By Ogova Ondego
Published June 16, 2013
Mass media and information permeate the 21st century more than ever before. They—not parents, teachers, nannies or the clergy—are the main socialising agents of this century that is referred to interchangeably as the Information Era and the Digital Age because of its reliance on information, communications and technology (ICT). It is the media, driven by ICT, that shape the understanding of reality and provide identity and validation to today’s individuals and societies.
African Media Development Initiative, one of the most comprehensive independent surveys of the state of the media across 17 sub-Saharan African countries at the threshold of the 21st century concluded that mass media are “an indispensable part of tackling poverty, improving development and enabling Africa to attain its development goals.”
Access to—and use of—mass media by individuals and organisations to disseminate information in the contemporary world is increasingly being viewed as a human rights issue.
However for anyone to access and use the media effectively calls for one to understand not only their role but also how they work. This understanding is referred to as media literacy—the art and science of enlightening individuals on the opportunities and threats inherent in modern mass media.
A media literate person is one who possesses the ability to collect, process and disseminate messages that bring about change in society. Media literacy equips individuals with the skills to decipher images, analyse media content, understand the human dimension in cyberspace and demystify any myth created by the media in a way that is beneficial to the wellbeing of society.
It is equally important for one to understand how to craft and pass on information or messages in order to achieve the desired aims. Knowing how to communicate in this manner is referred to as information literacy. The media in themselves can’t do much without information being communicated through them.
A media and information literate person understands the symbols used to communicate messages and also how to access and retrieve any information for onward transmission from archives and libraries. MIL, experts contend, is as basic a skill as reading,writing and arithmetic that educationists say contribute to development of societies.
Success in socio-cultural, political and economic spheres can be achieved only if media literacy and information literacy are integrated.
This is the background of an international conference on media and information literacy and inter-cultural dialogue scheduled for June 26-28, 2013 in Abuja, Nigeria. Organised by UNESCO, the theme of the three-day forum is “Promoting media and information literacy as a means to cultural diversity.”
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UNESCO, in collaboration with the United Nations Alliance of Civilization, the Swedish International Development Agency, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria and other major players around the world, shall launch an initiative called Global Alliance for Partnerships on MIL (GAPMIL) during the Abuja conference.
UNESCO says the envisaged global alliance shall give MIL its rightful place in development, give MIL practitioners a unified voice on policy issues, amplify the impact of MIL in development around the world, and produce consensus on what shape GAPMIL should take.
Among the issues expected to be tackled at the Abuja forum are putting media and information literacy in context, viewing cultural diversity as media and information literacy, linguistic diversity and information literacy, media and information in education, youth and children’s rights in a changing information age, and media and information literacy and freedom.
UNESCO, that has been working in the MIL field for more than four decades, argues there can be little success in educational, cultural, scientific, economic or political development without the incorporation of media and information literacy in it.
“ICT training (digital literacy/ICT skills),” UNESCO contends, “should not be limited to technical competence but should also include awareness of other competencies included in MIL.”
It is perhaps not a coincidence that this GAPMIL meeting is the first global partnership project and it is expected to set the way forward for future partnerships around the world; UNESCO treats Africa as a ‘Global Priority’.
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Prior to the Abuja conference, UNESCO has, among other things, already prepared a MIL curriculum for teachers, drawn up guidelines for broadcasters on promoting user-generated content and MIL, and drafted an international online course on MIL and intercultural dialogue.