5. How to Organize Media and Information Literacy (MIL)


Countries that have a national MIL policy framework have proven more successful in their efforts to spread media and information literacy among their citizens than countries that lack one. Key factors are clearly expressed governance, broad support. and the participation of many different stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. Formalized networks under the coordination of a designated public authority (or other organization) are generally considered valuable assets. (Cf. Bulger and Davison 2018, EAO 2016, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017, LSE Commission on Truth, Trust and Technology 2018, O’Neill et al. 2018, UNESCO 2013).

These frameworks are the fruit of long-term processes involving media policy, digitization policy, education policy – and possibly other areas, as well. This is clear from a comparative study of MIL in Europe where three stances (“the three D’s”) of governance in relation to MIL are identified, the first of which is the most advanced:

1. Developing stance: full policy framework with the state as driver of the implementation of actions and coor-dination of non-public actors.

2. Delegating stance: partly developed policy framework that fosters action by other actors.

3. Disengaging stance: limited framework, non-public actors left to their own initiatives.

(Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b, p. 82-83)

Most of the countries studied fall into the second and third categories. Another European study found that

“higher income countries tend to have well-developed media literacy policy, while lower income countries tend to have underdeveloped or no media literacy policy at all” (Cernison et al. 2017, p. 4-5). But, only a few of the high-income countries have developed a national MIL policy that fulfills the criteria in the first stance. They may, however, have different names: national policy, national strategy, national guidelines, national framework, and so forth. But they all share the principle that MIL programs should be carried out in a common political framework that includes many, diverse actors. (Frau-Meigs et al. 2009, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b, Costa et al. 2017, Matovic et al. 2017).

In some countries questions relating to media and information literacy sort under the ministry of culture or education, while digital competence is a matter for the ministry of industry, telecommunications or trade, with no dialogue or collaboration between the two. Much more resources are invested in digital competence than in MIL. In such cases, MIL risks being marginalized. And in countries where responsibility for MIL is concentrated in one ministry and there is no comprehensive national MIL policy framework with specified spheres of authority, the result is a fragmentation of efforts. Beneficial synergies are missed.

(Cf. Carlsson 2018, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b).

In the study of MIL in Sweden it was found that MIL has bearing on eight policy areas: media, culture, education, digitization, justice, social, foreign and security policy.

Figure 1. Policy areas including MIL (Sweden)

Media Informationand

Literacy Media Education




Social Affairs Democracy Culture

Even if media and information literacy has links to several policy areas, the interface between media and education is for the most part intact in most of countries with an established national MIL policy. In most European countries, regulatory agencies have distinct sections devoted to MIL within their spheres of responsibility. (Carlsson 2018, EAO 2016, Del Mar Grandio et al. 2017, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b).

Implications and challenges

A conclusion is that any serious, long-term national policy for MIL has to have a body – an authority – that is assigned responsibility for developing, coordinating and evaluating the MIL policy. This body should be equipped to provide the resources and inspiration that enable successful MIL programs/activities – without political over-bearance and moralizing admonishments. Real progress requires constructive collaboration and coordination between stakeholders and between different levels of administration within a common framework based on a citizens’ perspective. Proactive political leadership is crucial to success. (Cf. Carls-son 2018, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b, Livingstone 2010, 2018a, Pöttinger et al. 2015, UNESCO 2013, 2015).

The importance of collaboration cannot be stressed enough. Besides policy and public institutions, MIL involves media enterprises, suppliers of content to internet etc., academia and, not least, civil society.

Studies to date indicate the benefits of structures that encourage collaboration and dialogue among and between policy-makers and other stakeholders, a so-called multistakeholder model. Such broad-based models afford numerous advantages, but they are also demanding. (Cf. Bäckstrand 2006, Matovic et al.

2017, Celot et al. 2009, UNESCO 2013, 2015).

Broad knowledge, a holistic perspective, interest and collaborative skill are all key to the success of any project that involves sharing knowledge and experience, ideas and resources among such a diversity of actors, in the present case, to advance the common cause of media and information literacy.

Furthermore, there should be infrastructure for exchanges between national, regional and local levels.

Participants’ interest, enthusiasm and energy seem to be a good indicator of success in carrying out national MIL policies.

International organizations like UNESCO and regional organizations obviously play important roles, assuring that MIL is included and developed in work on democratic development, all over the world.

They facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge between countries, offer stimulus, facili-tate cooperation, and inform decisions on regional and national levels. The mutual exchange between countries, at regional and global levels in a proper infrastructure can stimulate progress in MIL policies – which can also contribute to democracy development in less democratic countries. (Cf. Grizzle 2018, MILID Yearbooks 2014-2018, Perez Tornero et al. 2010, UNESCO 2013).

The importance of the family, schools and libraries

The two institutions that have the greatest potential to heighten media and information literacy among children and young people are the schools and families (see chapter 9 in this publication). In many cases schools – and school libraries – are decisive with respect to assuring equality – not least gender equality (Carlsson 2018).

But MIL can have its greatest value only when it is combined with basic knowledge of such core sub-jects as civics/social studies, history, native language, religion, foreign languages and mathematics. The ability to read, write and do arithmetic is crucial. In short, education of good quality is essential to the suc-cess of MIL programs/activities. This implies good schools for all – girls and boys, women and men – with competent teachers and sufficient funding. i.e., schools that take responsibility for young citizens’ lear-ning. (Cf. Buckingham 2003, Doganay 2014, Print et al. 2012, 2015, Mihailidis 2014, 2018, Radoslavov 2014).

From a policy perspective, digital convergence has given rise to an increasing focus on technical solutions and less focus on platforms as bearers of meaning. As a consequence, niches have opened for

actors who offer services and platforms without either pedagogic or media expertise. The focus has shifted from the quality of content to its technical delivery. Digital technology can be presented as the solution to often complex problems in education. (Cf. Frau-Meigs et al. 2017, Player-Koro chapter 13 in this publication).

In addition to the training of teachers and librarians there is also the need for ‘life-long learning’, which involves parts of the public sector, public service media and other media companies and, not least, civil society organizations. This is especially important in contemporary society, in which people from many different cultures, traditions and political views coexist side by side. But, how to reach the adult popula-tion, women and men? It is a critical issue where fair and just incentives are needed.

The vital role of public libraries and public service media has to be mentioned. They are seen as mainstays of the democratic public sphere, defending freedom of expression and professionalism – a major contribution to the common good. Both as mediators of what MIL is, and an example of how MIL is working, they are quite central. (Cf. Doherty 2014, Kozolanka et al. 2018, Radoslavov 2013).

Evaluation and Assessment

Uncertainty about financing and a lack of evaluation are major threats to long-term, ongoing MIL activi-ties/programs. It can be a vicious circle: lack of evaluations makes it more difficult to secure financing. The situation can open a niche for commercial actors who may not be pedagogically competent or have the common good and central aspects of MIL, such as freedom of expression and participation, in focus.

Evaluation – clarity about what is being done and what has been achieved – is most important, and a prerequisite is assessment. Measures/indicators have to be based on experience and scientifically founded insights. But not all results lend themselves to quantification. Too much preoccupation with measures can even hinder constructive work with MIL – measures, examination and meetings in place of actual learning.

Documentation and communication of ‘best practices’ are therefore invaluable to the development of MIL education in the long term. (Cf. Cernison et al. 2017, Costa et al. 2017, Grizzle 2018, Frau-Meigs et al. 2017b, Gordon et al. 2016, Jeong et al. 2012, UNESCO 2013).

Evaluations of media literacy education show that media education is more or less effective. In a meta-analysis of media literacy interventions the researchers found improvements in critical thinking skills, and even behavior change (Jeong et al. 2012). More limited studies point in the same direction (Bulger et al.

2018, Fletcher et al. 2018, Grizzle 2018, Gui et al. 2018). But, in sum it is remarkable that so few comprehen-sive evaluations have been carried out in recent years.

Development of knowledge

The development of knowledge can help resolve broader issues and systematic problems in society, including the media sector, digitization and MIL. In order for MIL policies and activities to be effective, the problems they address must first be analysed and clearly specified in a broad context of relevance.

There is an urgent need to gain a better understanding of the meaning and consequences of globaliza-tion and digitizaglobaliza-tion from the point of view of citizens and media. While these factors are far broader and not directly related to MIL, their impacts on MIL are both direct and strong. Current research, however, often presents contradictory results regarding the direction and quality of the digital transformation process. There is a risk that such a situation may aggravate an already normatively loaded debate on the effects of the digitization of media.

Broader collaboration across boundaries in coordinated studies that produce comparable results is essential in fields like media and MIL, where research is conducted in many different disciplines. It has never been easy to find funding for interdisciplinary and transnational research, but it is even more difficult today. A host of factors in academic research – the incessant struggle to find funding, the pressure

The paucity of interdisciplinary studies and cross-national collaboration on MIL is clearly a problem.

Studies of children’s interaction with media, too, are few nowadays, even though the need for a better understanding of how media habits are established and evolve is as great as ever. Furthermore, words rather than images continue to get most attention, even though images occupy such a central position in contemporary media culture. (Cf. Potter 2010, Hobbs 2011, Sefton-Green et al. 2016).

There is need for a MIL research agenda that transcends cultural, political, ethnic and religious boundaries, but accommodates regional variations – and, not least, addresses methods and models for understanding current phenomena based on a critical reassessment of traditional concepts. In short: it is urgent to consider MIL beyond the Western world.

The challenge for the researchers is not only to explain the problems, but also to communicate with the people in power so that research findings will make a difference. To dare engage in debates on demo-cracy, social change, human rights, freedom of expression – and the role of media and information literacy in relation to these fundamental values. (Cf. Bennet et al. 2018, Bulger et al. 2018, Carlsson 2007, 2014, Grizzle 2018, Jolls et al. 2018, Livingstone 2018b, 2019, Qiu et al. 2018, Servaes et al. 2016).

Essential elements in a model for national MIL policy

If the aim of MIL is to maximize opportunities and minimize risk in the digital communication environ-ment, responsibility must be taken to ensure that solutions and policies contribute to creating an inclusive democratic policy, based on well-informed, engaged and participating citizens. Clarity of purpose – poli-tical agreement on the importance of MIL, on what MIL is, and in what ways national MIL policy and/or specific MIL programs/activities contribute to democracy and social change – is of the essence.

Frameworks for media and information literacy must, however, be responsive to an ongoing develop-mental process driven by social progress objectives, technological development, and currents of political debate. At present, national digitization and AI strategies are the dominant concern, but these strategies may change in response, for example, to the emergence of new kinds of hardware and software. In this fluid environment, it is important for policy-makers and other stakeholders to have a clear and robust idea of what they expect of MIL, and how media and educational policies relate to other policy areas.

On the basis of existing MIL research, comparative studies (mostly in Europe), the Swedish survey and policy documents from a number of countries, together with UNESCO and EU documents, a set of essential elements of national MIL policy can be identified:

1. A consolidated framework in the national policy system with an articulated conception of MIL in a longer-term and holistic perspective; i.e., a well-defined idea of how MIL (both practices and outcomes) can contribute to democratic development and social progress;

2. A high degree of coordination between ministries, authorities and other public sector institutions, with clear assignment of roles and responsibilities;

3. A governance mechanism (e.g. authority) with input from a wide range of involved actors/stake holders representing media companies, purveyors of content, educational organizations, adult education organiza-tions, technological companies, the research community, civil society, etc. (with incentives to collaboration at multiple levels in society – preferably formalized in networks);

4. The development of professionalism in education and capacity building efforts – for classroom and life-long learning.

5. Structures for following accumulated knowledge and promoting/stimulating further research;

6. Structures for assessment and evaluation, including documentation of best practices;

7. Active involvement in MIL issues in regional and international organizations with feedback to the national level and vice versa.

8. Coordination of resources and financing.

Any country that has made a commitment to develop a national political framework for MIL has to pro-ceed according to its circumstances and capacity, its governmental structure, its media landscape/media culture and educational infrastructure. These considerations will in many respects decide the country’s level of ambition and how the framework is structured.

The overall objective is to create conditions that are conducive to constructive efforts in all relevant policy areas to foster and heighten media and information literacy among the country’s citizens – thereby contributing to the preservation and vigor of democracy, freedom of expression and social progress.

Today, most democratic countries agree as to the importance of heightened media and information literacy, when media and communication cultures are in such flux. It is essential to equip citizens so they are able to exercise their civic responsibilities and civil rights.


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