Sarajevo, 21 October 2021. “In these times of unprecedented flows of information and disinformation, people risk being confused or manipulated, particularly by algorithmic personalized targeting on social media. Therefore, it is critical for citizens to develop and reinforce their skills and knowledge of handling information to make informed judgments and decisions and critically engage in sustainable development for which information as a public good is indispensable,” said Sinisa Sesum, Head of UNESCO Antenna Office in Sarajevo of Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, opening the UNESCO South East Europe Regional Conference on Media and Information Literacy.
Organized in a hybrid format on 21 October 2021, the conference aimed at taking stock of the progress of the introduction of Media and Information Literacy (MIL) in formal and informal education in the South East Europe region, and notably as part of the UNESCO EU-funded project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey – Phase 2”. The conference was also to mark the UNESCO Global MIL Week around its central theme this year: “MIL for the public good.” Gathering 22 speakers – some participating in-person, speaking from a studio set up in UN House in Sarajevo, some connecting online, 200 participants joined the event online.
The first panel discussion of the conference focused on the relevance of MIL strategies and policies for formal education. Evis Kushi, Minister of Education and Sports of Albania, Naida Hota-Muminovic, Minister of Education of Sarajevo Canton, and Emir Vajzovic, Professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo, underlined how deepening critical thinking skills of citizens could be best achieved by introducing this topic in primary and secondary education. “The Covid-19 pandemic has speeded up the process of making MIL a priority and a sustainable educational policy at a national level in Albania. We are more than convinced that MIL will help the younger generation shape their characters and strengthen their competencies for democratic culture,” emphasised Ms. Evis Kushi, highlighting the work done in the country through the UNESCO EU-funded project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey – Phase 2”.
The second panel of the conference took stock of the achievements and results of Media and Information Literacy projects in the region by gathering project leaders and beneficiaries. Among them, Anida Sokol, Project Coordinator at the Media Centre in BiH, underlined the two main lessons learnt from its EU-funded project “Media for Citizens – Citizens for Media.”
On the one hand, we realised that school systems across the region are very rigid when it comes to changes and teaching new skills. On the other hand, we discovered that MIL is a topic able to create a great enthusiasm among beneficiaries in the region.
-- Anida Sokol, Project Coordinator at the Media Centre in BiH
Astrit Dautaj from the Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education in Albania (ASCAP) shed light on the importance of monitoring the effectiveness of the piloting of Media and Information Literacy within schools through evaluation tools. “In our pilot phase with UNESCO, we are assessing teachers’ performance at three levels. This is a challenging task, but it is a must to ensure successful upscaling of our piloting in the future,” he said.
The third panel discussion of the conference brought together five young women, implementing or beneficiaries of MIL-related projects targeting youth. A powerful message from these speakers was that youth is the best voice to reach out to youth and trigger their attention in a meaningful way. Yet, “based on my experience, my peers are not well-equipped to recognize disinformation. I often see that they share surprising information that they see as a “novelty,” but that is in fact, a piece of disinformation. This comes from our education system. Not many encouraged us in primary and high school to think critically and outside of the box and ask questions,” explained Hadzera Selimovic, Young European Ambassadorfrom BiH. Tara Simovic discussed her experience as a Young Reporter in the UNICEF Montenegro project, “Although we are digital natives and use social media all our lives, I think we are not fully aware of what media is and our role in the media landscape.”
As a last panel of the conference, the discussion focused on the importance of Media and Information to empower journalism online. Marina Tuneva, Executive Director of the Council for Media Ethics in North Macedonia, Bojan Cvejic, Editor-in-Chief of Danas Portal from Serbia, and Lea Auffarth, Project Coordinator of the Journalism Trust Initiative at the Reporters Without Borders, all emphasised the critical role of media to help citizens distinguish reliable information from dis- or mis-information and also to understand the particular role of media in democratic societies.
Last but not least, the conference was the opportunity to officially launch the regional SEE MIL platform and its local chapter on MIL for BiH. In addition, young journalists of the region covered the event live from Sarajevo through the SEE Youth Newsroom. This gave them the chance to conduct interviews with some speakers and bring their youth perspective to the conference. Their coverage of the event will be published on the SEE Youth Newsroom platform.