Empowering Citizenship: Media, Dialogue and Education
Media functions as a vehicle for the flow of a plurality of viewpoints and multiplicity of voices, thus permitting exercises of citizenship such as participation, criticism and voting. Informed citizens can better and more actively participate in their societies’ decision making processes.
An independent and pluralistic media builds lifelong empowerment by keeping citizens informed and facilitating the flow of educational content. Educating through media is an important way to develop valuable skills that will aid in ending violence and eradicating forms of discrimination such as sexism and racism. More fundamentally, the media encourages the acquisition of civic knowledge and facilitates discussion concerning current issues.
It is important to work together with school teachers and media education practitioners in developing information and media literacy. Media literacy empowers the critical understanding of the media as well as the ability to decode, understand, communicate and create media products. Media literacy activates people’s engagement and serves as a catalyst for open and well informed dialogue. Local initiatives - community radios for instance – empower groups that are often marginalized and encourage the participation of the majority of citizens in public life. In this context, radio still plays an important role as informer and educator. In the cheapest possible way it encourages the diversification of media content, access and representation of different societal groups and interests, as well as strengthens the possibilities for open dialogue at the local level.
New media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) play an unprecedented role today concerning issues of education and citizenship. ICTs have a huge potential to train and educate communities that have limited or no access to formal education. Community-based multimedia centres are one such example of how the media can serve as a hub for knowledge and learning. While the Internet offers an opportunity for empowerment as well as digital integration, the dissemination of information and knowledge will only be fruitful if the vast majority of people have access to these technologies. The digital divide and the knowledge gap contribute to increased inequality and we must find ways to bridge these gaps to secure that social and human development leads to poverty eradication.
At the core media’s role in empowerment and citizenship is the understanding that freedom of the press is not solely the freedom of journalists to report and comment; it is, also, deeply connected with the public’s right to freely access information and knowledge and to take an active part in political life.