EKD-Bulletin 02/1997

2 - 1997


"Opportunities and risks of the media society"

Joint statement by Bishops Engelhardt and Lehmann

In view of the "explosion in the media" the two major churches have called for greater protection to be guaranteed for the freedom and variety of opinion and the dignity of the individual. Speaking to journalists in Frankfurt, the Chairman of the EKD Council, Bishop Klaus Engelhardt, and the Chairman of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, Bishop Karl Lehmann, pointed out that they want to initiate a broad debate on political control over new developments in the media and communication technologies.

In their joint statement entitled "Opportunities and Risks of the Media Society" the churches speak out against allowing a new "gap of knowledge between the haves and have-nots as far as information is concerned" (Engelhardt). They also call for existing regulations on the protection of privacy, children and data to be revised. "Freedom, truth and human dignity need to be strengthened in the media society ", said Bishop Engelhardt. Technology and economics have the "obligation to serve human beings and the community", said Bishop Lehmann. "Mere economic thinking" is not suitable as a tool for shaping policies in the media society.

The churches demand legislation to check increasing concentration in the media field. Steps must be taken at national and European level to limit the power of those in the media who are in a dominant position to influence public opinion, says the 80-page statement which focuses on the opportunities and risks of the electronic media. In order to achieve this, the domination of single powerful shareholders must be made completely public. The EKD and the Bishops' Conference call on the federal and state governments to submit a report on the development of the media society every two years.

According to the churches, public broadcasting plays a vital role in guaranteeing the freedom of opinion and access to a variety of information in Germany. Maintaining and strengthening this system, which is "almost unique" in the world, is "imperative", said Bishop Engelhardt. Public broadcasting networks must remain "competitive". They have to make sure that while catering for the basic needs of the viewing public, "minority programmes can be seen as well, and ratings are not always the decisive factor". Private broadcasting has become one of the pillars on which the dual broadcasting system rests. In view of its greater freedom in producing programmes, it has "a special obligation to practise voluntary control".

Now that "violations of taboos and norms" are constantly increasing, public control and self-regulation of the media must be increased. This also applies to the protection of "religious convictions", said Bishop Lehmann. First attempts made by German Internet providers to introduce voluntary self-regulation need to be improved. Nothing glorifying violence, instigating racial hatred, violating human dignity, glorifying war or pornography must be available on-line either.

According to the churches, the subject of media must "finally become an integral part of education", said Bishop Lehmann. Creative work with media "must start at kindergarten", said the statement. "Affordable access" to information for all citizens must be guaranteed. "The media must not be the prerogative of an educated Çlite", said Bishop Lehmann. According to the statement, the churches want to improve their own media work in spite of dwindling financial resources. The two Bishops, however, expressed their "reservations" about the churches setting up their own special-interest channels.

The churches also demand justice of access to new communication techniques for the Thirld World, calling this a challenge for state and church development policy. International agreements must help these countries to practise their "right to communication" to prevent the North-South divide from growing even more. The statement was drawn up by a joint commission of communication experts, journalists and theologians chaired by Suffragan Bishop Friedrich Ostermann (Muenster) and Church President Peter Steinacker (Darmstadt).



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