09.11.2016 - UNESCO Office in Amman

Media and information literacy — shortest path to countering extremism


The following is an editorial by Dr Basim Tweissi, Dean of Jordan Media Institute, published in The Jordan Times on 8 November 2016.

Every year, the world marks Global Media and Information Literacy Week in the first week of November, which signals universal recognition and awareness of the importance of media and information literacy.

This is discernible in the growing power of the global media literacy movement, which is represented by dozens of international coalitions and hundreds of networks and organisations that operate alongside countries, and public and independent institutions to make media and information literacy accessible to all.

As a result of this effort, around 90 states introduced media and information literacy in their educational systems, one way or another. Regrettably, efforts in the Arab region are still limited, notwithstanding the fact that Arab communities are most in need of eradication of media and information illiteracy.

Media and information literacy means the perspective through which children, teenagers, youth and old people learn how to deal with media and sources of information positively, by understanding contemporary media and being able to assess and criticise media messages and take part in producing media content.

Characteristically, the Arab public is a passive recipient that exhibits strong interaction, which makes us more in need of media literacy than others.

Therefore, the call for a serious Arab movement to disseminate media and information literacy is no longer a matter of luxury, it is a political priority in educational system, cultural and community reform.

Today, the big question that besets the Arab political and cultural elite and opinion leaders has to do with the most efficient plan that is capable to stop the decline in community culture and the growing inclination towards political and religious extremism.

Media and information literacy can provide answers to the questions that involve the cultural and political crisis experienced by our communities.

It offers the shortest path to rebuilding the knowledge and skills of new generations in a way that enables them to positively cope with changes, whether in the realm of technology and communication or of social, political and economic developments.

How do young people handle the media?

Do they have the ability to form an independent opinion of the events that are taking place in the surrounding environment and in remote places?

Consequently, can young people independently judge developments and events?

When will young people be able to have a critical position towards the content offered by the media?

How can young people treat, and positively interact with, others on social media networks and interactive platforms on the Internet?

How can they use new applications to advance and help their community to lead a longer and healthier life with dignity and respect, while observing a reasonable degree of human rights principles, recognising the existence of others and appreciating the values of pluralism and difference?

How do families manage the relationship of children with the media and sources of information, specifically their relations with the screens that occupy one quarter of the life of individuals?

These questions have assumed a sense of urgency since the end of the 1990s in many parts of the world.

They intensified with the large growth of digital media.

Many communities have already settled this situation when they incorporated media literacy into their educational systems.

We have to make a distinction between two concepts: what we know as educational media, which means using the outlets and instruments of media for the sake of education, and what we mean by eradicating media illiteracy.

UNESCO has paid greater attention than other international organisations to the call on world states to incorporate media literacy into their educational systems, in view of the ability of words and images to establish authority in the community.

Towards this aim, it has prepared educational curricula and specialised manuals.

Digital media outlets have become open sources that allow the involvement of children, youth and old people.

While media outlets and new sources of information, alongside traditional media, take up a significant part of the time of individuals, the political conflicts witnessed by the Middle East and North Africa, and others, have turned these instruments into active platforms for spreading extremism and hate speech.

Many reports indicate that these outlets have become a trap used by terrorist organisations to catch youth, besides their role in spreading extremist ideology and creating followers.

Youth in the Arab world find themselves in the midst of a torrent of information.

Traditional educational establishments deprive them of expression and traditional media do not give them real attention. Therefore, youth view the new available means of expression on digital media, specifically social media, as a means of escape from exclusion and marginalisation.

Apparently, the power of these outlets is not confined to the inexpensive means that they provide, free from direct control. They also allow for anonymity, which has provided room for aberrant expressions, such as those of cultural and verbal violence, hate speech and extremist religious and political rhetoric.

Media and information literacy largely contributes to developing the capacities of individuals for examining and evaluating media messages.

Eradicating media illiteracy makes youth and little children more immune in the face of political and ideological propaganda, helping them distinguish messages that have political and ideological aims from neutral information and news.

This makes recipients more alert to, and aware of, extremist messages.

Media literacy is a pressing need, and not just a matter of luxury.

We have to recognise that our generations suffer from media illiteracy. We are reaping the fruits of this illiteracy in the form of chaos in interaction with media outlets and on social media networks, as is the case in ideological extremism and terrorism.

This crisis has hit the Arab social and cultural heartland. Each time, we will go back to the password, namely, education.

We have to take note that Jordanian youth aged 12 to 29 years spend around six hours a day on media outlets and the Internet, in various forms, while half of this group do not spend more than 10 minutes speaking to parents, relatives or friends face to face.

Since March 2016, the Jordan Media Institute has begun implementing a project on media and information literacy in Jordan, in direct cooperation with UNESCO, through a project for supporting media in Jordan, which is funded by the European Union.

The project has made successful strides and managed, in most of its components, to exceed the desired objectives. It includes several components, key of which is building a knowledge base on media and information literacy in Jordan.

In this connection, the project has produced a policy paper to serve as a term of reference for decision makers and policy planners, and for a national debate on this subject.

Also, an analytic study of curricula and study plans at Jordanian universities from the perspective of media and information literacy has been finalised.

Moreover, a manual has been drafted for training teachers to develop activities for student clubs that will be launched soon at a pilot group of public schools in Jordan after a group of male and female teachers were trained on media literacy methodologies.

Additionally, a group of Jordanian university professors and experts participated in advanced programmes for capacity building.

Today, Jordan represents the healthiest case in the region; it can set an example for other countries in the region in this field and serve as a hub for developing media and information literacy. There is serious political will to introduce media and information literacy into educational systems at schools and universities.

The Jordan Media Institute will cooperate with relevant parties, including state institutions and partner organisations, in the coming period to develop a comprehensive national vision in this domain.

We are hopeful that we will see our children at public schools learn what a news story is and how they can use digital media outlets safely, tell news from opinions and take part in producing content on digital media platforms.

We are hopeful that we will see our youth equipped with capacities to tell honest media messages from misleading messages.

We are hopeful that we will see departments for media and information literacy at Jordanian universities to instruct and train teachers.

We look forward to including media and information literacy as part of teacher training programmes, which are currently being planned.

We aspire to a time when all members of the community, including mothers, fathers and politicians, will seek, with willpower and resolve, to learn skills that benefit them in handling news and information.

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