Seventy media and information literacy (MIL) experts, journalists, civil society activists and representatives of education sector and state agencies gathered on 23 November in Novi Sad at a major regional conference on MIL.
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The event, organized by the Novi Sad School of Journalism, was part of a three year project “Media for Citizens – Citizens for Media,” implemented by the members of the Network of Professionalization of Media in South East Europe (SEENPM) in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia.
The aim of the conference was to establish the current state of MIL in the Western Balkans through analyzing ongoing initiatives, activities and strategies, and to enable experience exchange among actors from different sectors and countries.
The event opened by presentation of preliminary results of research, conducted within the project, focused on the analysis of MIL policy and practice in each of the project countries.
Research coordinator, Brankica Petković (Peace Institute, Ljubljana), announced the publishing of national studies and a regional overview of findings.
Presenting the regional research overview, research coordinator Brankica Petković (Peace Institute, Ljubljana) stressed that civil society organizations have been pioneers in promoting MIL. Their work, however, is dependent on short-term project and donor support. Engagement of the media industry and journalists in the promotion of MIL is rare, although their experience is key in strengthening the position of citizens. Public service media have done little regarding MIL and so they should be, along with media regulators, legally obliged to promote MIL and cooperate with citizens, Petković stated as one of the conclusions of the research. Another conclusion is that there is an urgent need for cooperation between state institutions responsible for media and education as their initiatives so far have been sporadic and with uncertain outcomes. Integrating MIL into formal education is of highest importance as only then can we expect mass dissemination of MIL knowledge and skills.
The research will result in the publication of national studies with a regional overview.
The conference continued with a session aimed at examining whether MIL policies keep up with MIL practice in the region as civil society organizations are often the leaders in advocating MIL and promoting MIL skills and knowledge.
Professor of literature Božena Jelušić from Montenegro presented the very positive effects of a teaching method that combines literature and MIL. The method was introduced into the country’s grammar schools in 2008 as an elective subject based on Jelušić’s initiative. The number of students enrolling into the course has been on decline, though, because schools fail to present it to students adequately.
The growing role of libraries as centers for MIL education was the focus of a presentation by Gordana Ljubanović of the Public Library in Budva, Montenegro. She explained that a strategy document for spreading MIL through library network has been produced, but it hasn’t gone through instutional procedure yet, which significantly discourages the initative implementors from further activitities.
In Bosnia’s entity Republika Srpska, a campaign to strengthen MIL among children has seen the entity’s public service broadcaster and a number of government departments working together, explained Sandra Kovačević of the Ministry of Transport and Communications The effort will include hands-on learning among students and teachers and practical work in partnership with the media. The aim is the adoption of MIL policies and an adequate legal framework for MIL.
In Macedonia, there is a program for MIL promotion at the state level. A MIL network gathering government institutions, non-governmental organizations and other actors has been set up. Emilija Petreska-Kamenjarova of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services in Macedonia presented Mediumskapismenost.mk, website, which provides updates on MIL activities in the country and serves as an education and resource center.
During three parallel sessions, representatives of media, education and civil society sectors presented MIL initiatives in their countries.
SHARE Foundation in Serbia produced a ten-part documentary series “U mreži” (“Networked”). Each episode covers a topic on the use of the internet and social networks (e.g. freedom of expression, online privacy, virtual reality etc.). The episodes feature experts from all over Europe. The series is available on the website Umrezi.rs and on YouTube. The website also offers longer interviews with experts and additional education material. The Serbian public service broadcaster, RTS, was supposed to air the series in its education programs, but then decided not to.
The Novi Sad School of Journalism has been working on MIL for ten years, with a focus on educating teachers in elementary and secondary schools, explained Tijana Femić. The organization offers the only accredited program of the kind in Serbia. As of last year, the School has been implementing the project “Digitalni pogon” (“Creative Drive”), whose activities span ten elementary and ten secondary schools in Serbia, focusing on collaborative work of teachers and students in producing media content and promoting innovation and critical thinking.
Ervin Goci of the University of Tirana presented the pilot TV program “Algorithm” on MIL issues aired weekly on the Albanian public service broadcaster, RTSH.
Elvira Ceković of the Agency for Electronic Media of Montenegro presented a research (conducted in cooperation with the Ipsos agency) on children’s digital habits. Children spend a significant amount of time in front of different screens, while many parents see nothing wrong with that.
Website Analiziraj.ba analyzes media content with the focus on shortcomings divided into 11 categories, including bias, sensationalism and spread of nationalism. The website serves as a tool for spreading MIL awareness in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Albanian journalist Merxhan Daci presented Faktoje.al, a website whose purpose is to fact-check politicians’ statements and the level of fulfillment of their promises. It also helps the audience differentiate between false information and truthful media content.
In Macedonia, there is a range of civil society initiatives on MIL, but they lack institutional support, said Aleksandra Temenugova of the Institute of Communication Studies in the country. Temenugova also referred to a research project currently conducted in elementary schools which examines how the education system teaches children media and information literacy. She expects the research will find that the system insufficiently prepares children for dealing with current media and information environments as it uses an obsolete curriculum that doesn’t correspond to children’s media reality.
The event closed with a discussion with a group of leading Serbian journalists on the relationship between the media and initiatives for improving MIL. Will media literate citizens reward high quality, ethical and responsible journalism with trust? Can more aware audience help reduce political and economic pressures on media?
The panelists agreed that the most important contribution that journalists can make to MIL is through respect of ethical codes and the highest professional standards.
Ljubica Gojgić, a journalist with Radio Television Vojvodina (one of Serbia’s public service broadcasters) explained that media outlets often conduct audience research, not in order to raise the levels of MIL, but to adapt production to the audience wishes and not necessarily to public service values.
The project “Media for Citizens – Citizens for Media” will continue until January 2021 with a range of national and regional activities in the Western Balkan countries, including advocacy, media production, publishing, training programs and programs of knowledge and experience exchange, as well as with a program of small grants for MIL initiatives.
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