The civil sector should develop and improve media literacy in local communities

Sarajevo, February 10, 2021 – Despite the growing development of new technologies and the growing role of the media in democratic societies, there is no adequate government action in Bosnia and Herzegovina on issues related to media literacy. The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not equipped to demand free access to a variety of information through independent and professional media, and the chaotic digital media landscape opens up opportunities for the spread of misinformation, propaganda and false media content. Also, civil society organizations in BiH do not have enough knowledge and capacity to advocate and promote media literacy, as well as to educate citizens on how to recognize information manipulation, political censorship and fake news.

According to a survey of BH Journalists conducted in autumn 2020 on a sample of 48 civil society organizations from across the country, the biggest obstacle to improving media literacy in civil society organizations is the “lack of time and money”, ie insufficiently developed capacities of the NGO sector, especially at the local level, to engage in media literacy in a way that can contribute to the empowerment of citizens and users of NGO services in the field of media literacy with a focus on critical assessment of information and protection of the right to freedom of expression and information. Educational workshops, launched within the project “Free Media for a Free Society” conducted by BH Journalists Association and the Association of Electronic Media in BiH, aim to improve the skills and knowledge of local NGOs in this area.

Samra Šakanović-Prgić, President of the Association of Citizens “Nela” from Orašje, considers the education of the NGO sector extremely useful because media literacy and education of young people in this area are necessary in understanding the society in which they live. “In the 21st century, mobile devices, tablets and computers have become part of our daily lives and from the once limited Internet access I had, we now come to a constant and inexhaustible source of information, data and photos. Like many other things today, the Internet is a double-edged sword – it brings a lot of good and bad things. Only through education on media literacy can we introduce our younger generations to the bad sides of the Internet in time “, says Šakanović-Prgić, adding that non-governmental organizations should be media literate and work harder on educating children.

According to Muamer Lukomirak of the Konjic Municipality Youth Council, formal education does not provide enough knowledge about media literacy, as it is often assumed that most people are media literate. “Such thinking probably stems from ignorance and misunderstanding of the true meaning of media literacy. In training, I learned that just because I know how to turn on Facebook doesn’t mean I’m media literate. That literacy also includes knowledge in the field of access, analysis and creation of content published by certain media, as well as the ability to recognize fake news, internet violence, misuse of private data, copyright protection, etc. “, he says.

Lukomirak also adds that the non-governmental sector nurtures the principles of media literacy and promotes this topic among young people much more than state institutions do. “It is nice to see that non-governmental organizations such as BH Journalists take care of media literacy in local communities in BiH, providing us with an opportunity in the form of grants aimed at media literacy. It is up to us young people to use those chances and to transfer our knowledge to others.

It is important that citizens, especially young people, develop a critical approach in the evaluation of media content, believes Maksuma Topalović, executive director of the Association “Alternative” from Kakanj. She emphasizes that it is necessary for citizens, especially young people, to develop a critical approach and evaluation of media content. “It is naive to accept the saying that there is some truth in everything that is written about. Citizens need knowledge and skills to help them find relevant and credible information, to recognize unverified news and misinformation, and to reduce their negative impact, no matter what topic is discussed. When I say this, I mean that it is not enough to just follow the media we trust, we may be so deprived of different views. It is necessary to follow information from various sources, but use tools and possibilities to check the accuracy of information “, says Topalović, reminding of the importance of education on media literacy of citizens in smaller communities, where information is “controlled by centers of power” and there is little opportunity to hear the other side, or to verify information.

As for the work of the civil sector in the field of media literacy, Topalovic says that there are a small number of non-governmental organizations that deal with this issue. “We need media literacy first within our organizations, and then spreading knowledge and awareness of the benefits and needs of media literacy in the development of a democratic society. The experiences we have are not the best and we used to be victims of the media inscriptions from fake or wild portals in our community just because we don’t fit into established patterns. It is not easy to fight but we must be persistent. I am sure that we are not the only ones who became more interested in this topic after we had bad experiences and we are firmly committed to developing our capacities in media literacy “, concludes Topalović.

Hrustem Beširević, from the Association of Citizens “Iskoristi dan-Carpe Diem” from Ilijaš, points out that citizens from all sides are surrounded by the media, a lot of information is placed in public, which is why it is extremely important to understand, analyze and critically observe information. “Civil society organizations are the ones that advocate for media literacy, as well as media freedoms. It may even be said that NGOs are the only ones advocating for it. It suits some media that people are media illiterate. What is very important is that NGOs strive to reach all local communities, and to get closer to each individual. And they give him the opportunity to become media literate“, Besirevic said.

Representatives of the civil sector are unanimous in the assessment that the civil sector is an excellent space for promoting media literacy, especially in local communities where civil society organizations are in direct contact with citizens in the field, so their impact on media literacy is much greater. What civil society organizations lack are quality and systematic training on media literacy, as well as resources to raise the level of media literacy among citizens in order to better understand information, strengthen freedom of expression and demand free and objective media in local communities throughout BiH.

In addition to organizing educational workshops, BH Journalists, within the project “Free Media for a Free Society” and with the support of the European Union, announced a public call for the NGO sector in local communities to submit small projects whose implementation can improve capacities in media literacy and protection freedom of information.

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