The end of 2011 will see the publication of an EU report on media literacy levels in the European Union. For the first time, we will have an overview of the extent to which Europe’s citizens cope with the ever changing media world of “tweets”, VoD, MP3s and the ubiquitous “apps”. But what of the legal structures in Europe? What is being actively done to promote media literacy so that we all have access to and keep pace with these technological developments?
The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just released a new report on media literacy in Europe, focusing on the legal aspects of the question.
Tarlach McGonagle of the Amsterdam-based Institute for Information Law (IViR) opens this new report with a look at the rationale behind encouraging media literacy and then goes on to look at the difficulties in defining the term itself. He states that encouraging media literacy is based on ‘4 rationales’: “civic participation and empowerment, bridging the digital divide, risk reduction/protection from harmful content and informed decision-making/consumer protection.” The target groups of actions aimed at promoting media literacy include specific groups such as children and their parents, the elderly, the disabled or indeed the socially and economically deprived. This does not mean, however, that media literacy measures cannot target a broad spectrum of society and go beyond specifically defined groups.
The report then goes on to present the normative approaches at a European level promoting media literacy. Recently, one can observe that strategies to promote media literacy have been favoured in terms of media user protection rather than stricter, media oriented legislation. As the author puts it: “The onus for the prevention of harm is shifted […] from public institutions to the private sphere.” As far as the EU institutions are concerned, the author states that “media literacy has been steadily growing in prominence on the EU agenda in recent years”. Indeed, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) sets up an obligation for the European Commission to report every 3 years, starting from 2011, on the levels of media literacy in the various EU states. As for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the Council’s internal Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) released a recommendation as early as 2000 advocating “teaching practices to develop media competence, understood as a critical and discerning attitude towards the media in order to form well-balanced citizens, capable of making their own judgements on the basis of available information.” In comparing the two approaches (EU as opposed to Council of Europe), the author finds that the EU approach “has more formal circularity” due to many “textual reference points” between the various EU institutions. The Council of Europe approach, on the other hand, has “less systematic and less formalised cross-referencing” which makes the system flexible and reactive to technological change.
McGonagle rounds off his leading article by stating that the new reporting obligations enshrined in the AVMSD should lead to the definition of best practices and benchmarking standards. He points out the real need to take into account the national and cultural characteristics of each country when aiming at a consistent media literacy policy in Europe. He concludes that media literacy policies have so far targeted children and the public at large and that other targeted groups such as the elderly, disabled and socially/economically disadvantaged could equally benefit from the application of these policies, particularly by applying a ‘multi-stakeholder’ approach.
The related reporting chapter of this new publication provides short, country by country articles on current media legislation having a positive effect on media literacy. The AVMSD clearly contains innovation with a very positive knock-on effect in this area, as do measures aiming at the protection of minors. Countries such as Cyprus, Lithuania, France and the Russian Federation are covered in this section.
The report ends with the ‘Zoom’ section focusing specifically on Dutch policy on media literacy written by F.J. Ingen Housz of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Dutch approach has been to create a network bringing together the major stakeholders involved in the development of media literacy called Mediawijzer.net, complete with a web platform making possible the exchange of views and finding of new partners. This project has brought about positive change over the last three years and will continue its activities in the future.
An all-round, European overview of the current state of media literacy and the measures currently being applied to keep Europe’s citizens up to speed with the dizzying pace of technological media developments.
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