Knowing which news sources are reliable – and why – is a key component of media literacy D + C
A democratic culture does not just depend on citizens having access to reliable information. You also need to be able to tell what kind of information is trustworthy. This is an essential part of media literacy and should be taught in schools.
Free media are indispensable in a democracy. They hold state institutions accountable. Courts do this too, but with different means and with different effects. Good governance depends on both the media and the courts working well. It also depends on whether citizens can tell if they are doing this.
Media and information literacy (MIL) is the ability to understand how the media works and to use it to participate in public debates. This also includes the competence to produce media yourself.
Many media outlets use advertising to fund their businesses, and those in the media know how to distinguish ads from editorial content. In addition, they must also be able to assess the quality of the reporting. Relevant criteria include whether journalists cite the sources they cite, rely on more than one source, and report facts without prejudice. In addition, news and opinion pieces should be in separate sections and each story must be logically coherent. In addition, it makes sense for readers to check who owns a media company and who is responsible for the editorial content. In democratic countries laws or conventions force newspapers to disclose such information in the imprint or imprint (see imprint of this website).
Last year, the Christian Democratic Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) published a report on the effects of fake news propaganda on young Arabs. It recognized media literacy as an important tool to strengthen young people’s understanding of news journalism – and thus also public participation.
The authors found that young people in the United Arab Emirates receive information from multiple platforms. However, it was found that many were poorly media literate and lacked the skills required to question, analyze, and authenticate information found online, in print, or in any other media format. It is similar in many places, including Western countries. The KAS authors recommend teaching media skills in schools.
The Ugandan perspective
Prossy Kawala also agrees that media literacy is becoming more and more relevant due to the threat of “fake news” – and that digital skills are an important dimension of media literacy. She is a co-founder of the Kampala-based Center for Media Literacy and Community Development (CEMCOD). In their eyes, Ugandan educational institutions have not yet taken up the topic – with the exception of a few private schools. CEMCOD is a non-governmental organization.
Including media literacy in school curricula would be an important step. Kawala believes that media literacy training for teenagers in school would have an impact on their families and communities, thereby promoting media literacy citizenship. She suggests forming a consortium of media literacy organizations to promote the issue. In addition, CEMCOD cooperates with six local radio stations to convey media skills. As Kawala points out, the media in general could – and should – do more to ensure that media literacy is mainstreamed in school curricula.
In other contexts, various civil society groups show an interest in media literacy. Kawala mentions the African Center for Media Excellence, Reality Check Uganda, the Media Challenge Initiative and the Uganda Media Women’s Association.
There are similar initiatives in many countries, and various international development organizations are promoting the cause. The Deutsche Welle Academy has even published a small brochure that provides useful material to everyone who teaches media skills.
Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi studies development management at the Ruhr University Bochum.
Center for Media Literacy and Community Development (CEMCOD):
Deutsche Welle Academy, 2019: Media and Information Literacy – A Practical Guide for Trainers (third edition).
Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 2020: Media and information literacy of millennials and Generation Z in the Arab world.