The connection between Media and Information Literacy, democracy and human rights can be easy to overlook in regions where freedom of information and expression are not in danger. To understand these intersections better, imagine you are living in an authoritarian country and have run into issues with a government agency. You might suspect, for example, those issues were fabricated in order to earn corruptive gain, but you cannot prove it. Your neighbour suggests you complain to someone, but to whom? If you live in a country where the media is a propaganda tool for the power elite and would never publicly critique governmental institutions, what are your options? Imagine, free speech is limited on local social media too. All so-called Western apps and platforms are blocked. You feel alone and powerless. Venting to trusted friends is all you can do, it seems.
What if you had no media freedom?
Now imagine the situation in a democracy with strong trust for journalistic institutions, freedom of information and well-financed digital education. Thanks to the open flow of information, you are well aware of your rights and not afraid to realise them. When in doubt, you know where to look up your rights and can express your opinions with no fear of retaliation. Corruption scandals are easily picked up by the media as well as police, which flips the power dynamic in this situation. This is why the intersection of Media and Information Literacy and human rights is so important.
Digital participation adds a whole other level to the argument. As we well know from the pandemic, there can be physical barriers to realising citizen rights, even such basic rights as voting. E-voting, for example, can help bridge those gaps and, therefore, increase participation, but on the other hand, it demands technical skills. The human rights approach to Media and Information Literacy must address three parties: the government, the individual citizen and the media.
According to Dennis Reineck and Jan Lublinski, governments “…are called upon to respect, defend, advance and ethically frame freedom of opinion and expression on Internet-based platforms and to endorse new forms of education and digital cultures necessary for people to be able to gain technical access, assess sources, use public information, form opinions and take part in public discourse on the various new platforms.”
Who should ensure freedom of expression?
Therefore, through the lens of a human rights approach to Media and Information Literacy, out of the three parties – the government, the media and the citizens – it is the government that should be considered the duty-bearer. As the government protects freedom of press and information as well as citizens’ free expression, it is the citizens that hold the human rights. The media should have a vested interest because it helps understand media reports, as well as building relationships of trust with their audience.
E-voting as an example
To expand on the e-voting example in the pandemic, the trio of involved parties would need to do the following:
The government would need to create a culture of uncensored quality information being held in high regard. That would entail making sure no legislation threatens the anonymity of journalists’ sources, that no retaliation would follow critique of the leadership and that e-voting risks, as well as possibilities, are openly discussed in the public arena.
Citizens should demand alternatives for their right to vote in the context of the pandemic. Developing secure infrastructure and trust for e-voting will take time, but most of all, it will take a lot of lobbying. Amongst other things, that entails demanding education on the necessary technical skills to e-vote.
The media would have to include Media and Information Literacy education in their stories in a subtle way. For example, when introducing the opportunities and risks of e-voting, guidelines on how to take necessary steps to be able to e-vote should be included in the media texts. Mass media cannot educate a whole nation, but can still develop the individual skills of at least some of their audience.
In addition to technical skills, content decoding skills are also necessary in any political context. In other words, the human rights approach to media literacy also includes the ability to recognise propaganda and lies, which are often used as tools to sway public opinion in the political sphere. If you want to know more about the importance of media literacy and democratic education, have a look at this article about media and its impact for starters. We also have great resources on media & participation and the connection between Media and Information Literacy & gender equality. Dive in!