*By Mwongera G. Jakubu
If ever there was need to persuade anyone on the necessity for governments and citizens across the globe to actively provide, seek, acquire and practice media and information literacy skills and competences (recognised by UNESCO and experts as necessary and inalienable 21st Century survival-skills in the information age) then the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the most compelling of reasons.
Sample this. Parallel to the spreading virus- which has ravaged the globe since December 2019, upsetting the world order in the process – is the information pandemic (also called infodemic) characterised mainly through misinformation and disinformation (or “fake news” in some quarters) and conspiracy theories- resulting in an unfortunate situation that has complicated the effective management of the virus amid an anxious global public that is desperate for factual, reliable and life-saving information.
What’s more – coronavirus has also visited formidable challenges across all sectors in the globe, exposing the soft underbelly of what individuals, countries, industries and enterprises had erroneously been used to as their comfort zones. The so-called “new normal” has put everyone and everything back to “individual default settings”, with most interactions and transactions taking place via technology. It has also upped the ante on conversations around various thematic issues related to media and information literacy such as Internet Connectivity, Digital Literacy, Freedom of Expression and Information, Access to Information, Online Child Safety, etc.
One of the most affected sectors is the media and information. Prof. Jose Manuel Tornero, the UNESCO Chair for MIL for Quality Journalism has observed that the radical changes produced by digitisation have caused intense mediatisation of human life, which has allowed traditionally passive audiences to become active participants in the whole ecology of news and information production, storage, access, retrieval, sharing and dissemination. Journalists and media are no longer the sole players when it comes to producing and circulating information. Aided by technology, audiences are now able to produce their own content; and to create their own information networks within which they share news and occurrences deemed to be relevant within these networks; and are able to debate and express opinions and views with relative freedom and often without the need for mediation of legacy media.
This shift has hit newsrooms and legacy media quite hard, and it has threatened journalists’ jobs and the viability of media as “the business of truth” which is crucial for democracy and sustainable development. However, the media are and will remain key actors in today’s world; therefore they need to understand the change and develop the capacity to assess and respond to these and other risks and challenges through innovation.
One of the recommended ways is for the media, governments and citizens to embrace media and information literacy (MIL) in their daily operations. As UNESCO has observed, without language, there is no humanity, without journalism, there is no democracy and development, and without MIL, there is no democratic human conversation.
While media and information literacy addresses the application of critical thinking by audiences while consuming news and information, not placing the burden of responsibility on the consumer of information and instead making the mechanisms behind the production of information clear and transparent is increasingly becoming a new role of the media in this regard.
Quality journalism infused with MIL will lead to citizens’ quality participation in the public conversation and restore public trust in the legacy media while sustaining the cardinal principles of the truth through the media in a world inundated with information and news overload. To achieve this, media and information skills and competences need to be enhanced and disseminated equitably among all citizens.
In this regard, UNESCO and the Global Alliance for Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL) has been promoting the training of journalists, policy makers and citizens on media and information literacy in order to sustain the building of this new and useful social conversation.
Kenya is one of the few countries in the world where MIL interventions have been on an upward trend, thanks to UNESCO support. One such training targeting media practitioners, regulators and stakeholders will be held on August 25-27, with the aim of improving the quality of journalism, and for promoting the enhancement of MIL in the country.
*The writer is a communications and media & information literacy (MIL) trainer and consultant.