Correcting Images 2019: “If one country loses, so do we all”

The intent of the Correcting Images conference is hidden in plain sight: to get informed about topics, get in touch with experts and hopefully leave the event having debunked major prejudices. For the 18th time, young academics from four different German universities gathered in Leipzig to do so. | Von Julia Gürster

Over the course of two days, the approximately 100 students from the Ludwig-Maximilian University and German School of Journalism in Munich, the Deutsche Welle Academy in Bonn, the University of Leipzig and the Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg met up in the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research to attend expert talks, discuss ideas in panels and get to know each other. Created as a single university seminar in 2001 by Professor Markus Behmer, the event now is a collaboration of German communication science institutes and journalism schools. Each year, it relies on sponsors such as Engagement Global, the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Academic Exchange Service, which made this year’s conference possible.

Matching the global climate debate that has left its mark on the year 2019, the conference chose the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its main topic, including their worldwide implementation by 2030 and their representation in the media. Special attention was paid to Vietnam, Brazil and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to demonstrate the attempts at implementing the UN’s goals on three different continents.

The reception in the morning of November 22nd marked the start of two intense days. In groups of four, the students tested a board game specifically addressing the SDGs. Each student took on the role of a fictitious country trying to implement individual goals while struggling to help their fellow countries achieve their goals as well. Winning the game predisposing all four players’ successful implementation of the SDGs, the developers’ intended message foreshadowed what would become evident during the conference: In a matter as enormous as global sustainability goals, working together always beats fighting for oneself.

However, the first keynote made it clear that strategic cross-country implementation bears multidimensional challenges. Vera Strasser from the service office of Communities in One World and Steffen Bauer from the German Development Institute discussed the hardship, conflict but also joy that comes with cross-cultural work. “Actions don’t have to be related to the SDGs, they have to be done”, Bauer emphasised. In a second keynote, Professor Roger Blum, formerly of the University of Bern, linked the SDGs to the freedom of press. This especially rang true for Vietnam, having been ranked 176th out of 180 countries on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders.

The second day marked the beginning of six panels dealing with the three countries in greater detail. Prepared and moderated by the students, the three morning panels each featured two experts for the respective country, one of them being a native. They highlighted the city partnerships between Leipzig and Travnik, Wernigerode and Hội An, and Cologne and Rio de Janeiro, each of them giving insight into recent projects surrounding the SDGs. The afternoon panels subsequently dealt with the countries’ media system. Among prominent guests were persecuted and exiled Vietnamese journalist Khoa Le Trung and former foreign correspondent Philipp Abresch. Since the panels took place simultaneously, a joint newscast was held in the early evening, where students wrapped up each panel for the crowd. The event evaluation and a networking opportunity concluded the conference.

What about the correction of images implied by the conference? “The SDGs are not just about developing countries”, answers Lena from the University of Bamberg, “industrial nations are equally responsible. That change of perspective is necessary”. Her fellow student Marc added: “We immediately think of green lifestyles when we’re talking about sustainability, but there are so many other factors, press freedom being one of them. Correcting Images helped me realise that sustainability isn’t just environmental.”