

This is also confirmed by Malte Werner, journalist and project manager at Netzwerk Recherche e.V., where he runs the "Helpline" project – a support service for journalists with psychosocial problems – which is experiencing a high level of demand. According to Malte Werner, the search for new revenue structures for journalism oriented towards the common good is also noteworthy. This is increasingly happening in rural areas, for example, where traditional media companies are leaving gaps that media start-ups financed by foundations or donations are trying to fill.

Dr. Lars Lott, researcher at the Institute for Political Science at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, used data from the Academic Freedom Index to explain that academic freedom is becoming less and less protected worldwide. Although Germany ranks 11th according to the latest data from the index and academic freedom is protected in the constitution, academics in this country are also coming under increasing pressure. Considering current debates, Lars Lott emphasized that not everything that scientists express is protected by academic freedom and that researchers should make it clearer in public debates what constitutes a personal expression of opinion and which aspects are scientifically derived. Such positioning also protects academic freedom from abuse.

Navigating Freedom was a joint event organized by the HBI, the Hamburg section of the Research Institute Social Cohesion (RISC), the ZEIT STIFTUNG BUCERIUS and the MS Wissenschaft.

The MS Wissenschaft is a project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the Science Year 2024 – Freedom. It will be touring Germany from 14 May to 15 September 2024. The exhibition is being realized by Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD). Children from the age of twelve, young people and adults will become researchers and experience science at first hand. The exhibits are from different scientific disciplines and illustrate how multifaceted research on the topic of freedom is. In addition to the exhibition, there is a varied program of events including discussions, readings and workshops for school classes at many tour venues.

Photo: Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)/Christiane Matzen; from left: Dr. Lars Lott, Prof. Dr. Wiebke Loosen, Korinna Hennig, Malte Werner

(Hamburg, 25 June 2024)

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