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Media literacy in Europe. From promoting digital literacy to the audiovisual media services directive

30 September 2010 | Josè Manuel Pérez Tornero, Oralia Paredes and Núria Simelio

Summary. This paper focuses on initiatives and policies the European Commission (EC) has developed in relation to the new digital environment in which communication and information tools have caused significant changes in the way of acquiring knowledge and established innovative forms of social relationships and public participation. These initiatives have guided the actions of the European Union in promoting digital and media literacy as a strategy to become a competitive and dynamic «knowledge-driven» economy.
The paper establishes the most relevant initiatives driven by the EC: to establish programmes – Safer internet programme, e-Learning initiative, e-Inclusion Programme; MEDIA Programme; to set up specialist groups – High-Level Experts Group and Media Literacy Expert Group – to provide expertise and propose actions; to commission studies – Promoting digital literacy. Understanding digital literacy, Public Consultation, Current trends and approaches to media literacy in Europe. These efforts to make media literacy a key element of the development of IS in Europe concluded in the enactment of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which was incorporated into legislation in all EU Member States.

Keywords: digital literacy, media literacy, European initiatives, European Commission.

Recognition of media literacy in the European Audiovisual Services Directive (art. 37) is the result of a long process in which organizations such as UNESCO and the European Commission (EC) have played an important role, not only in the development of the public dimension of media literacy, but also in the acceptance of the importance of media education on the political agenda.
The UNESCO International Congress on Media Education in Germany in 1982 released the Grünwald Declaration on Media Education (1) , ratified by the 19 participating countries, which was the origin of this development. The Grünwald Declaration was the first to state the need for education and political systems to promote a critical understanding and awareness among citizens regarding the media. Seventeen years after the Grünwald Declaration, the rapid technological development in the late 1990s caused the UNESCO congress in Vienna, titled Educating for the media and the digital age (2) , to establish that: «Media Education is part of the basic entitlement of every citizen, in every country in the world, to freedom of expression and the right to information and is instrumental in building and sustaining democracy…» In 2002, UNESCO held the Youth Media Education Seminar in Seville (3) , which reaffirmed the creative and critical component of media literacy, highlighting how media education should be included in both formal and informal education at both the individual and community level.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament and European Commission have also played an important and active role in the development of media literacy in Europe, and have led the concept to include two dimensions: the protection and promotion of human rights, mainly regarding the protection of minors; and the social and economical raison d’être. The permanent Safer Internet Programme (4) , the first step in such protection politics, was created in 1999 to empower parents, teachers and children with Internet security tools. However, it also covers other media, such as videos. Its objective is «fighting illegal and harmful content and conduct online», especially that in relation to youngsters. On the other hand, at the Lisbon European Council (5) (in March 2000), the European Union introduced socioeconomic reasoning by acknowledging that «the EU is confronted with a quantum leap stemming from globalisation and the new knowledge-driven economy». The strategic goalis «to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion». The e-Learning initiative (6) forms part of this European strategy to achieve these objectives. Later, the Multi-annual e-Learning Programme 2004-2006 (7) , established that one of its priorities would be «to counteract the digital divide». The action plan set out the following steps: a) understanding digital literacy; b) identification and dissemination of good practices.
From 2000 to 2008, the European Commission launched several initiatives to promote digital literacy among the EU Member States: a high-level expert group advised on the development of these actions; some studies were carried out and, gradually, the outcomes were reflected in changing the Commission’s strategy from the promotion of digital literacy (8) to public policies and stakeholders initiatives in support of digital literacy (9) .

Promoting digital literacy
The European Commission requested the implementation of a course of action: to promote digital literacy within the e-Learning Programme. In order to do so, they commissioned a study «to identify and analyze a limited number of successful and innovative experiences for promoting digital and media literacy and identifying strengths and weaknesses». The Report Promoting digital literacy. Understanding digital literacy, carried out by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), focused on two aspects: a) the identification and analysis of a limited number of successful and innovative experiences that have helped promote digital and media literacy, and b) the strengths and weaknesses of these experiences; and, c) the drawing up of recommendations for the implementation of Promoting digital literacy course of action.
After identifying unattended groups and shortcomings in the practice, methodology and promotion of digital literacy, and in order to implement these strategies for development, the study recommends adaptation to the different learning contexts and needs of the different publics, with a view to reducing the digital divide in Europe. This presents a new concept whose characteristics are broken down into a literacy that is not only digital, but also cultural, comprehensive and complex, linked to the citizens, and humanistic.
Finally, the study establishes the following factors for overcoming the obstacles that prevent the full development of a digital culture.

  • Context: establish which social and geographical areas the subject of digital culture should focus on, according to priority and effort, and how it should be implemented.
  • Relevance, motivation and involvement: the public is reflected through strategies that increase relevance and trigger positive motivation.
  • Critical awareness and participation: create participation and co responsibility platforms between the general public and the ICT industrial production system.
  • Pedagogy and tutelage: provide support and tutoring systems in all ICT stimulating activities, especially for specific groups, especially when directed at underprivileged groups.
  • Balance and solidarity: actions should help provide fair access to ICT for all sectors of society. The more advanced sectors should give support and reinforcement to those that are behind, working with them to fulfil their needs and demands.
  • Cultural and institutional innovation: governments, education systems, businesses and institutions must renovate themselves to take advantage of ICT development, while at the same time contributing to ICT expansion and growth in all areas of society by utilizing their specific positions.

Digital literacy high-level experts group
As part of the i2010 and e-Inclusion 2008 initiatives (10) , the European Commission set up a Digital Literacy High-Level Experts Group (11) to provide expertise and guidance on digital literacy policies in preparation for the Commission Communication on e-Inclusion. The experts, representing industry, academia and civil society, were invited to comment on the findings of the Digital Literacy Review that the Commission had produced as part of its commitments as a result of the Riga Declaration in 2006 (12) .
The experts presented recommendations for digital literacy policies:

  • Context: embed initiatives within local socio-economic contexts.
  • Support awareness campaigns (particularly for disadvantaged groups).
  • Use formal and informal learning (and platforms); use intermediaries to motivate, and enable groups and individuals to generate content.
  • Support the development of content and services for marginalised users.
  • Focus on the development of users’ critical, cultural and creative skills.
  • Develop and use evaluation and impact assessment frameworks.
  • Propose strategies that will encourage synergies and partnerships among public authorities, civilian society and industry; engage the private sector.

During the e-inclusion Ministerial Conference & Expo (in Vienna 2008), the DG Information Society and Media presented the outcome of the EC’s The Digital Literacy Review, as well as the aforementioned recommendations. The main conclusions were: «Digital literacy remains a major challenge and more efforts need to be dedicated to supporting disadvantaged groups, in particular those over 55 (and) secondary digital divides may be emerging in relation to quality of use and more needs to be done to increase the levels of confidence and trust in online transactions and the use of ICT for lifelong learning for all».
On a legislative level, in 2006 the European Council also developed the Recommendation on Empowering Children in the New Information and Communications Environment (13) , adopted by the Committee of Ministers at the 974th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies. The recommendation called on EU Member States to familiarize children with the new ICT environment (14) . A new Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning (15) identified the abilities that should be developed: digital competence (critical use of technology), social and civic competence (provide individuals with the tools to play an active and democratic role in society), critical awareness and creative competence (individuals should be capable of assessing the creative expression of ideas and emotions spread by the media). The same year, the EP issued Recommendation 2006/952/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on the protection of minors and human dignity (16) , which emphasized the need for teacher training in the field of media literacy; as well as the inclusion of media literacy in the curriculum in order to protect children and, at the same time, to promote responsible attitudes among all users. All of these initiatives fostered the media education (and literacy) policy.
In parallel, focusing exclusively on media literacy, the European Commission set up the EU Media Literacy Expert Group (17) , whichincluded experts from different backgrounds, who reflect both the role of the media industry in media literacy and that of academic research, in order to analyse and define media literacy objectives and trends and therefore highlight and promote the best practices at European level and propose actions to follow in promoting media literacy.
Based on the findings of the Media literacy experts group, the EC launched its Public Consultation (18) , a questionnaire that sought the public’s views on media literacy in relation with digital technologies, and information about initiatives in commercial communications, as well as cinema and the online world. The replies showed that the correct way to speed up progress in this field would be to spread regional and national good practices in Media Literacy. «It also emerged that criteria or standards for assessing media literacy are lacking and that good practices are not available for all aspects of media literacy. Accordingly, the Commission sees an urgent need for larger-scale, longer-term research into developing both new assessment criteria and new good practices» (p.5).
In the second half of 2007, the study titled Current trends and approaches to media literacy in Europe (19) was commissioned by the European Commission to the UAB. The study maps current practices in implementing media literacy in Europe and confirms the results of the aforementioned consultation and recommends measures to be implemented in Europe to increase the level of ML. It also outlined the possible economic and social impact of EU intervention in this field.
The trends identified were: a) media convergence as a pervasive reality in Europe, b) the growing concern for the protection of users, mainly children; c) the general public’s critical awareness, d) the growing presence of media literacy in curricula, e) a more attentive and responsive media industry, f) the active participation of civil associations (of parents and teachers), as well as g) the participation of European institutions and the emergence of regulatory authorities.
As regards the difficulties that media literacy faces, the study mentions a) the lack of a shared vision of goals, concepts, methods, research and assessments; and b) the cultural barriers that prevent innovations in some regions, as well as the lack of coordination among the parties involved, both on a national and a European level. In response, the study proposes recommendations covering all these areas in order to promote media literacy: a) technology-innovation relationship as a system to foster awareness of media technology; b) stimulation of creativity; c) campaigns to encourage awareness; d) boosting of research; e) establishment of regulatory authorities; development of quality standards and indicators; f) establishment of public policies that ensure that the whole population participates in the benefits and responsibilities of the IS.
Another significant European initiative is the MEDIA Programme 2007 (20) , which stresses the importance of media literacy and in particular film education initiatives, especially those organised by festivals (in cooperation with schools) for young people.
As an important output from these initiatives, on December 20th, 2007, the EC addressed Parliament with the Communication A European approach to media literacy in the digital environment (21) , which builds on the results of the work of the Media Literacy Expert Group on the findings of the public consultation, and on the experience of the Commission’s previous and current media literacy-related initiatives. This Communication established a more precise concept of media literacy, including the main aspects that the European Commission and Member States should cover with regard to media literacy.
A year later, on December 16th, 2008, the European Parliament adopted the Resolution (22) on the Report of Media literacy in a digital world (23) , which had been scheduled (November 24th) for consideration in a plenary session on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education. It demanded EU Member States to pay systematic attention to the development of media literacy, and the European Parliament «welcomed the Commission’s communication COM(2007)0833 on the same issue. However, it believes that there is room for improvement to the extent that the European approach intended to foster media literacy needs to be more clear cut, especially as regards the inclusion of traditional media and recognition of the importance of media education» and urged the EC to request the regulatory authorities of audiovisual and electronic communication to cooperate in order to improve media literacy. It recognised the need to develop national codes of conduct; called on the Commission to devise a media literacy indicator with a view to fostering ML in the EU; and it urged expansion of its policies to promote media literacy, work with local, regional and national authorities and intensify cooperation with UNESCO and the Council of Europe.
The Parliament urged the EC to develop an action plan on media literacy and organise a meeting with the Committee on Audio-Visual Media Services in order to facilitate information exchange and cooperation on a regular basis.

The european audiovisual media services directive
These efforts to make digital and media literacy a key element of the development of the information society in Europe concluded in the enactment of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (24) which was incorporated (on December 2009) into legislation in all Member States of the European Union, introducing the need to promote media literacy into a regulation of the media system for the first time.
The AVMSD will become one of the main instruments of media policy in Europe as article 37 institutionalises media literacy as one of the measures to be boosted. It therefore makes media literacy a vital element of the regulation of the European audiovisual industry and provides a less detailed definition of media literacy than previous definitions: «It includes the skills, knowledge and understanding that allow consumers to use the media effectively and safely». The Directive has been shown to be innovative in that its text stresses the general public’s creative and critical abilities with regard to the media, focusing on informed choice and the use of new technological opportunities. It highlights that a media-literate person is not a passive consumer of programmes, but rather is someone who selects what they wish to consume by means of an informed choice.
In addition, the AVMSD stresses the protective role of media literacy and urges Member States to «promote the development of media literacy in all sectors of society and monitor its progress closely», thus strengthening the idea that media literacy is not only the responsibility of formal education, but also of the media industry, professionals, regulatory authorities and families, among others.
In conclusion, the past ten years have been highly favourable for the launch of a European policy on media literacy. During these years, the European Commission has set the philosophical and legal bases for its development, both in Europe and in its member countries. Thus it is expected that in coming years, the communication and education policies of each country will know how to properly promote the development of the media literacy of their populations and thus stimulate universal media literacy.

(1) International Symposium on Media Education, Grünwald, Federal Republic of Germany, http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/MEDIA_E.PDF, last visit on September 2010.
(2) Vienna Conference Educating for the Media and the Digital Age, Recommendations addressed to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), April18-20, 1999, http://www.nordicom.gu.se/clearinghouse.php?portal=linkdb&main=reconedu.php&, last visit on September 2010.
(3) Recommendations addressed to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Youth Media Education, Seville February 15-16, 2002 http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=5680&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html, last visit on September 2010.
(4) The Safer Internet Programme, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/policy/programme/index_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(5) Lisbon European Council 23 and 24 March 2000, Presidency Conclusions, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/summits/lis1_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(6) European Commission, e-Learning – Designing tomorrow’s education (COM(2000) 318 final), Brussels, May 2nd 2000, http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/elearning/comen.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(7) European Commission, Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council adopting a multi-annual programme (2004-2006) for the effective integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education and training systems in Europe (e-Learning Programme) COM(2002) 751 final 2002/0303 (COD) Brussels, 19 of December 2002, http://ec.europa.eu/education/archive/elearning/doc/dec_en.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(8) Pérez Tornero J.M. (2004), Promoting Digital Literacy. Understanding Digital Literacy, Final Report EAC/76/03, http://ec.europa.eu/education/archive/elearning/doc/studies/dig_lit_en.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(9) European Commission and DTI (2009), EU Digital Literacy Review. Public policies and stakeholder initiatives, http://www.epractice.eu/en/library/332834, last visit September 2010.
(10) The Commission adopted on 8.11.2007 the Communication European i2010 initiative on e-Inclusionto be part of the information society, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/einclusion/policy/i2010_initiative/index_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(11) Digital Literacy: High-Level Expert Group Recommendations, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/docs/digital_literacy/digital_literacy_hlg_recommendations.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(12) European Commission (2008), Digital Literacy European Commission working paper and Recommendations from Digital Literacy High-Level Expert Group, e-Inclusion Ministerial Conference & Expo, 30th November-2nd December, 2008, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/docs/digital_literacy/digital_literacy_review.pdf, last visit on September 2010. (The Report presents the outcome of the Digital Literacy Review that the Commission has undertaken as part of the commitments made in the Riga Declaration in 2006 and in the e-Inclusion Communication in 2007 (COM(2007) 694 final.)
(13) Council of Europe, Recommendation Rec(2006)12 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on empowering children in the new information and communications environment, 27th September, 2006,
http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/files/25152/11861425271Recommendation_Rec%282006%2912.pdf/Recommendation%2BRec%282006%2912.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(14) The European Council published the Internet Literacy Handbook, a guide for parents, teachers and young people, http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/internetliteracy/hbk_en.asp, last visit on September 2010.
(15) European Commission, Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning, (2006/962/EC), http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:394:0010:0018:en:PDF, last visit on September 2010.
(16) European Parliament, Recommendation 2006/952/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on the protection of minors and human dignity and on the right of reply in relation to the competitiveness of the European audiovisual and on-line information services industry [Official Journal L 378 of 27.12.2006], http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/audiovisual_and_media/l24030a_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(17) See: http://ec.europa.eu/culture/media/literacy/expert_group/index_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(18) European Commission, Making sense of today’s media content: Commission begins public media literacy consultation, Brussels, 6 October 2006, http://ec.europa.eu/culture/media/literacy/consultation/index_en.htm, last visit on September 2010. See also the Report on the results on the public consultation on Media Literacy: http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/media_literacy/docs/report_on_ml_2007.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(19) Pérez Tornero J.M. and Celot P. (2007), Current trends and approaches to media literacy in Europe, EC, http://ec.europa.eu/culture/media/literacy/studies/index_en.htm, last visit on September 2010.
(20) Decision No. 1718/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 November 2006 concerning the implementation of a programme of support for the European audiovisual sector (MEDIA 2007), http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2006/l_327/l_32720061124en00120029.pdf, last visit on September 2010.
(21) European Commission (2007), A European approach to media literacy in the digital environment, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions , COM(2007) 833 final, Brussels, December, 12th, 2007, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2007:0833:FIN:EN:PDF, last visit on September 2010.
(22) European Parliament, The legislative observatory, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/FindByProcnum.do?lang=en&procnum=INI/2008/2129, last visit on September 2010.
(23) European Commission, Report on media literacy in a digital world (2008/2129(INI)), Committee on Culture and Education, (Session Document) November 24th, 2008
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&mode=XML&reference=A6-2008-0461&language=EN, last visit on September 2010.
(24) Audiovisual Media Service Directive 2007/65/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of December 11th 2007), http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/reg/avms/index_en.htm (The AVMSD replaces the European Directive on Television without Frontiers, DTVSF 89/552/EC).

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