Media and information literacy is the main tools for empowering people, communities, and nations to participate in and contribute to global knowledge societies. In the view of the Council of Europe, it is of utmost importance for individuals to be able to develop cognitive, technical and social skills and capacities that enable them to effectively access and critically analyse media content; to make informed decisions about which media they use and how to use them; to understand the ethical implications of media and new technologies, and to communicate effectively, including by creating content.
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) brings together three distinct dimensions: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, along with ICT and Digital Literacy.
The Council of Europe has taken a two-fold approach to MIL:
- The first objective is to set MIL within institutional frameworks.
- The second objective is to provide tools for empowering individual media users of all ages and walks of life.
As MIL is relevant to the exercise of many human rights, offline and online, the Council of Europe has in over two decades provided a number of instruments, policies, studies and activities aimed at improving MIL levels across Europe.
The Council of Europe is setting MIL within institutional frameworks. MIL guidelines are included in many Organisation’s standard-setting instruments aimed at states, policymakers as well as a range of other public and private actors with competencies to participate and cooperate within a fast-evolving digital environment. MIL is regarded as an inherent part of regulation and/or policies in areas such as education and lifelong learning, children and youth, media and information society, etc.
focuses on providing individual media users the knowledge and skills to navigate the online media environment through digital education and knowledge.
recommends the member states to introduce a comprehensive MIL framework, including by developing appropriate legislation and policies for the promotion of MIL and implementing them together with a wide range of stakeholders.
recommends MIL and digital citizenship education to enhance the children’s competence to effectively engage with the digital environment and cope with its risks.
In the area of media, the Council of Europe has in recent years focused on addressing the so-called information disorder. The study “Information disorder – toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making” (2017) analyses different types of misleading and potentially harmful information and messages. It further provides recommendations to legislators, media, tech companies, and civil society on, among others, educating the public to avoid engaging with and amplifying disinformation. To this end, standardised news literacy curricula are encouraged at the national level; media organisations are recommended to produce more news literacy segments and features, and civil society should educate people about the threat of information disorder and on persuasive techniques used by those spreading such disinformation.
One of the responses to the phenomenon of information disorder is to empower quality journalism and thus ensure that fact-based, trustworthy news can prevail. The study on “Supporting quality journalism through media and information literacy” (2020), prepared by the Committee of experts on quality journalism in the digital age (MSI-JOQ), analyses MIL skills and knowledge which can help the public to recognise and value quality journalism. It also provides an overview of relevant MIL projects and proposes models that can be used by MIL stakeholders including states in their development of future MIL programmes, strategies, and materials.
The report “Media Literacy for all: Supporting marginalised groups through community media” (2020) explores how the community media sector promotes media literacy and how this work can strengthen marginalised communities’ participation in community media and beyond, with a view to informing and inspiring practitioners and policy-makers.
A comprehensive review of MIL programmes and projects can be found in the European Audiovisual Observatory’s report “Mapping of media literacy practices and actions in EU-28” (2016) prepared for the European Commission. The report focuses on media literacy projects relating to media services delivered via electronic communication networks, outside of school curricula.
In addition, as part of the JUFREX cooperation project, in 2018 the Council of Europe published the study “Regulatory Authorities for Electronic Media and Media Literacy - Comparative analysis of the best European practices” to provide an analysis of selected valuable practices of promoting media literacy, with special focus on the role of media regulatory authorities.
According to the findings of the study “Supporting quality journalism through MIL”, only a few MIL programmes and projects aim to (i) enhance the public’s understanding of how media is funded, regulated, and distributed; (ii) educate about individuals’ rights and responsibilities in relation to data and privacy, and (iii) improve their understanding of how social and search platforms operate. This is an area of particular concern, as more people are finding their news online. Also, more needs to be done to reach specific target groups ranging from mature audience to various minorities. Public service media (PSM), as well as local and community media, can play an important role in this context, as established in the report “Media literacy for all: supporting marginalised groups through community media”.
Different groups of people will require different MIL interventions at different points on their learning journeys and no single organisation or sector can be expected to achieve this range of MIL support on their own. The Council of Europe, for its part, will continue to encourage its member states towards incorporating MIL into their national legislative and policy frameworks, thus ensuring a systemic approach to the topic. It will also work on facilitating exchanges of practices and coordination among member states for better utilisation of the existing MIL strategies and delivery infrastructures. The Organisation will furthermore be developing practical guidance to help individuals make sense of the digital media environment and their related rights and responsibilities.
While digital technologies and social media have opened up new, multi-directional spaces for communication, there are a number of risks related to the operation of the digital environment. In response to changing technological, social, cultural, and political factors, the Council of Europe is continuously developing research and practical tools, such as reports, studies, and educational activities, to shed light on the challenges requiring MIL intervention and provide insight and valuable practices for building a well-informed society.
The rhetoric of hate speech has been spreading at an unprecedented speed and volume, especially in the online environment. The Council of Europe has responded by a number of activities including the development of a very successful “No Hate Speech Movement”, a youth campaign that mobilised young people to combat hate speech and promote human rights online. The campaign was launched in 2013 and spread into a Europe-wide movement with national campaigns in 45 countries and numerous initiatives on the national and local levels.
In addition, many Council of Europe’s regional and national co-operation projects include the MIL components as one of the necessary tools for the empowerment of individuals to effectively respond to hate speech.
The Council of Europe’s Education Department developed several MIL tools and training materials, to be used by teachers, parents, and students, supporting children and young people to participate safely and effectively in the digital environment.
- The Digital Citizenship Education project launched in 2016 aims at reshaping the role that education plays in enabling all children to acquire the competencies they need as digital citizens. It is also mainly aimed towards the safety and protection of children in the digital environment. MIL is one of the key domains covered in being online.
- The Internet Literacy Handbook – Supporting users in the online world (latest edition 2017) offers children, parents, teachers, and policy makers quality information needed to make the most of the internet and to prepare future generations to use it safely and confidently.
- LEMON Learning Modules Online Platform offers practical teaching and training resources to education professionals across Europe. The new Keys series has been recently launched, namely the "Key to Media Literacy”.
The Council of Europe regularly organises events to raise awareness and promote MIL to its member states.
- The conference Media Pluralism – how can we deliver? discussed how in the quest for the consumption of accurate and reliable news, MIL is often considered the “silver bullet” in the fight against online disinformation. The conference tried to answer whether that was really the case and what more can be done
- The conference “(Last) call for quality journalism” (2019) explored the ways that the digital transformation impacts on the production, distribution and consumption of quality journalism and discussed what different stakeholders can do to help empower accurate, credible news, strengthen media and information literacy and help individuals to engage with quality sources.
- The Conference of Ministers responsible for media and information society, which will be held in June 2020, will discuss, among other, MIL strategies for further implementation in diverse areas related to media and communication governance.
As parts of its missions, UNESCO promotes media and information literate societies through a comprehensive strategy consisting of guidance materials, training tools and programmes:
- Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers;
- the facilitation of international cooperation, development of Guidelines for preparing national MIL Policies and Strategies;
- articulation of a Global Framework on MIL Indicators;
- setting up a MIL University Network;
- articulation of and establishment of an International Clearinghouse on MIL in cooperation with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations;
- provision of Guidelines for Broadcasters on Promoting User-Generated Content and MIL.
UNESCO has also developed several MIL studies and reports, addressing various issues. The 2018 educational report “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” promotes countering fake news through education.
The European Union
The European Union has developed a policy and concrete actions aimed at boosting media literacy in its member states:
- 2009 European Commission Recommendation on "media literacy in the digital environment for a more competitive audio-visual and content industry and an inclusive knowledge society".
- The recently revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) strengthens the role of media literacy by requiring member states to promote and take measures for the development of media literacy skills.
- The European Commission is financing several projects in media literacy, namely “media literacy for all”.
- The European Media Literacy Week is an initiative by the European Commission to underline the societal importance of media literacy and promote media literacy initiatives and projects across the EU.