Media Literacy – Global Perspective

Media Literacy – Global Perspective

Keynote Presentation


Mr. Alton Grizzle
Programme Specialist,
Communication and Information Sector
UNESCO Head Office
Paris, France

Given at the Euromeduc Seminar on
Media literacy and appropriation of Internet by young people
Faro, Portugal

February 16-18, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen

First let me thank the organisers of this important seminar, particularly, Professor Vitor Reia-Baptista for inviting UNESCO to contribute and share our perspective on this, still emerging field and body of knowledge. I am personally pleased to be visiting your beautiful country. This is my first visit to Portugal and being a Jamaican I recall your country from my study of history and of course through the media (new and old).

Today, as we gather for the last in a series of three seminars to examine this issue of media literacy, and more specifically, the impact on young people and their role in the evolution of new media, it is important to recall a global and development perspective.

UNESCO is delighted to be able to highlight its efforts in this important thrust of media and information literacy and consequently the adequate equipping of the next generation as they take this challenge to their “next generation.” Undoubtedly, the challenges now faced by young people will pave the way for newer more innovative means in making learning sustainable, effective and life changing.

I used the term media and information literacy earlier for a purpose. This is to remind us that there are two schools of overarching thoughts on these ever converging fields, one has tendency to favour the term Information Literacy (IL) and the other Media Literacy (ML). The former argues that IL is the genus (broader field) and ML is a species (subset) of IL. The latter proposes the converse.

One could argue that information studies existed long before media studies. And another could argue that, from a biological origin to birth and death, humans are inherently communicative beings and information is what we consume. And that every aspect of our lives is a communication process and information and knowledge is the essence of this process… In actuality the two, information and communication, are inextricably linked and are sadly too often separated when linked to the development process.

Globally, many international organizations including UNESCO use the term Media Education (ME). And this is widely accepted as covering both media and information. However, as we have learnt from a recent international expert group meeting convened by UNESCO, last June, the term ME still seems to estrange those experts and academics on the side of information studies.

ME – a complex concept, arguably comprising two opposing words in today’s society. Media stirs ambivalent emotions: sensationalism, information, knowledge, truth, lies, propaganda, good, bad, news and politics… Education on the other hand calls to mind potential positives: success, progress, wealth, control, power… But is media education sufficiently understood? Is it education about media or education through media? What does it mean, not just to individuals but nationally, culturally and globally?

Though many definitions have been proposed for M and IL, I will not share any here because as this field is ever evolving so too are appropriate definitions. The debate continues and this in itself embodies the process of M and IL.

UNESCO more recently has chosen to use the term M and IL and for the purpose of this presentation I shall use this terms media education and MIL interchangeably.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We all agree, and as is evident in this series of seminars, that M and IL is not just body of knowledge but a way of thinking and doing; teaching and learning.

As David Berlo Communication and Behavior, 1975 puts it, “Most of what we have called formal education has been intended to imprint on the human mind all of the information that we might need for a lifetime. Education is geared toward information storage. Today that is neither possible nor necessary. Rather, humankind needs to be taught how to process information that is stored through [new and old media] technology. Education needs to be geared toward the handling of [information and knowledge] data rather than the accumulation of data.”

The rapid growth of technology and the attendant convergence of communication and information make it imperative that MIL be seen as vital to the empowerment of people and an important prerequisite for harnessing ICTs for education and fostering equitable access to information and knowledge.

The same explosions in ICTs and media, mentioned earlier, have effectively redefined Literacy. Literacy is no longer the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Ritmetic); it is no longer enough simply to read, write and compute. Students must also become literate in how to collect, assess and use information through new and traditional technologies, the understanding of visual images, how to spot a stereotype, isolate a social cliché, and distinguish facts from propaganda, analysis from irony etc. Undoubtedly, there is much to be gained from the inclusion of media and information literacy in both the formal and the non-formal education systems as this can make significant contribution to prepare students for participation in their societies and the lives they will lead beyond school.

There are two different but equally important perspectives of media and information literacy. In the case schools, one perspective is to see the students or teachers as consumers of information. As such, these “consumers” would benefit from media and information literacy insofar as they are able to use these skills to exercise prudence in the kinds of information they expose themselves to, “consume” or use. This is the more popular perspective. On the other hand, however, information literacy should also spur students to become active producers of information and entrepreneurs of information products; effectively using new and traditional media for self expression, creativity and greater participation in their countries’ democracy as well as the global information network.

I mentioned earlier the importance to recall a global and development (personal, economic, social and political) perspective of M and IL, and I would like reiterate here that it is crucial that a global perspective take into consideration the varying social, economic, cultural, educational and political situations that exist across the world.

As Professor Keval J. Kumar, Director of the Centre for Education and Research for the Medias in Pun - puts it,

“… we, of course, know that the political, economic social, cultural, and educational situations are very different according to the regions, countries and continents and that [M and IL] media education is, by this very fact, a territory which must be put into context.”

UNESCO adopted in 1989, the Convention of Children’s Rights – rights to freedom of expression, access to information sources and to participate in cultural life. Taken together, the elements of this convention have paved the way to make MIL a basic human right.
Further, the appropriate enabling environment with free, pluralistic and independent media is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of any M and IL programme. Media pluralism and independence permit the expression of diverse opinions, cultures, languages and groups, in and across societies. Given the empirical influence of the media of all forms in human development, peace and democracy, managing a society that upholds diversity, tolerance of different opinions, transparency, equity and dialogue among civilizations could be advanced through M and IL. This integration of M and IL into national, regional and global development planning and implementation also requires careful and purposeful formulation of policies.

Within the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights these arguments should bring into sharp focus, Article 19 which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” UNESCO holds that M and IL is essential to empower citizenries all around the world to have the full benefits of this fundamental right and to enable sound media and social discourse.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Researchers trace the origins of media literacy education back to over half a century; information literacy even earlier with the longer existence of libraries. And that it begun, for the most part, in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and more recently has been expanding in the United States and elsewhere in the developing an developed countries.

As part of its functions as a laboratory of ideas, standard-setter and a clearing house, UNESCO has done and continues to undertake normative and operational actions in M and IL in concert with or many national, regional and international partners including the European Commission.

Over the past twenty six years, UNESCO has been deeply involved in actions to enhance media literacy, founding the Grünwald Declaration of 1982 which recognised the need for political and educational systems to promote citizens’ critical understanding of “the phenomena of communication” and their participation in media (new and old – some have even coined the word medias albeit media is a plural term). Our main strategy in promoting media education consists of awareness-raising about the importance of this field at all levels of the education process –teacher training, primary, secondary, and lifelong education – as well as establishing guidelines and promoting policies for curricula development.

25 years after the adoption of the Grünwald Declaration that paved the way for M and IL (media education) at the international level, experts (information, communication and media), education policy-makers, teachers and researchers, NGO representatives and media professionals from all the regions of the world met in Paris, in 2007. The Grünwald Declaration was reaffirmed as critical particularly in light of globalisation and the explosion of ICTs. The deliberations of this two-day meeting gave birth to the UNESCO Paris Agenda - Twelve Recommendation for M and IL (Media Education ) which highlighted priority actions to realise the potential impact of the Grünwald guidelines. These are: development of comprehensive M and IL (media education programmes) at all education levels; teacher training and awareness raising of the other stakeholders in the social sphere; research and its dissemination networks; and international cooperation in actions.

In implementing this strategy, UNESCO considers the role of libraries, archives, new technologies/new media as well as traditional media, that is, radio and television and print.

Mme Chairperson
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to share briefly three of the many actions UNESCO has taken to implement the Paris Agenda.

Teacher education

In 2008, recognising the need to produce adequate number of media and information literate teachers, UNESCO organised an international expert group meeting to advise on the preparation of a model curriculum that joins media literacy and information literacy into one discipline and to facilitate the integration of media and information literacy in the teacher training curricula. Four interrelated working groups are now preparing this curriculum which will be ready by July and pilot tested in October and November of this year. It is our view that with the rapid growth of ICTs and the resultant convergence in new and traditional technology, it is necessary that media and information literacy be considered holistically and MIL education applied to all forms of media, new and traditional, regardless of their nature and the technologies used. It is unequivocal that to realize the full benefits of a holistic application of M and IL, evidenced- based policy development is a prerequisite.


Mindful of the need for proper policy development UNESCO has partnered with the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations to publish a comprehensive book on media education policies around the world.

This publication, “Mapping Global Media Education Policies”, provides answers to key questions for professionals, in the fields of media, communication and education, researchers and particularly policy makers. This publication is not about what M and IL is but rather it considers media education from three inter-related dimensions: media education in the national, regional and global context, the value of media education to citizens and civic participation and how to measure and evaluate this value, and the crucial role of collaboration among governments, civil society and the private sector in the process.


For polices to be effective and relevant they must be evidenced-based; they should be underpinned by research. Among the other research initiatives spearheaded and supported by UNESCO including the preparation of IL indicators and MDI, we are partnering with the UNAoC to establish an international network of universities that will cooperate on research in the field of M and IL and cultural dialogue. This will be implemented with the frame of the UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN initiatives.

UNITWIN is the abbreviation for the university education twinning and networking scheme. The Programme operates through the establishment of UNESCO chairs, and UNESCO networks which are also designated as UNITWIN projects. This UNESCO Programme serves as a mechanism for research and capacity building through the exchange of knowledge and sharing in a spirit of solidarity. Thus it promotes north-south and south-south cooperation as a strategy to enrich institutions and various development fields.

The Global synopsis (European Commission Audiovisual and Media Policies)

Media and information literacy is slowing being given the attention necessary by countries around the world. Expectedly there are different levels of success given the level of understanding of the field and in some cases resource availability. Some instances the focus is on information literacy with absence of attention to traditional media and others the converse is observed.

In Asia, the Government of Sri Lanka organized, in October 2008, a national conference on media education as a part of their strategy to integrate media literacy in the national school curricula.

In China, the University of Hong Kong offers a Masters Degree in media education. The government has invested heavily in diffusing of ICTs in education.

In Japan, there is a renewed interest in media literacy which is evident not only in the in the education sector but also in the media and the general public. Community based and community driven initiatives have seen marked success.

Where there are fewer resources, or where there is little interest from policy makers, the development of Media Literacy initiatives relies almost exclusively on partnerships (for example, production based projects in China and Hong Kong). In many African countries, these partnerships are necessary just to ensure the provision of basic resources. In addition, there is a lack of basic equipment and resources. In many developing countries educators are still largely preoccupied with developing basic print literacy; media literacy is only just beginning to register as a concern.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada are among the leaders in respect to articulation and application of media education. In these countries media education has been integrated in the formal school curricula either as a stand alone subject or as part of a related curriculum. In addition, there are strong linkages the media industry and regulators.

Media Education has been approached by a number of governmental and non governmental organisations in the US but not in any significant depth. Like Japan, activities in this area are frequently undertaken within the framework of local youth or community based projects.

In the Caribbean, the University of the West Indies, Jamaica established a National Information Literacy Initiative, aimed at sensitizing the government and other policy-makers about the importance of information literacy and developing programmes and strategies for helping the country achieve an acceptable rate of information literacy among all sectors of the population. The Ministry of Education and the Joint Board of Teacher Education in that country have piloted the integration of media literacy in the national primary and secondary schools curricula. The testing was incorporated into final year teaching practice within three teachers’ colleges.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have led the Caribbean in executing important work the area of media and information literacy. The establishment Media and Information literacy clubs in schools and community libraries holds the potential to empower student outside the formal classroom setting. Similar actions including training of teachers and school librarians are being piloted in St Lucia, the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago. In Jamaica a Community Multimedia Centre in maximum security prisons – a prison radio network, in the Bahamas a community radio link to new technologies in a public library, and in St Vincent and Grenades a community radio also linked to new media in formal secondary school all offers useful and innovative applications of media education.

And in Europe, who knows the situation here better that you do. Indeed Europe has been giving particular attention to this field with assessment carried on the level of media education in all Member States, this EuroMeduc initiative we are now attending and to top it all off the European Commission has adopted a resolution on media literacy in the digital world. The Draft Report on media literacy in a digital world articulates that the European Parliament, “Maintains that media education activities have to encompass all citizens – children, young people, adults, older people, and people with disabilities” and “… that media education should be an element of formal education to which all children should have access and which should form part and parcel of the curriculum at every stage of schooling”.

The aforementioned and many other noteworthy developments are indicative of a positive trend that necessary attention is turning toward policy and regulatory framework to guide and support a systematic take-up of media education and to guarantee greater impact. Yet many countries are still far behind. The obstacles are many and vary according to cultural, economic, political and intellectual environments.

I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation that young people will pave the way for newer more innovative means in learning, or at least what they choose to learn. And indeed they will, Today’s Internet is not driven by the academics but rather by young people. Why do they go to the Internet? Why are they investing most of there free time online. Why is it that young people and most adults have such different views of the Internet? Is the Internet safe for young people? Can we make it safe? What are the emerging and changing patterns of socialization on the Internet? Can Media and Information Literacy really help? These are important questions which challenge governments, parents, educators and policy makers. I will leave the answers and deliberation on these questions for the ensuing three days.

However, in closing, I would like to make one point on the “appropriation of Internet by young people”. The study of young people in their normal environment as they interact with new and traditional media including music and the Internet and applying some of the lessons learnt to teaching and learning scenarios could offer interesting possibilities.

As we move forward it is crucial that all stakeholders, young people, parents, adults, schools, the media industry, governments and all others be engaged in foregrounding media and information literacy on the development agenda.

It is also necessary to consider the issue of North-South and South-South cooperation towards global take up of media and information literacy and ensuring that poorer countries are not left behind. We must not follow the same path that led to the “digital divide”

I leave you with a quotation from the former Secretary General of the United Nations – Kofi Annan, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. It is UNESCO’s belief that media and information literacy, applied effectively, can and will contribute to unlocking power, liberation and progress for people of the entire world.

I wish you a productive next three days of seminar.

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