Media and information literacy is a hot topic in media development today. And for those who don't know exactly what the term means and why it's so vitally important, we've put together this overview for you.
Media and information literacy, often referred to as MIL, is about equipping citizens with the competencies and skills to engage effectively and responsibly with media and information systems. This enables people to become active and critical citizens who can participate in civic life and democracy.
What do you mean, competencies?
There are diverse understandings of the various competencies that MIL should foster. In a forthcoming DW Akademie discussion paper on the topic, we define MIL as a composite of seven core competencies:
1) The ability to access and locate suitable media and information sources
2) The ability to use and understand media and information in order to apply it to one’s daily life
3) The ability to evaluate the credibility, accuracy and objectivity of sources
4) The ability to create and produce media and information
5) The ability to participate by knowing how and where to interact with creators and editors of media and information
6) The ability to understand the workings of media and information systems, their organization and how information is produced
7) The ability to recognize, demand and defend quality media and information sources.
The 'media and information' part of MIL is generally regarded as including conventional media, such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines, as well as digital media, such as the internet, email and social media.
How can you promote media and information literacy?
Fostering MIL can have many layers. It can be about passing on technical skills, such as teaching people how to use a keyboard and a mouse, or how to send an SMS on a telephone. It can also be about imparting functional knowledge, such as how television news shows are produced, or about raising awareness of issues such as media bias and unethical behavior. All of these competencies are necessary in order to make effective and responsible use of media and information sources.
It is generally seen as increasingly essential for young people to develop media and information literacy as early as possible so that they can participate fully as citizens in the future. For this reason, MIL projects often target younger people.
Why is fostering media and information literacy important?
There are two main reasons.
Firstly, classical media development projects, which often promote media diversity or seek to improve journalists' skills, are pointless if the information produced by the media falls on deaf ears, so to say. For the flow of information to work effectively, people need to develop the seven competencies outlined above.
The second reason is linked to the digital divide. The term refers to the increasing gap in the access to modern information and communication technologies that exist between certain regions and demographics. With mobile internet access gaining momentum in many developing countries, the digital divide is starting to become less about whether people have physical access to the internet but whether they have the ability to benefit effectively from it. This is where media and information literacy comes in.
Thus, MIL ties in with a human rights-based approach to media development. As such, MIL is a prerequisite for enjoying fundamental human rights, in particular freedom of expression and access to information guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What about digital literacy, is that important, too?
Internet penetration, both mobile and fixed, is rapidly increasing in most regions of the world and social media is becoming an ever-more popular platform for sharing and consuming information. As a response to this, MIL projects are increasingly targeting digital literacy.
Digital literacy should be seen, however, as only one facet of fostering media and information literacy because internet use in certain developing and emerging countries has not reached a critical mass.
Media literacy must-reads
“Media and Information Literacy: A Human Rights Based Approach Towards Freedom of Information and Expression in Developing Countries” by Dennis Reineck and Jan Lublinski (forthcoming)