01.07.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

Riga Recommendations highlight Media and Information Literacy as a life code for sustainable development


Participants from over 25 countries joined in Riga, Latvia, for the Second European Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Forum which was held from 27-29 June. The Riga Recommendations on MIL in a Shifting Media and Information Landscape which was adopted strongly affirmed what was visible throughout the three days of the meeting of minds and hearts at the Forum: MIL is the GPS to live peaceably and wisely together in today’s information, media and communication environment.

MIL is very alive, within the institutions and on grassroots level. Calling on the roles of UNESCO Member States, Internet and technological intermediaries, civil society and GAPMIL as well as educators, libraries, journalists, audiovisual regulators, publishers and others, the Riga Recommendations recognized that MIL is a life code that can underpin sustainable development.

Highlights from the Second European MIL Forum

During the three inspiring days of the Forum, MIL was analyzed and explored from many different angles and approaches.  The participants were faced with challenging questions about MIL in this shifting media landscape, but also reviewed successful examples of initiatives that are empowering people to be more critical about their information environment.

The need for stronger involvement of the internet industry was emphasized, as well as the necessity for strong contribution to the creation of a sustainable system through national policies in integrating MIL into formal, non-formal and informal education.

The information behavior of people needs to be further explored – especially of those that are purposely avoiding and denying information. More insight is needed on how people are making decisions and how to engage with them. The lifelong learning approach to MIL is essential, through continuous education for all age groups. Thus, MIL is not just the set of skills for youth - often underlined as the group that is most vulnerable - but for all generations. Still, the role of youth has to be more substantial; they need to be involved not just as beneficiaries, but as participants, leaders and ambassadors, creators and stakeholders.

Empathy is crucial for MIL: “Change how you see, see how you change”

Empathy, as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, was underlined by several speakers and echoed by Ms Dace Melbarde, Minister of Culture of Latvia and President of the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO in her closing remarks.

Empathy was seen as one of the critical components of MIL in promoting peace and nonviolent behavior. MIL enables people, through informed self-introspection and communal exchanges to appreciate, embrace a sense of connection the circumstances and even differences of others – to empathize with other. One speaker noted an anonymous quote that he came across and related it to MIL, “Change how you see, see how you change”. This is especially needed in the current landscape where information and social media are facing many challenges often demonstrated through the race for clicks. There is strong need to support factual journalism. Thus, the Riga Recommendations on MIL call all stakeholders to promote, through concrete actions, MIL as enabling all citizens to take part in political and social life in a democratic society.

Over 50% of youth don’t know how to respond to hate, radical and extremist content

During the last day’s Plenary session and Round tables, speakers emphasized how young audiences are receiving information that is less and less structured: through friend’s recommendations, social media algorithms and scraps of information. As explained by Mr Alton Grizzle, Programme Specialist at Communication and Information Sector in UNESCO, 54% of youth surveyed in a research reported that they do not know or are not sure if they know how to response to radical and extremist content online.

This UNESCO-led research explored youth perspectives and responses to hate, radical and extremist content online and it shows that most young people encounter such content on Facebook (57%), followed by Youtube (14%), News networks’ websites (9%) and Twitter (8 %). Countering these challenges then require a combination on innovative social media interventions combine with more traditional structured and face-to-face methods.  In this context which lacks reliable journalistic information, they may perceive hate speech as a self-presentation or sign of courage or rebelliousness.

Furthermore, research quoted by Ms Ivana Jelaca from Media Diversity Institute about young people in Serbia showed that 83% of youth consider their image as the most important, whereas only 31% sees democratic engagement and participation in civic initiatives as significant. It was, thus, concluded how it is necessary to find new formats and platforms and new writing styles, sending reliable journalistic content through platforms that young people use.  The Director of the Swedish Media Council, Ms Ewa Thorslund, shared their experiences in production of information and pedagogical material used by parents, educators and people who meet children and young people in their profession in order to promote the empowering of minors as conscious media users and to protect them from harmful media influences.

Propaganda, ignorance and inter-cultural dialogue

As it was noted during the Forum, the real dialogue should also happen at grassroots - individual level. Propaganda, often so harmful, can be used as beneficial to raise awareness on all levels and inspire people to action.  There is clear absence of the inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue in the media, and these competencies should be integrated into MIL education, to help overcome disinformation, stereotypes and intolerance.  In order to contribute to the building of viable approach to MIL, bottom up and top down approach needs to be used. That means highlighting grassroots activities in order to convince policy makers that MIL is significant and comprehensible for everyone. In that sense, media and education policy must be based on empirical evidence.

Further on, the potential blind spots for MIL are to be explored: is there an economical side of MIL that is not being seen, but has major implications? How is informal education on MIL contributing with significant impact to changing of attitudes of youth? How is research impacting policy development and what is empirical evidence needed for sustainable policy development?  Many others questions were asked, laying the foundation for the creation of new knowledge in this crucial topic of media and information literate societies.

The Second European Media and Information Literacy Forum (EU-MILINFO II) was organized by UNESCO, the European Commission, the Latvian Government and the Sub-Chapter of the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL), under the theme “Media and Information Literacy In Europe: Citizens’ Critical Competencies for a Rights-Based, Transparent, Open, Secure and Inclusive Information Environment”. It took place from 27 to 29 June 2016, in Riga, Latvia.

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