PBI 2015 Welcome address Ulrich Wilhelm, Director General BR

Welcome address of Ulrich Wilhelm at "Public Broadcasters International" (PBI), 10. September 2015, Literaturhaus München.

Stand: 11.09.2015

BR-Intendant Ulrich Wilhelm, PBI 2015 | Bild: BR/Ralf Wilschewski

"Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to Germany, welcome to Bavaria. It is a great pleasure and honor to host the 24th Public Broadcasters International Conference here in Munich.

In this room, an impressive diversity of public broadcasters is assembled, and we are pround to announce an historic attendance of 220 visitors from all corners of the globe: from Asia and Australia; Africa; North and South America, and from Europe. And I would like to thank you all very much for making the trip to Munich.

Talking about diversity: Did you know that our meeting is taking place in the year of the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity? The Convention explicitly mentions public service broadcasting as playing a vital role in the promotion of media pluralism, and this extends to the digital world.

We live in challenging times. As we are meeting today, hundreds of thousands of people are on the move, crossing the borders of Europe, risking their lives for a better life.
In the last days, thousands of them have already arrived in Germany and particularly in Munich. It is moving to see how Munich's citizens have welcomed them warmly, with humanity and respect.
We as the media have a great responsibility in times like these. We need to provide the necessary information, put events as they are happening on the regional and national level into a global perspective. We have to be aware of people’s concerns and fears, take them seriously, and help to create a common ground for an informed public debate. Why are these people on the move? What is their story? What have they been through? And why should we treat them with dignity, whatever their future status might be?
In situations like these we are at the very core of what public broadcasting is about. Whenever something of such dimension is happening in the world, or at home, people turn to us. They look to us for reliable information and background.

The PBI Conference offers an excellent opportunity to share ideas and experiences about the opportunities and challenges we all face. Because - while our values and mission remain the same - we must successfully evolve with the rapidly changing digital media landscape.
In the last few years, we have been witness to a digital revolution. Ten years ago, there were no iPhones. Today modern smartphones are standard. They are the Swiss Army knife of the 21st century, putting in our pockets the access to the digital world.
We are all aware of the fundamental change digitization has brought to the way people communicate and consume media.

In light of these developments, we also need to make an honest assessment of our role in this digital world.
The truth is: Public Broadcasting is not taken for granted anymore. Facing budgetary constraints, many of us are under pressure, in terms of our remit and perhaps also in regard to our editorial independence.
There are voices who question the contribution public service media is making to society as a whole. Do we really need public broadcasting in a world saturated with content? Where almost anybody can produce video content with their smartphone.
I fundamentally believe that, more than ever, we need strong and independent public service media.  Because digitization is no substitute for sound judgments, independent minds, the ability to put information into perspective, and the need to have curators of content.

In the new digital world, I consider Public Service Media to be a trusted guide. A guide that cuts through the dust of modern information overkill. Who is of the region I live in, yet knows the world and can put things in perspective.  An impartial guide who treats all parts of society with equal respect. Who does not exclude anyone from his account regardless of their social status or wealth. A voice that shows the whole picture and gives me the whole spectrum of opinions, even if those differ from mine or from the majority opinion. A point of reference to whom I can turn whenever I need orientation and reliable information, but also when I am looking for culture, sports, education, and entertainment that reflects my regional and national identity.  An institution that treats me as a citizen and not as a consumer. A supporter of the regional and national creative economy. Who fosters diversity. Who dares to fail, who admits mistakes and who is accountable to the public.  
Ultimately, I am convinced that the ability of a society to reach consensus, its tolerance and its openness - in essence, the quality of its democracy - depends on the kind of media it has.

In Germany, we gladly profit from thehigh quality of the media in general, both commercial and public. We have a strong public broadcasting system with a broad remit and sound funding that allows everyone to access independent and first-rate quality information, fiction, documentaries, sporting events and entertainment.  Common values are best transmitted in all genres, and we couldn't reachthe whole population if we limited ourselves to an elite, niche audience. I am convinced that our programmes raise the bar in the market and have led to a generally higher standard in commercial TV and radio, as well.
Of course, public broadcasters do a lot even beyond programming; for example, via educational projects with children. In addition, we have two world-renowned orchestras and a world class choir. We are a cultural institution.

But still, I believe we can do better. We need a shift in our mindset. We have to break the silos of different media and make the content our starting point. In practice, we need more collaboration and communication between journalists, data analysts, designers and engineers. We need to connect better with society. In short: we have to do our homework.
In my opinion, the key question is: How do we best serve our audiences in this digital world? How do we take account of their changing needs, lifestyles, and ways of communicating and accessing content? As the rhythm-of-life of our users changes, so we have to adapt.
The good news is: no one in the entire media landscape has really completely figured it out yet. Therefore, we should not be afraid of change, but embrace it, and aim to be at the forefront of innovation.

I am sure that, during this conference, we will see many examples of how you are dealing with the current challenges.  And I am grateful that such esteemed experts from around the world have joined us to discuss these crucial questions, including from the publishing sector.  I am convinced that, as providers of quality journalism, we share similar opportunities and challenges.
Last but not least, I would also like to thank the representatives of the PBI Steering Committee, the Public Media Alliance and of the European Broadcasting Union who helped a lot in setting up this conference. Also, I would like to thank the dedicated PBI Team of BR and ARD that made this conference happen.
I wish all of you, open, frank and fruitful discussions - and a successful conference!"

Ulrich Wilhelm, Director General BR

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