Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remarks at TechForum Closing Session

Image from, under the headline: US Ambassador stumped by thong protest, and with caption: Naked aggression: Ambassador Wharton is given an eyeful by Zanu PF protester (2013)
Bruce Wharton 
Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Warsaw, Poland
February 16, 2017

(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and Gentleman [sic] , distinguished guests, Ambassador Jones.
What a great two days! I’ve been thoroughly impressed by what I have seen and what I have learned – including what it means to write a “challenge statement” – and by all your creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Thank you for allowing me to take part in your sessions and for demonstrating such extraordinary teamwork.
I want to thank the talented trainers and staff who orchestrated this TechForum, including FRSI, my colleagues in Washington with the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, and Alice Chu and the entire U.S. Embassy Warsaw Public Affairs team. Your open and thoughtful approach to organizing the event is reflected in the high quality of the presentations and discussions.
And of course I commend all of the participants for your commitment of time and for bringing such impressive expertise, diversity of perspectives, and high level of energy to the sessions. You were invited to this TechForum based on the important work you are doing to create and deliver quality digital information to the public. Many of you have told me you that you participated in the forum in order to improve your skills in such areas as media literacy, content verification, data visualization, and hacking. Based on my firsthand observations, I think you have accomplished what you set out to do.
Around the world, we are witnessing an epidemic of disinformation that is challenging the bedrock principle that truth matters. A 2016 Freedom House report assessed that only 13 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where the press is truly free. Laws that restrict media operations pose a grave challenge, but the new economic realities of the digital age are also posing significant threats to press independence, with many journalists and news outlets struggling to sustain operations without resorting to self-censorship or other compromises of their integrity to generate revenue and financial support.
Despite these challenges – perhaps even because of them – we are living in a time of great opportunity for journalists. New technologies have lowered the barriers for creative and compelling news providers to reach large audiences, while innovative digital tools enable reporters and the public alike to investigate, verify, and distribute information to extensive networks. Programs such as this TechForum are integral to the U.S. government’s efforts to support credible voices, like your own, to take advantage of these opportunities and cut through the competing noise of disinformation – because truth does matter.
There is much talk today – among government officials, journalists, academics, and others – about the need to counter the poisonous effect of disinformation and propaganda on our public discourse and on our ability to pull together to solve complex, shared problems. All of you in this room today are actually taking action and doing something to address these challenges. Thank you for that. You join a distinguished cadre of over 1,000 TechForum and TechCamp alumni from more than 80 countries, who have used the skills they’ve learned at these sessions to launch projects that effectively tackle some of the toughest problems facing their communities.
Among the 64 real-world projects developed at TechCamps and implemented with seed money from the Department of State are
• a social media project in Norway working to increase trust between mainstream media and minority communities,
• a one-stop data verification tool for Ukrainian journalists to fact-check online media content, and
• multiple projects to counter violent extremism messaging and radicalism.
When you return home, please share what you have learned with civil society groups and others in your community working to protect press freedoms and the public’s right to accurate information. And, if you have an innovative idea for advancing these goals, I encourage you to meet with my colleagues at the U.S. embassy in your home country to discuss ways the State Department may be able to support you.
Let me conclude by reminding you that the open, free flow of information is one of the foundations of democracy, and it is communicators like yourself who keep accurate and reliable information flowing in a complex world and crowded media environment.
Thank you for all your efforts. I look forward to hearing about the many great things you will be doing once you return home.

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