Media and information literacy is the key for smart and well-informed citizens

The Global Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Week 2018 started today with its Feature Conference, the Eighth International MIL and Intercultural Dialogue (MILID) Conference, taking place in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Feature Conference is hosted by the Vytautas Magnus University, and is co-organized by UNESCO and the University of Latvia.

Representatives from the host country, the host university, European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO were present at the Opening Session. They stressed the role of MIL in countering disinformation, cyberbullying and online hate speech, empowering youth and stimulating civic participation. They also addressed the need for MIL as a way to help citizens engage with the current complex field of media and information.

The Feature Conference was opened by Juozas Augutis, Rector of the Vytautas Magnus University, who said “only a well-educated, open to the world and critically thinking person can resist manipulations, look deep into the issues, evaluate the contexts and make their own judgements.” The University has a UNESCO Chair in Media and Information Literacy for Inclusive Knowledge Societies, occupied by Dr Kristina Juraite.

Irena Vaisvilaite, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Lithuania to UNESCO, spoke of her country’s history and emphasized the importance of MIL development in the country.

Media and information literacy is literacy for life in the digital age,” said Moez Chakchouk, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information. “Smart cities supported by artifical intelligence … require smart inhabitants, and MIL is the key to having smart citizens in sustainable and inclusive cities.

A message from H.E. Valdas Adamkus, former president of Lithuania and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Construction of Knowledge Societies, stated: “Democracy needs strong citizens‘ support and involvement. News media and information literacy (i.e. ability to use the media and engage in the public space in an intelligent, responsible and creative way) should be considered as an answer to the increasing demand for active and informed citizenship, appreciation of journalism and democracy.

The need to navigate through a fog of digital disinformation and information was a common theme in the opening remarks, with several speakers voicing concerns about elections.

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society Department, Council of Europe said, “Unlike the industrial revolution, the digital revolution transforms our lives surreptitiously, silently and almost imperceptibly. It is not loud and boisterous but impacts our societies and rights profoundly and irreversibly.” He continued: “The expertise is in this room. We have to build on your skills and competences to make media and information Literacy a reality.

We hope our democracy will not be at stake because of people who are posting disinformation online”, stated Anni Hellman, representative of the Deputy Director-General of European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect).

We were taught to read (books) and we learned them by heart… I think it’s rather tragic that the children of today, first we teach them to read, and then we teach them, well, what you read, (that) may not be true”, expressed Hellman.

Speakers also urged greater resources for teachers, parents and schools in MIL education. Keynote speaker Divina Frau-Meigs, professor from Sorbonne Nouvelle University, highlighted the internet landscape and the importance of educators in the “MIL for change” process.

During the Opening Session, three individuals and two organizations were recognized and received the GAPMIL Global MIL Awards prizes during the awards ceremony. The winners are as below:

First Place: Jane Tallim and Cathy Wing of MediaSmarts in Canada.

Second Place: The Jordan Media Institute, Jordan, and Mr Hemmo Bruinenberg (Netherlands)

Third Place: Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico

The UNESCO website and MIL CLICKS provides more information on the awardees and their MIL initiatives.

The official start of the Global MIL Youth Hackathon and elections for the International Steering Committee of the UNESCO-led Global Alliance for Partnerships on MIL were also announced.

Global MIL Week 2018 will be celebrated until 31 October. Its Feature Conference will continue until 25 October, and its Youth Agenda Forum will be held on 26 October in Riga (Latvia). See more about the Week of Celebrations here.