How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation?
The Agency for Electronic Media is the leading institutional body in media literacy in Croatia, and probably the general initiator and supporter of media literacy development in Croatia. The Agency’s mission is to raise awareness on media literacy, foster media literacy project development, and gather different stakeholders and empower citizens with critical thinking skills and encourage them to take an active role in social and democratic processes.
The Agency has developed expertise and competences in designing, developing, and organizing media literacy projects, which it implements in cooperation with the UNICEF Office in Croatia. We believe that the development of media literacy skills of citizens is the primary tool in the fight against disinformation, and in that way, we take part in the field.
The Agency is actively participating in the work of the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), and amongst other activities, in work on fighting disinformation. The Agency also monitored the implementation of the Code of practice on disinformation. A self-regulatory act signed by leading digital platforms (such as Facebook or Google). The Agency participated in the making of an in-depth analysis of the Code’s application, which identified numerous weaknesses, which justifies the proposal to move from the self-regulatory approach currently in place onto the co-regulatory model.
What are the main resources developed by your organization you’d be willing to share? (e.g. reports, analyses, scripts, educational materials, video clips, webinars… Please share the links.)
The Agency for Electronic Media manages and finances the web portal www.medijskapismenost.hr, which was launched in cooperation with the UNICEF Office in Croatia. In the past four years, the portal has become a central national place for media literacy in Croatia for information, education, and stakeholders’ gathering. The portal is meant to inform and educate on media literacy and media education. The main target groups are parents, teachers, and educators, i.e., all those who participate in the educational process. The portal’s goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of reliable and useful information on media literacy and media and their potential impact on the development of children and youth in one place. The portal provides information on the effects of different types of media and genres on children, deals with topics such as Internet safety, the problem of misinformation, media violence, stereotypes, the impact of the media on child development, and offers advice to parents on how to act in concrete situations in everyday life. Still, also it educates scientific work and politics in the field of media literacy. Lately, the portal has started to share more content in critical thinking and fighting disinformation, follow the work of European institutions actively, and publish more complex content on that topic.
Since the beginning, the web portal partners have been the Croatian Film Union, The Croatian Audiovisual Centre, The Faculty of Political Sciences, and the Academy of the Dramatic Art University. In June 2019, 6 other Higher education institutions joined the partnership.
An important project is also Media Literacy Days, launched in 2018 by the Agency and UNICEF. It created a platform for gathering and cooperating with various social stakeholders, fostering and organizing sustainable projects, and raising public awareness of the importance of media literacy, empowering citizens’ media literacy skills, and supporting educators and teachers by developing educational materials for media education. Media literacy days consist of three main elements:
- events (lectures, workshops, debates, etc.)
- one-day workshops for students in the media
- the production and distribution of educational materials
At the same time, the web portal www.medijskapismenost.hr is the main communication channel of the event, where all texts related to it are published and – most importantly – educational materials and lectures created as part of the Media Literacy Days.
As part of these projects, the Agency develops and publishes educational materials related to media literacy and life in the digital media space, which can be downloaded from the portal. Since April 2018, 20 educational materials have been published, which have been downloaded more than 220,000 times. https://www.medijskapismenost.hr/obrazovni-materijali-za-preuzimanje/
In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we focused on video lectures to make it easier for teachers and students to learn about media literacy skills. We also published several lessons on the problem of disinformation. https://www.medijskapismenost.hr/video-lekcije-medijske-pismenosti/
A significant segment is the regular annual fund, i.e., the Agency for Electronic Media’s tender for funding of media literacy projects. This customary tender was launched in 2015, and in 2020 it amounted to a total of HRK 400,000.
Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country?
- In the fight against misinformation, there are no specific local challenges and approaches. It is a global problem, which has been facilitated by technological and digital advances that have completely changed the way we communicate and even social relations. In the new media ecosystem, citizens are overwhelmed with information and may have difficulty understanding the news and finding accurate information and reliable sources. The big problem is the digital platforms themselves, which are not responsible for the content they publish and do not check or remove misinformation from their platforms. Due to their non-transparent operation and non-transparent application of algorithms, the problem of misinformation only worsens. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to prepare at the European Union level, a legislative framework that will force digital platforms to take responsibility for and verify published content. That will introduce some level of a co-regulatory model in this field.
Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation?
- Crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, point at the importance of a systematic approach to the development of media literacy, the development, and implementation of national media literacy policies, enabling the funding of projects and creating platforms for gathering and cooperating diverse social stakeholders.
- In doing so, it is crucial to develop and implement lifelong learning models of media literacy skills for all generations, not just children and young people. Each generation should have access and the opportunity to use educational tools, materials, and programs to develop media literacy skills, particularly the development of critical thinking.
- Media literacy and encouraging quality journalism are the only quality and long-term tools that can protect citizens from misinformation and manipulation of all kinds. Also, cooperation between internet platforms, experts, and competent authorities (both national and EU) is essential, and it is crucial to develop an independent fact-checking process to limit the spread of disinformation campaigns on the Internet while respecting the freedom of expression.
What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities?
- The intensification of disinformation was primarily caused by technological progress and the development of media and communication platforms. That enabled the unprecedented rapid spread of misinformation. Two events were a turning point, which demonstrated to the general public all the dangers and the opportunities posed by social networks and new digital media beyond any regulatory model. These are the US presidential election in 2016 and the campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU (Brexit).
In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021?
- It is difficult to make such predictions, but in any case, disinformation campaigns are intensifying concerning political processes, i.e., elections. Coronavirus-related disinformation campaigns will continue to be dangerous, as the lack of information and knowledge on the subject and fear among citizens have created fertile grounds for the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation.
What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year.
The most prevalent narratives were ones regarding the coronavirus pandemic were, along with those about: the origin/ spread of the coronavirus, and the treatment of COVID-19 disease, i.e., vaccination, and the related misinformation related to the 5G network. Related to this is the problem of declining citizens’ trust in traditional media and institutions, which further contributes to their susceptibility to misinformation.
Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links.
As a former journalist, I had always used the classic fact-checking information (who is the writer, where and when was it published, who is targeted, who is affected or harmed by the text). Now we call it fact-checking tools. For some topics, I also pay attention to how respectable fact-checkers handled them.
Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked?
I did not witness any specific misinformation, which did not reach a wider circle of people.
In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why?
The key actors in media literacy in Croatia are undoubtedly the Agency for Electronic Media and its partner UNICEF, which is evident from the answers to the first questions. It is not the projects themselves that are important, but the fact that the Agency, in cooperation with UNICEF, put media literacy on the social agenda, and encouraged the activity and cooperation of many other social stakeholders and the funding of projects.
In Croatia, civil society organizations play an essential role in media education, some of which implement significant educational projects and programs, such as the Society for Communication and Media Culture with its Children of Media program or the Safer Internet Center project coordinated by the Center for Missing and Abused Children. Particularly active and essential associations in the field of film and audiovisual literacy, such as the Croatian Film Association (e.g., School of Media Culture Dr. Ante Peterlić), Alternator (Children’s Rights Festival) and Children meet art (Seventh Continent program), Shadow Throwers- Bacači sjenki (project Frooom ) or the Dokkica Association. In this way, through robust engagement and volunteer work, civil society organizations have created a systematic opportunity for informal media education of citizens and somewhat overcame the lack of a systematic institutional approach to this issue. And therefore can be classified as key actors in Croatia in the field of media literacy.
At the European Union level, the European Commission is crucial, i.e., its competent Directorates and Agencies, which should create policies and encourage and implement projects, and above all, create a framework for the systematic development of media literacy and recurring financing of media literacy projects. At the same time, it is crucial to enable the best possible use of the EU funds such as Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 and to set clear criteria for allocating funds and evaluation processes.