Lejla Turčilo: Media literacy enhances potentials of citizens for critical thinking
Author: Nataša Tomić
“When it comes to BiH, media literacy has been developing in the past five to ten years by various actors. However, in many cases these actors are unsynchronized and not coordinated, so activities they undertake have lesser impact on general population. We may say that we are at the beginning of developing systematic approach to media and information literacy and that media and information literacy is still not high priority of our educational authorities, which, as consequence, has still low level of MIL in our society.”
This is what Lejla Turčilo, professor at the Department of Communication Science and Journalism at The Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Sarajevo, says about the situation with media literacy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Even though media literacy is becoming an important topic in the public sphere, there is not much improvement in this area. There is not any clear strategy for the development of media literacy and no activity from public institutions dealing with this problem. Most initiatives are coming from enthusiastic individuals and organizations that are recognizing media and information literacy as one of the most important skills of the 21st century.
With professor Turčilo, we talked about the importance of media literacy for every society, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how the situation can be improved.
It is easier to find information, but it seems like it is even easier to be falsely informed or media illiterate. How media literacy affects spread of fake news? What is the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are we far away for media literate society?
TURČILO: The main mistake many people make is believing that the quantity of communication channels that we are exposed to (online and offline) is a guarantee that we are well informed. On the contrary. We are mainly over-newsed, but under-informed. This is not only due to the fact that there are so many fake news around us, but also due to the fact that many of us are not equipped with knowledge and skills for proper deconstruction and understanding of media content. This is precisely where media literacy has the most significant impact on us as individuals and on our societies. Proper choice of reliable information sources, selection of optimal quantity of high quality information and transformation of these information into knowledge (by our proper interpretation and understanding of information) is crucial and it can be done properly only if we are media literate.
When it comes to BiH, media literacy has been developing in the past five to ten years by various actors. However, in many cases these actors are unsynchronized and not coordinated, so activities they undertake have lesser impact on general population. We may say that we are at the beginning of developing systematic approach to media and information literacy and that media and information literacy is still not high priority of our educational authorities, which, as consequence, has still low level of MIL in our society.
Media literacy is becoming current topic, but unfortunately, the topic that institutions don’t work on. In schools, this topic is not in focus and only two faculties in Bosnia and Herzegovina teach about this. How will this treatment and situation affect our society and future generations?
TURČILO: Media and information literacy is not only about knowing how to interact with media. It is the most important meta-competence in every society, since it enhances potentials of citizens for critical thinking and more competent participation in decision-making in every society. The fact that MIL is not in focus of education system in B&H in a way in which it should be, decreases the democratic potentials of our society and makes our citizens more exposed to fake news, propaganda, manipulation etc. Future generations, which are more and more exposed to various media channels and less and less educated on how to interact with them properly are in danger of becoming passive consumers of propaganda, bias, manipulation rather than becoming critical thinkers who are competent for good decision-making and proactive approach in society. And this is, of course, dangerous.
No critical thinking, more manipulation
Is the ignorance of this topic in our society from responsible people indicator of the lack of consciousness or their wish to manipulate?
TURČILO: I think that authorities, first of all, do not understand the importance of MIL as a competence which enhances the whole society and, second of all, to a certain extent benefit from low level of MIL citizens. Those who do not critically think, who do not question information that are served and who do not express their ideas and standpoints loud and clear towards their governments are easier to manipulate and by that manipulation status quo in society is preserved. To a certain extent, this is exactly what parties in power in BiH benefit from.
Society often blames journalists for huge amounts of disinformation and bad situation in media sphere. What is the role of media in media literacy?
TURČILO: Media do have significant role in development of MIL, since one of their main functions is educational. Thus, they should do much more not only in promotion of MIL and raising awareness on MIL in the society, but in production of educational content that helps citizens to be better educated in the field of media and information literacy. This is part of their societal role and responsibility.
For younger people the solution may be introduction of media literacy subjects in schools. But what about older people who never met with these concepts?
TURČILO: Actually, introducing one course of MIL per year is not the very best solution. Since, MIL is a meta-competence, not something that can be taught and learned if a student listens to lectures in MIL once a week in school, much better approach would be to enhance teachers in schools who teach various subjects to make MIL part of their curricula. As already mentioned, MIL is not only about understanding the media and its content, but about critical thinking, so it can be taught in every course in school. To elderly people, MIL can be offered through lifelong learning programs and trainings, as well as through media which should dedicate significant part of their program to providing content related to MIL for their readers, listeners, viewers.
Can we actually talk about responsibility of only one side or one individual when it comes to media literacy? Aren’t we all responsible? By this I mean individuals, society, institutions and media outlets.
TURČILO: Of course, we are all responsible. MIL is not an individual responsibility of us as individuals, but a societal meta-competence and for that reason a systematic societal approach is necessary.