Fighting for the truth in an age of disinformation

Author: Martin Penov

Phones buzzing, sun blazing and cameras everywhere. Such was the day-to-day at the 2023 Global Media Forum (GMF) – Deutsche Welle’s annual event for journalists, politicians and civil society to meet and discuss the state of media across the globe. Located in the former West German capital Bonn, the two-day conference included a range of interesting panel discussions, networking opportunities, and, most importantly, an opportunity to finally meet the editorial team behind EU NEIGHBOURS east.

While I’m no stranger to conferences, least of all international ones, I knew from the start that the GMF would be different. Writing articles has always been something I have engaged in on the side while working in NGOs or political campaigns. Being surrounded by actual media professionals felt quite out of the ordinary, intimidating almost. After a night of luggage-related shenanigans on the way from the airport, the first day began with introductions from the team and a much, much needed coffee. The official programme started shortly thereafter with a very pleasant, albeit sobering surprise – a live performance by Belarusian music ensemble “Volny Chor”. This caught me off guard as the performers had to hide their faces due to fears of political persecution. While the atmosphere turned heavy, I suddenly felt in a much more familiar environment.

The next two days would continue to highlight the many challenges facing our region. Notable journalists from the Eastern Neighbourhood, like Ukrainska Pravda’s Sevgil Musaieva and DW’s own Anna Chaika, voiced their concerns over freedom of expression in the region in light of Russia’s war. Musaieva’s description of the war as “the war for the truth” resonated with me as someone coming from a country – Bulgaria – where the battle with disinformation is still ongoing.

“You do remember what Russia said, that Buch is staged, it’s faked. This is when the battle for the truth began,” she said during her panel discussion on war reporting. This battle was a prominent topic during these two days, resonating with journalists from all over the world. A quote that really stuck with me was by Katharina Nocun, a Polish-German publicist who said: “The role of objective journalism isn’t to give Russia’s narrative a space.” This is a struggle I have faced before with my writing and is a message I hope other participants remembered well.

Fighting for the truth in an age of disinformation

The past year has been very difficult for journalists in Europe, both in Ukraine and in the EU. The level of disinformation being spread online has been hard to comprehend. I started writing more on politics and society in the region, especially regarding my own country, where disinformation is rampant. Seeing Eastern Europe being brought up so often despite the global nature of the forum really made me realise that the struggle of our journalists is not being ignored. Their work is more important now than ever.

By the end of the forum, I felt a bit more hopeful than expected. Meeting journalists both from our region and other parts of the world showed me how common many of the challenges we face are. Coming from a more political background, it was interesting to see how a different field tackled topics I’m familiar with, as well as completely new ones. I felt out of place at many points throughout the forum but I learnt a lot because of it. That alone made the whole experience worth it. The people I got to meet and the powerful stories we got to hear helped motivate me to continue writing. The truth is a privilege for many and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Originally published at