Fake news and misuse of information in the media were the main topics of the Media Meets Literacy conference held on 20-21 September in Sarajevo. The Media Diversity Institute Western Balkans Executive Director Ivana Jelaca was amongst participants discussing how to foster media literacy among citizens of different backgrounds, as well as the role of social media in the contemporary media environment.
The conference was organised by the Evens Foundation in order to explore the question of media literacy ‘at a time when information literacy and critical thinking toward the media are more crucial than ever’.
“We’ve seen what are called ‘digital wildfires’ of disinformation, echo-chambers of fake ‘news’, conspiracy theories presented as being just as valid as evidence-based research, the equating of truth and falsehood – all giving rise to 2016’s word of the year: ‘post-truth’. But civil society is maintained by having informed, critical and media-literate citizens, while the media – from radio and television to the Internet and social networks – are the essential means of informing the public in our democracies,” stated the organisers of the Media Meets Literacy conference in Sarajevo.
Paolo Cesarini from the European Commission said that media literacy has never been important as today with an emphasis on social media becoming the main source of information for many citizens. That is why it is important that educational institutions, decision makers and the media professionals work together, believes Christian Spahr from Konrad Adenauer Foundation. “We need to work together in order to provide quality information to citizens before they make important decisions such as how to vote etc.,” said Spahr.
Main issues addressed during the conference, identified as the major challenges in the contemporary media environment, were fake news, fact check mechanisms and the phenomenon of post truth.
“These are the most important words of the current media landscape,” said Megan Boler, from the University of Toronto. In her key-note speech Boler emphasised the role of emotions, arguing that emotions rather than facts shape public opinion.
Amanda Bennet, the editor in chief of the Voice of America, believes that we should start from changing the way we name things. “If it is fake it is not news. If is alternative it is not a fact, so do not put those words together,” warned Bennet.
Amongst the speakers in Sarajevo was Evgeny Morozov, the author of several studies and books on social and political implications of modern technology. “Underling logic of the IT companies’ business model is trade of our data,” claims Morozov criticising journalists covering technology and emerging digital trends because, he says, they do not have a critical approach to the work of big tech giants.
A panel chaired by Director of the Ethical Journalism Network Aidan White addressed the situation in the Western Balkans. Most of the speakers stated that the situation in the media in this region has worsen when it comes to the quality journalism and media literacy. Aleksandra Temenugova from the Media Institute of Macedonia that collaborates with the Media Diversity Institute in the media literacy project MAMIL , argued that the most important is to empower citizens through education.
Prior to the Media Meets Literacy conference, Renee Hobbs from the University or Rhode Island, a media literacy expert and the founder of http://www.mediaeducationlab.com/ and Igor Kanizaj from the University of Zagreb, run a Propaganda lab addressing different forms of propaganda.