Media and information literacy (MIL) today is essential for a well informed and active citizen, as well as for viable civic sector. MIL is as an umbrella term, used to cover a range of different skills. It is understood differently by different stakeholders.
MIL can refer to media content, but also to the means used to deliver the content to the public. It can help people learn where to get – and how to use – any information, but also how to critically understand and respond to irresponsible media content. It certainly implies – and encourages meaningful engagement with the media by active and well informed citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, etc.
It is, in particular, used by marginalised communities to fight exclusion and misportrayal by the media. Media development experts would define it as a tool to prevent and reduce the risk of exclusion from social and economic life, a tool to achieve and maintain the plurality of media and to reflect the diversity of views and ideas.
In countries with declining media freedom such as FYR Macedonia, MIL has become increasingly important.
In 2017, Macedonia was assessed ‘not free’ by the Freedom House press freedom report, with the score 64 (0 most free, 100 least free), which is a fall compared to previous years (62 in 2016; 58 in 2015). This caused serious concerns to the international community, in particular to the EU which sees the country as its future member.
According to the IREX media sustainability index, the role of the media has been seriously weakened over the last several years as a watchdog of the country’s public interest, as a link between the citizens or as a guarantor of various social groups’ interests.
All this has prompted the School of Journalism and Public Relations (SJPR) in Skopje, Macedonia, to push for the concept of MIL to be ‘further familiarised and utilised’ in Macedonia.
According to the research done within the Macedonian Media and Information Literacy (MAMIL) project, jointly run by SJPR and Media Diversity Institute (MDI), almost a decade after Macedonia was complimented for ‘a significant progress’ when it comes to MIL (in the regional context), a very modest improvement has been made.
‘A lot of work is still to be done if we want to truly empower our fellow citizens to become active participants in the public sphere or in the policy-making process, and reinforce the watchdog role of the media’, says Aleksandra Temenugova, the project manager.
Over 36 months MAMIL has been focused on raising awareness about the importance of MIL as a prerequisite for participatory democracy and pluralism. It is about to create a coalition between media, CSOs, and citizens with several goals: to promote MIL, to equip its members with MIL skills, and to introduce civic journalism (journalism that promotes the idea of engaged audience and encourages open, pluralistic, public debate) through creating meaningful and diverse news content.
‘Civic journalism is an imperative for achieving media pluralism, diversifying of sources and bringing human-oriented stories to the media’, says Temenugova.
As is often the case in countries with weak democratic legacy, Macedonian citizens are not always aware of their human and civil rights (and responsibilities). It is the civil sector that can play an essential role in promoting those rights. However, before that, citizens need to recognise civil society organisations (CSOs) as a channel for communicating their opinions and problems (for various reasons this is not always the case).
At the same time, CSOs could be a valid source of information and expertise for both the citizens and the media, while the media could – and should – be the link between citizens and other stakeholders (i.e. government or civil society).
At the times of growing populism and massive production of ‘fake news’ and in the situation when MIL is not recognised – at least not systematically – by the educational sector, the non-formal education provided mainly by the civil sector remains an important source of knowledge about the subject, as in the case of MAMIL in Macedonia.
‘By strengthening the two stakeholders – journalism and the civil sector – and cooperation between them, we expect to contribute to the promotion of the concept and to increase MIL skills among citizens, particularly those coming from disadvantaged groups’, concludes Temenugova.
One of the objectives of the MAMIL project is to create a coalition of media, CSOs, and citizens for promoting MIL. Projects of 8 CSOs with their media partners (organized in a coalition) are being supported within the project, financially and technically. Before implementing their own MIL initiatives, CSO and media representatives have gone through a series of trainings to improve their own knowledge about the subject. The initiatives were launched in June 2017.
Within this three-year project (2016-2018), SJPR and its partners have put special emphasis to promoting MIL among young people and high school students through a range of activities – publishing high school newspaper ‘Medium’ and organising ‘Moving Labs’, one-day workshops for high school students to familiarise them with the concept of public interest, civic participation, critical thinking and to make them comfortable with producing media content. In the course of the project a high school contest ‘Express yourself through media’ and media literacy camp ‘Youth in Digital Age’ will also be organised.
The article is a contribution by Media Diversity Institute Western Balkans, a SEENPM member.