|Dates: 5 – 7 December 2019||Place: Association of Northern Greece Journalists (E.S.I.E.M-Th) Auditorium, Thessaloniki, Greece|
Symβiosis-School of Political Studies affiliated to the Council of Europe Network of Schools held a three days seminar, from 5 to 7 December 2019, entitled ‘Information, Integration and Democracy’. The seminar aimed to establish a space for interaction, cross-examination of challenges and new channels of debate on issues related to the information age and its impact on integration and democracy. The panels’ speakers were media professionals, journalist associations’ representatives, academics, civil society professionals and policy makers. Participation rose to over 35 persons, including migrants, refugees, persons of Roma origin, as well as the new generation.
The seminar was structured in six panels, all of which constructed an overview of how democracy and integration are linked to the freedom of expression and media. The necessity of balanced information systems for balanced democracies and integration procedures was elaborated through the speeches, while the various aspects of this relationship were discussed, as well as the challenges being faced during the information age.
Integration is a cross-cutting procedure that goes beyond different policies and touches various aspects of migrants’ and refugees’ lives. Increased interest, intensified by the so called “refugee crisis”, highlights the need for extensive research and accurate data on the integration of migrants and refugees into the economic, social, cultural, and political sphere of the society. Both new and old media, as well as state of the art information technologies can become either channels or obstacles in reaching the information we need. The panels of the seminar demonstrated some relevant good examples and practices, while speakers argued that media literacy is the key tool for citizens to develop a critical understanding of the messages transmitted through both old and especially new media. Marina Tomara (Communications specialist, ACCMR) presented the example of the Athens Coordination Center for Migrants and Refugees Platform, while Elli Papastergiou (Symbiosis) presented the project ‘Get the Trolls Out!’ which is dedicated to the monitoring of hate speech related to religion, implemented across Europe. Both projects contribute to the empowerment of active citizens in the management of information.
Today, social media consist an integral part of everyday life for a large part of the population and have, therefore, taken a leading role in the field of information. The speakers elaborated on issues related to the new reality shaped by social media in regard to information opportunities, such as the power of data, and challenges resulting from this new context, as well as the ways information is shaped in the era of social media and the way it affects democracy and integration. Emphasis was placed on the fact that today’s innovative communication networks and interaction practices’ functionality is based on anonymity and/or pseudonymity. Based on Andreas Takis’ (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, AUTh) point of view, this development could easily be lurking new risks on regards to the rights of the persons involved. Hence, the question arising here is whether these risks could be used as an alibi or a justification for those fighting against anonymity on social media and to what extent such a scenario could be feasible without a price for democracy? Emphasis was placed on the tools that can be used for the verification of multimedia content and fact checking techniques were introduced. Andreas Vasiliou (Political Scientist, Greek League of Human Rights Board) presented the case of how the refugees and migrant issue is being mis-presented by media both on a national and European level.
Participants developed a better understanding of global changes and challenges of both today’s media (both traditional and new) and integration procedures. The seminar facilitated a constructive discussion that allowed participants to become aware of the relationship between information, integration and democracy and considered whether the information age helps or hinders citizens involvment in the democratic processes, as well as in the integration of migrants and refugees. Most importantly, the seminar highlighted the necessity for balanced democracies of active, aware and empowered citizens participating in the management of information.
Snapshots from the Seminar