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Fostering media literacy may tackle issues with handling digital technologies

26 December 2023 12:50 (UTC+04:00)
Fostering media literacy may tackle issues with handling digital technologies
Nigar Hasanova
Nigar Hasanova
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The ability to recognise different types of media and comprehend the messages they convey is referred to as media literacy. There are text messages, memes, viral videos, social media, video games, advertising, and other forms of communication. The convergence of traditional media such as the press, television, and radio and new technologies such as social networking, blogging, citizen journalism, and online discussions characterizes today's media. But all media has one thing in common: it was created by someone. It was also created for a reason. Understanding why is the foundation of media literacy.

Anyone can now easily create media in the digital age. We don't always know who made something, why they made it, or whether it's trustworthy. The complex and ever-changing media landscape has the potential to benefit citizens by increasing inclusiveness, diversity, and participation; however, it also has drawbacks such as uneven access, misinformation, copyright issues, and exposure to harmful content.

A free and independent media is widely regarded as essential to good governance, especially in promoting state effectiveness, responsiveness, and accountability. As governments seek to address a variety of digital-age issues, media or digital literacy is frequently cited as a solution, in part because it is far less controversial than attempting to regulate the internet.

Let us take a step back before advocating for media literacy as a solution to the latest socio-technological problems. This means we need to define the problem and determine what role media or digital technologies play in it. We may even request a theory of change to clarify how the various components of a potential solution are expected to interact. What about a responsible organization—whether local, national, or international—tasked with coordinating all of these actions and evaluating the results?

Then, we need to identify all the other players so that we can articulate which part of the solution media literacy may provide and what others will contribute—regulators, policymakers, civil society organisations, and the media themselves—avoiding the tendency to blame media educators for the entire problem.

According to the World Bank's Communication for Governance and Accountability Program, media literacy assists citizens in becoming informed, engaging in the public sphere to effect change, and demanding good governance and accountability. Citizens must be able to access, analyse, evaluate, and create media content in an increasingly complex media landscape. We might also further expect and demand that the other players incorporate media literacy expectations into their policies, so that all organisations shaping the digital environment share the task of explaining their operations to the public and providing user-friendly accountability mechanisms.

A fundamental principle of the governance reform agenda is to build more effective and responsive states that are accountable to their citizens; free, pluralistic, and independent media systems can play an important role in this process of giving access to independent media to the citizens. This access is critical for improving trust among citizens, the media, and the state, as well as for implementing and maintaining the governance agenda. As maintaining this reform between the aforementioned players could be hard to balance, learning and teaching media literacy is difficult. Nonetheless, media literacy is an important skill in the digital age because it teaches not only how to engage with media but also how to engage with society through media. Citizens must acquire the critical abilities and necessary communicative skills to participate actively and meaningfully in a democratic public sphere—the space where free and equal citizens come together to discuss and debate current affairs. This informed public debate, fueled by media literacy, has the potential to engage citizens as active stakeholders in governance reforms.

Azerbaijan has also attempted to improve media literacy through active engagement in the implementation of this strategy. A media literacy conference has begun in Baku as part of the Media Literacy Week organised by the Media Development Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Nearly 500 young people attended the conference. Speaking at the conference, Ahmad Ismayilov, Executive Director of the Media Development Agency, stated that in the modern era, as we face a rapidly increasing information flow, developing the proper skills to determine the reliability of information in society is becoming one of the key factors for the development of the national media landscape and the promotion of long-term socio-cultural development throughout the country.

According to him, the current abundance of information, as well as the challenge that society faces in determining the objectivity of information, necessitate the development of media-literate consumers, as well as consistent steps towards increasing the effective performance of the media's professional function.

Finally, as mentioned by the executive director, we need to consider the effectiveness of the media. What does effectiveness look like? Is it citizens being kind to one another online, behaving nicely, and being orderly? Or is it citizens who are deliberating, debating, and even disagreeing? Citizens who use digital media to express themselves, organise themselves, and demand to be heard? I believe it should be both. People need to be heard in a respectful manner and express themselves freely in a digital democratic environment. This necessitates change not only on the part of citizens but also on the part of policymakers. We shouldn't just ask whether people trust the media or the government. We should also ask whether the media trusts the people and allows them to express themselves freely and respectfully in various situations, and whether governments, related authorities, and civic bodies trust the people, treat them with respect, listen to what they have to say, and strive to create a free and open digital environment in which all participants are free to express their thoughts and concerns in a respectful manner.


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